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      Volume 12 |Issue 04| January 25, 2013 |


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In Retrospect


Nasim Firdaus


On a crisp November morning I found myself without a job after having served in various capacities and organisations for more than three decades. Fifteen days before my fifty-seventh birthday an even crispier paper heralded the news that my services were no longer required because, at 57, I was too old to serve the Raj. I was also reminded to sign papers that said “I ……hereby relinquish charge of the office of……..on the afternoon of this day …” With a last stroke of the pen my services of nearly three decades with the Raj, like many before me, was over.

The day after I stood before the mirror and checked myself out. My hair was not totally grey yet, all my body parts were still intact, I had not lost a single tooth because of old age (in fact toothaches that bothered me in my younger days were now stories of the bygone), my eyesight had improved - I no longer needed the glasses that I wore for nearly forty years, and generally I felt ten years younger than ten years ago. But the Raj felt differently, like most bureaucrats –faithful servants of the Government - at fifty-seven I was too old to be of any use and needed to go on hibernation called “leave preparatory to retirement”. The LPR, for the hail and hearty, is essentially a time tested method of trying to put the faithful servant “to sleep”, perhaps permanently. Although I had signed the papers relieving the government of all responsibilities towards me, I was not relieved as I continue to wait for the promised pension that should have ideally and technically reached my hands on the day my LPR ended. That is likely to be a far cry as I see many senior colleagues still walking the corridors for their well deserved and rightful pension benefits after retiring for over a decade and more. But that is another story.

After a month of stretching out on the sofa watching late night shows on television and leaving the bed later than usual in the morning, I realised that my mind and body refuses to go on “LPR”. The need for long hours of sleep are long gone, the days are stretched longer as morning begins with sunrise which I had hardly witnessed ever before, and I am left with long stretches of useless hours that I could have put to real use had they come when I really needed them. For example, when my child was growing up and needed me desperately, or when I was breast-feeding and needed to be home rather than in the office, or when I was sick and needed time off but couldn't take it because the subject was taboo. The list could go on and on. Yet, there was a time when it seemed I was indispensable. Yearly leave continued to accrue every year because servants of the Raj were found to be most useful and could not be spared for holidays while in service. I now find myself with years of unutilised leave available on hand with a leave compensation package as well, to utilise as I please. In these times of paper money turning into trash paper it is not much to go around with. At best a holiday trip for my husband and me to our village home could be taken where I am expected to dole out money to the villagers because a boro shaheb from the government has returned home.

The other proposition from well wishers of trying to find something to do right here in Dhaka appears more attractive. But that can't be job hunting. If I am too old for the Raj then certainly I am too old for other places where the younger ones with better computer and IT skills than mine are queuing in long lines. So I decide to begin work with another Raj, Raj of a different kind.

The punishment for living out of the country for so long is the return to an apartment that decided to run itself down during my absence. My new occupation now is to make the place livable once again. I desperately need a raj mistiri. After much hunting a well wisher is kind enough to refer one for the work needed at home. The negotiations begin with an estimate for work that needs all kinds of “expert” workmen. The raj mistiri now turns into a contractor and assures me that he has friends who can replace the bathtub that is leaking, one who can get the electric main switch adjusted so that the generator can be connected; there is another one who is the perfect carpenter able to fix everything from the door to the drawer. Without even consulting his so-called friends he hands me an estimated total cost. Being faithful to my well wisher's advice I begin bargaining and finally end up with a figure that sounds too good to be true. I rejoice at the price fixed and pat myself for all the negotiation skills acquired while serving the other Raj. Since I don't have a shorkari bashbhobon to move to the raj and I agree that the repair and renovation work has to be done while I live in the apartment. He assures me that his team of “friends” would do everything from moving the stuff around while the work is done and cleaning up the mess afterwards. Then, ever so gently, he proposes that I give him some advance money to purchase material needed to begin the work. Having lived in civilised countries outside of my own I accept the proposal as most genuine and hand him a bundle in cash. Of course I trust him completely because I have his cell phone number. He can't run away with my money, I can always reach him instantly. Ah! Where would we be without the mobile phones! The next morning I drag myself out of bed to be ready for the raj to begin work at 9 o'clock sharp. The arms of my clock seem to be running too fast. It’s 11 am and he is not here yet. So I call him and he assures me that all is well, he was delayed because the stores did not open until ten (of course he didn't know this before) that he is very close to the house, he will be arriving any minute now. Another hour passes by. Finally, the raj appears with a broad smile on his face. He comes alone and without the stuff because he has left his workmen at various stores to collect the material that would be required to begin work. By now half the day is gone. By the time all of the men assemble and sort things out it is time to go for lunch. They haven't eaten anything since morning and need to be fed to be able to do a good job. They return and begin hammering right away. It's now time for my neighbour to take his afternoon siesta so word is sent for them to stop work for at least an hour. I give in to the request. After all I don't want my neighbours upset. Then the raj works a little and wraps up his tools and gathers his men because dusk is setting in.

The next day the workmen appear and fritter away precious time waiting for their boss. Just as I begin fuming he suddenly appears with a new excuse. At sunset, a new bundle of cash is demanded for the workmen and I, being in a hurry to go for my prayers, give in without making a survey of what has been done so far and what is owed. This goes on for a few days. The apartment by now is in a mess with dust, chunks of broken walls, windows and the like strewn all over the place. I ask the raj to keep his promise and have the place cleaned up. He promises to do it the next day. Half of the next day is now spent on cleaning up the garbage. Soon it is dusk and time to close shop. A few days later the raj needs some more money. Then, one fine morning I realise that the Raj and his friends have disappeared leaving my work incomplete and a lot of advance taken. His cell phone is now permanently switched off!

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