I’ve always heard it said that your appearance is the first thing a stranger will judge you by. Its not always true – some people hold their judgement till they know you better. Others take one look and decide in yea or nae, if you’re worthy to be awarded with their confidences.
I know appearances can be deceptive. I have my own self as an example.
On first appearance (according to my colleagues and randomly met people), I’m taken for a rich, posh, spoilt and pampered member of the elite class. Add the fact that I live in one of the most expensive areas in the city, drive a car and ride a bike, am usually dressed in designer casuals and formals – I can’t blame them.
Here’s my story. I’m not dramatizing it, I’m not downplaying it. It is not a Cinderella story and I am not satisfied with what I have – I strive for more and you are allowed to call me a greedy and ungrateful little bugger. It is also devoid of my non-existent love life, so there are no girls featured here – this isn’t Wolf of Wall Street.
I was born in the UAE, in a remote little backwater village called Bidiyah. About 200 odd kilometers from that bustling metropolis, Dubai. Dad used to work in a Water Filtration and Bottling Plant called Emirates Pure Spring Water Co. as a mechanic for all the heavy machinery. Mom was a stay-at-home housewife.
I was the only son out of a total of 5 children. 4 sisters and 1 me. My dad (God bless him) had a dream – that all his children would have an education, since he didn’t have one and couldn’t progress because of this lack of education. Considering the costs of education in UAE are phenomenal, he put in 16 hour stints on a regular basis to earn overtime so that we could study in the only school 40 odd kms away.
Which meant that after groceries and school fees, there wasn’t much left. Once a week trip to a beach 10 kms away in our family car, once a month treat (Nothing more than a couple of Dirhams – mine was usually a chocolate egg with a toy that needed to be assembled inside the egg and frankly, I bought it because of the toy – the chocolate was usually handed over to my kid sister) and that was it. No pocket money, clothes and shoes once a year on Eid, and Uniforms once a year at the start of the year.
Not that we noticed it then. As kids we had something kids today can only dream of – mountains at the back of the house, an endless sea in front. Well, half a KM or so either way, which isn’t much. It was only later when I grew up and started attending school that I realized that other kids got pocket money – all we had was sandwiches. Its hard not to get envious of kids drinking Pepsi while you’re holding a limp sandwich – and kids are vicious, so we got taunted for having no pocket money and that hurt me a lot. Fortunately, even back in class 3, I used to read books and understood that money could be earned by mowing lawns. Since nobody had a lawn (It was an arid desert, folks), I had an epiphany – why not wash my neighbors’ cars? So I went around, advertising daily car washes at a Dirham. My neighbors were amused, even gave me a small step ladder, a bucket and a sponge. Dad was – well, not pleased. I got a hiding and in frustration and tears, blurted out that we needed some pocket money – which didn’t go too well. However, our neighbors included my school principal and she convinced dad to let me be – to this day, I remember her exact words. “He’ll learn the joy of earning and the responsibility of spending his money wisely” – Ms. Benjamin – if you’re reading this – thank you.
As I grew older, I worked with the mechanic who owned a small garage next door. I was 10 or 11, so it was mostly fetch and carry work and I got paid a couple of dirhams a day for my services from late afternoon till sunset. Until it was time to leave UAE for Pakistan. Which was because we couldn’t afford to get educated there – Education here is literally free in comparison. So dad and mum stayed in the UAE while me and my sisters came to Pakistan, to study. My sisters studied, I barely scraped through school and started working 3 years after I landed in Pakistan with a cousin of mine who owned a Computer store. Nothing glamourous, mostly delivering computers and monitors to clients. I was aged 15 then, learning how to assemble computers and install software in my free moments which were far and few in between. Thankfully, I am a quick learner and soon I was the one assembling systems and fixing the old ones while my classmates were content playing Need for Speed II.
When I started my BS at PIMSAT, I quit the hardware thing since my cousin was a bit stingy with paying me and landed a job via a reference at a store that did a little bit of everything – Printing, Xerox copies, computer assembly and software, accessory sales, etc. My employer noticed my language skills and put me in charge of the editing of projects that people would want to get done – usually proof-reading and formatting documents so that they looked professional. I got kicked out because I couldn’t do regular hours – classes from 9 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon left me with precious little time.
Which left me in a bit of a dilemma since I was paying for my own education and had no desire to ask dad to pay for it. So I started teaching which paid 90% of the monthly fee. For the rest, I worked as a waiter at a local restaurant and took assignments from my fellow students for a small fee. I slept little and lived like this for six months and there were still times I didn’t have enough money to pay for my fare home on the bus – so I walked. 8 KMs each way, every day. I got turned into a loner – people thought I was miserly. I used to laugh at them and wondered what they would say if they knew that I didn’t have enough for a cup of tea for myself, let alone them. It was at this stage of life that I learnt the value of indifference – to one’s fellow man, his opinions and his feelings. Older folk are vicious too, they just hide it better. At least viciousness in children is out there for you to see – as we grow older, we learn how to become hypocrites.
I then landed a job at the Aga Khan University Hospital. A classmate was the data entry supervisor there and wanted data entry operators. He got me and for the first time in my life, I was able to have something left over after fees and transport costs. Until the Institute increased the tuition costs and that found me in a position of not being able to pay my fees – again. I decided to quit studies then and asked dad to sponsor a Visa for me, as I wanted to study and work there in the UAE. Considering I hadn’t asked him for anything since I’d finished school, he was a bit surprised but sponsored me without going into too much details. I got there and managed to land a job first week out, with Avis. The Rent-a-car folks. Unfortunately for me, dad got suspicious due to the lack of books and after a year, there was an almighty confrontation at my grandfather’s funeral for which we were both in Pakistan. He insisted I stay and complete my education – and I did put up a bit of a resistance (Well, a lot – who likes to go back to studies?) but in the end, I did have money I’d saved up from an year long stint with Avis, so no issues there. I rejoined the Institute, bought a Harley Davidson that I took out on weekends (Bus on the other days) and managed to get a job at a call center. The irony of it all – Now that I had money (at least by my standards) I had absolutely no friends and frankly, I couldn’t have cared less. I worked at night, studied during the day and slept for 4-6 hours a day. Until a year later, when I landed a job in a bank by sheer dumb luck – in one of the most sought after departments of a bank. The words Audit and Compliance signify departments that give the rest of the banking folk headaches at the minimum and nightmares at the max.
Since then it has been 8 years – Until a couple of years ago when I eased off the accelerator, I was still working for 12 hours a day, 5 days a week. I completed my degree, saved enough to buy another bike (The Harley was totaled in an accident), built my house (Financial contributions from Dad and my elder sister who works at the State Bank), bought a car and while I have nothing left of my savings (it all went into the above), I’ll survive. I always have. At least today, I can honestly say that I have earned my comfortable (sort of) life and while I have had my bitter moments, I’ve always looked towards better days and worked myself to the limits of my endurance to achieve them. No day passes when I don’t feel blessed to have such wonderful parents and teachers in my life – people who let me find me feet in the world myself.
Moral of the tale is: Appearances are deceptive. Next time you see me, you’ll know just how deceptive they are.