For the last 15 years I have promptly woken up in the early hours of the morning on the first buzz of my alarm clock for the same reason as most hardworking Pakistanis: to prepare for work.
As a 17 year old, I would wake up at 4:30 a.m. to quickly dress and head to Radio Pakistan to do an early morning show 4 to 5 times a week. It didn’t pay much but it paid enough to contribute a few thousand rupees at home and save a couple of thousand a month for my O – and then A-levels (for which I self-studied).
By 18 I was doing 2 jobs and by 22 years I was doing 3 jobs to support my university education. At 32, I look back and feel both gratitude and relief on the long way that I’ve come.
There might still be months where I live from salary to salary and many occasions throughout the year where I put together small amounts of savings to afford little luxuries for myself and my family. However, there’s no denying that I live a life that is so much more privileged than a significant number of my fellow, hard working Pakistanis.
And with this privileged life comes a huge responsibility to not just be thankful but also pay forward. For every increment in my salary and every new gadget in my house, for every bite of an expensive burger and every hour spent in an air-conditioned room, I have a responsibility. A responsibility to ensure that my good fortune must benefit those around me who are in the same (or worse) place that I was almost two decades ago.
The wonderful truth is that I am not alone – neither as a working class individual nor as a middle-class philanthropist. There are millions out there who work harder than I do and pay forward with a sense of commitment so strong that it would put this testament to shame.
These honest, diligent people are everywhere. From the daily waged labourer to a high-end executive, Pakistan is filled with people who are not merely dedicated to making an honest living for themselves but are also never shy to share their blessings with others.
With so many wonderful people diligently doing their part to improve their lives and those of others, it breaks my heart to wake up to a headline that screams, “Pakistan on the verge of seeking IMF bailout.”
It makes me feel insulted; makes me feel that my hard work and that of my fellow compatriots is entirely worthless.
In the last 15 years, my standard of living as an individual might have improved but my country continues to struggle for financial stability.
It makes me question what good is our labour if every few decades we find ourselves standing at the brink of bankruptcy as a nation? It is as though no matter how many hours we put in, no matter how hard we strive; no matter how consistently we pay forward, our fates will always be held hostage by the incompetence and apathy of the few that rule us.
And because I feel so frustrated, so angry, so cheated – after endeavouring for less than two decades – there’s good reason to believe that there are scores of others who share these sentiments.
To every Pakistani reading this, to every working-class individual struggling to make the two ends meet, to every parent hoping to give their child a life better than theirs and to every honest person questioning his/her moral code, I have but two words: don’t stop.
The ineptitude and indifference of a deeply corrupt minority – no matter how powerful on the surface – should never be allowed to take away from us our pride and our way of life.
While I know demeaning headlines will suddenly not cease to make news and poetic words of encouragement are not enough to change the sorry state of affairs, I also know that acts of love are never left unrewarded.
The only time we should truly entertain despair is when we falter; when we either give into despair or allow ourselves to be swayed towards the inviting allure of conceit.
So, please understand that the incredible lives that we live – with our tender triumphs and daily battles – are, in fact, acts of love. And for as long as we continue to be true to ourselves and stand by a personal code of unadulterated kindness there will always be reasons to rejoice.
May despair never find our address. May our resolve never deter. May our acts of compassion soon come full circle.