It just got tougher. Or did it?
Somalilandsun – It was a rather placid day to begin with – it would be safe to say funereal, by London’s standards – and it seemed to me, at the time, that the initial stage of the global recession was gradually, albeit insidiously, reducing London’s vibrant atmosphere to a withering, and, at the same time, humbling demise. The skies took on the hue of a pleasant crispy blue; the sun shone brightly, but innocently, and would retreat, briefly, behind the clearest white cloud every now and again. There was a cool breeze. But East Central London at this time of year was far from itself – its spirit, or so it seemed to me, hid, frightened and ashamed behind the grander scenes of its resplendent – yet evanescent – sensually gratifying climate. At 1115AM, seated and working on a PowerPoint presentation which I was expected to deliver at 4PM the same afternoon, my Microsoft Outlook calendar presented an unexpected – and, at the same time, rather threatening – automatic reminder that, at 1135AM – that’s an hour before I would hit the Brick Lane for my lunch – I am due for a transition meeting with one Ahmed Sharif, 35, assistant IT technician.
Read The Life & Times of a Transition Consultant – Part 2
At around 1136AM there was a faint tapping at the conference room door. I ended up staring briefly at the door, as if to gain confirmation from it that what I had heard was a signal for me to respond to it. Come in, I said, in a weak and quite uncertain tone, bracing myself for what might emerge from behind the door. As salamu alaykum, said Ahmed, beaming from ear to ear, and hastening to shake my one proffered hand with both of his, seizing it tightly, as if to test its durability, or my patience. Ahmed was a benign looking British Muslim of Pakistani origin – much like myself. Unlike myself, he sported quite a full beard, in a way that Tolstoy would have been proud; as well as that, he seemed like the kind of guy who never left home without his white coloured prayer cap – much akin to the Jewish tradition of donning theirs – because as soon as he stepped foot into the conference room, his prayer cap, strangely, is the first thing I laid my eyes on, as he turned round to close the door. This, for me, was about to become a living nightmare; when I read his name on my Outlook reminder, I didn’t think much of it; but when he came through the door in his happy-go-lucky way, presenting such a sweet and humble personality, my heart couldn’t help but sink.
How long have you been doing this work, brother? – asked the chirpy Ahmed, smiling constantly, like he’d just come across a long lost companion. Oh, some months, Ahmed, was my riposte, trying to maintain the already fragmenting air of formality between us, while, at the same time, grappling with some obscure – and deep seated – sense of an injustice I was about to impart. Can he not know? I thought. Is he as oblivious – or blaze – as he purports to be? – and then, in an unexpected surge of inner panic that crept up on me like a shadow in the sun, please, God, get me out of here – I don’t want to do this; it’s unbearable; I’d rather be someplace else! The voices came like waves, relentlessly, one followed by the other, until, at last, he seemed to be awaiting me to say something. Yes, so, how are things in IT, Ahmed; you guys don’t get a break, do you, what with everyone and everything hooked up to a server somewhere? Smiling again, his retort as charming as his chronic, and seemingly irrepressible positivity, Ahmed said Alhamdulillah, brother, we are either very busy or not at all – there is no middle ground with us. Not knowing how to respond to Ahmed’s view on the state of affairs of the IT department, I ground on, reluctantly.
I never imagined what it might have felt like, leaving one’s own country of birth and origin for climes, cultures, places, and pastures far different to what one might be used to, until, of course, I was forced to make a decision towards the end of 2012 to make a migration to my parents’ country of origin, Pakistan. England was no longer the England of the mid- to late-‘90s or early 2000s; something had changed, gone missing, perhaps, one might think, something had gone wrong; terribly, terribly wrong. Banks were no longer offering credit; businesses, literally by the day, were going bust; people – even good friends – and former colleagues – of mine were losing their jobs. Stress induced suicides were on the rise – a close friend of mine was a victim of this unfortunate trend – and others were dropping dead due to natural causes at unnaturally young ages. One couldn’t help but ask oneself how, what, when, why? It was all happening with such speed, unmoved with the sight of the numberless shattered lives left in its wake. On top of all that, I thought, it was never easy for ethnic minorities – such as myself – to land decent jobs in England – at any time – but with the recession, seemingly, in full flow, the outlook seemed, well, it’s safe to say, just slightly on the dire side.
With similar thoughts abuzz among the myriad others within the confines of my teeming mind, having to process, at the same time, that Ahmed, father of three, married for the last ten years, and a mortgage payer on a house worth 115000 (GBP), currently on a salary of 27000 (GBP) was about to be given – in Liz’s much earlier, less than prosaic words – the chop – and worse still, given the chop at my hands – I steeled myself against all that was, at that moment, assailing me. Besieged by all that was confronting me – from within and from without – the conflicting lines of thought, mixed emotions, Ahmed himself, his surreal contentment and composure – I began by calling him to attention, saying Ahmed, and was, unexpectedly, rather politely cut short: it’s okay, brother Hamid – he said with the same unflinching, undiminished smile – wallah khairul raziqeen, he said, wallah khairul raziqeen (Verily, God is the best of providers).
Copyright: Somalilandsun, 2016. www.somalilandsun.com
More next week.
By Hamid Shahid Khan
Managing Director at INTELIPAK Institute of Leadership, Professional Training & Development