Okay, so we tried to get Iman Ali to be brand minister for the PC workers hotel strike, and her office said she is booked up until 2012, but she definitely supports the strike, and promises to wear a PC chef's hat on her next catwalk. Woohoo!
Kidding aside, this is a serious day for all of us. Earlier today, we were at the PC strike, mingling with union members, employees, labor activists, professional leftists and leafletters, and one lawyer who looked like Aitzaz's baby brother, and claimed his clientèle comprised "all the people who are poor". (Barrister, you had me at ALL.) Just enjoying the hell out of protesting, initiating students whose daddies would probably support them (if they only knew), and annoying the faujis out of one pissed off retired major who claimed we have defamed him in our petition.
"You should have checked your facts," he told me over the phone, with the soft restraint of a man who is capable of walking people to the back of the shed to do bad, bad things to them. He probably meant the facts where our petition accuses him of busting a KESC union, and then implies he is at PC to bust theirs. "You have used my name!" He asked if he could see me. I said sure. He insisted I must come alone. So I went with M, and was stopped by the guards at the PC gate.
Now this isn't really about me. Its about the struggle and the PC employees. But indulge me for a minute. I look respectable, you know..kinda like a 'had the good life...my husband grows organic basil in his backyard..lived in america...I have obviously read 'A Fine Balance'...some angst from a childhood spent in pensivity...but all is good now."
Point is I would never be barred from entering a hotel in Karachi. Not in Karachi. where the poor are so poor - they wear metal plates on their chests, have Labradors as co-workers, and guard hotels whose sister hotels have been bombed -- for daily wages. Knowing they could be bombed and killed for daily wages. So the non vested guard in the little cabin told me, "We are with the management now, not the union. And I can not let you go in until, I have this matter cleared." To which M said: "Really, shouldn't you be with the workers." She pressed on: "What if we were going into drink coffee. I was just here last night to attend a function." "Well, now you have told me you are in the union and are here to see someone, so sorry." I told him we had come to see the retired major because he asked me to come hear his side of the story.
And, Sir, I am not in the union, but it would be an honor if I was; so harmless error on your part.
As we walked away from the hotel, he apologized - smiling sheepishly, dare I say. "Please do not mind this." You obviously deserve to be in the air conditioned lobby, listening to a minority pianist play, 'Buffalo Soldier.. and sipping creamy coffee' But here how's the cookie crumbles. The moment you express solidarity with workers, you're busted. Elite or no elite. You lose your privs.
I knew it was coming. I've had that this feeling built in me as if the FBI is going to catch on one day...and one crisp morning in a Boston courtroom, thats it. I'll have my face against the floor and dogs sniffing at my ear, I told my best friend Jenpen, how embarrassing will it be when I land up in N.Dartmouth House of corrections next to people I have represented on habeas petitions. And she logically said, "Well, you will have bigger things to worry about then."
I have an impeccable record..
Its about being brown in america way too long - you always get the feeling you don't have the right. Racialism on auto pilot.
And then you return to your roots, and the elite disguise, and suddenly you are making it through checkpoints without a hitch. Its scary at first - as if the machine ain't working right. And then it clicks. And then you drive recklessly, and look traffic cops in the eye, and say: "Well, I am a lawyer and I abide by the law, its just that, Sir, your colleague over there confused me with his arbitrary arm movements. I would never run a light otherwise." And the policeman, with tanned lines and kajal around his eyes." You go, Madam. Please drive carefully."
Back to PC workers - and here's why their action could only be achieved by them. There is a certain fatalism in their actions - kinda like we're willing to face the worst. And this only comes with a feeling of being in the right, and knowing that if you don't do this now, you may never recover the money the management owes you in bonus pay and provident funds. And what is life worth then anyway? Because the wages don't count for crap. These protesters are willing to be cooped up without sunlight and the reprieves of a home visit, sleep on hard concrete floors, and face food insecurity - and wait patiently to see if management will take coercive action.
They know their lines. In my first conversations with Q, one of the 200 doing dharna in the basement, he said. "Many of us are still performing our daily tasks. We show up for urgent duties, and then return to dharna.We do not want business to be hurt" But that couldn't be right. How could management allow 'agitators and troublemakers' to continue service and interact with hotel customers? This afternoon, a union leader clarified that no one can possibly show up for duty. Aha! No worries, brother. That is not criminal.
The beauty of white collar crime is that it is done by such exceptionally respected members of society. While people are bloodthirsty enough to become vigilantes and burn alive suspected robbers - but they won't even know about the embezzling finagling wheeling dealing buying bribing privatising balance sheeting of a business baron.
(And no we can't ask the judge to take suo moto, cause, Sue is getting moto on cheesy pizza in the hotel cafeteria.)
My union leader friend tells me, (he has an Allan Fakir look going) that they have swindled Rs 30 crore worth of provident funds and cut our bonuses, and showed us statements of business losses. In the meanwhile they paid Rs. 87 crore for a piece of land in Gwador."
So here's wishing well to the struggle. And then this.
We come home to the news of deadly blasts in Lahore. Farooq Tariq's email about his children's experience firsthand is chilling. All the children started crying in fear, and a sister wondered if her brother's school nearby had been blown up.
People everywhere are despairing, and pondering over gory details of the suicide bombers, and what is next, and why don't these barbaric militants planning suicide mission just leave us the hell alone.
Then an email with perhaps a better version of the above analysis. We are in the midst of a war. Its not just the taliban; its our military perpetrating a reckless war strategy which has led to widespread misery and displacement in FATA and Swat, and vastly inhumane military actions against the people.
And here's wishing peace to those young minds tonight..