Author’s note: My short story, Sami Sahab has been published in Queen Mob’s Teahouse, where you can read now at https://queenmobs.com/2020/05/fiction-sami-sahab/
Initial except is shared below:
Sami Arain is a funny man. And when I say funny I don’t mean that he makes people laugh, although he does make people laugh, it’s just that he doesn’t intend to make people laugh and yet people snigger. He doesn’t mind that. But sometimes he does. It depends on his mood.
Sami Arain is also a funny-looking man—six feet three inches tall, wide built and plump—you wouldn’t know what to do with so much human mass—crop-cut salt and pepper hair, fair complexion (something us South Asians die for) and baritone voice, square rimmed glasses on the nose; fifty-five and yet always immaculately dressed (with smart-cut ties and close-checkered suits), you would be slightly intimidated if you were meeting him for the first time. But that notion would soon dispel as you meet him a few more times. Especially after-lunch hours. Because he does not look the same Sami Arain you knew in the morning. His coat would come off, shirt would be tucked out from pants, tie loosened up, collar buttons undone and his hair would stand at their edges, their salt and pepper color separated.
He calls it his relaxed hours, hours of lesser productivity. ‘But that doesn’t mean you’re not supposed to work,’ he says poking his fat finger at the shoulder of one of his subordinates. ‘You are supposed to work with the same level of energy. Only your boss is allowed to relax,’ he tells him smiling slyly while his subordinate tries to lengthen the space between him and Sami to get away from his constant stab of finger.
Sami Sahab or boss as people in his department often call him, comes from a land holding family of Punjab. One of those landlords who are neither too big to join politics nor too small to be known as farmers. He tells his story proudly, tapping his cigarette lightly on the ashtray, ‘I don’t know why my father thought I could study out of all my siblings. Probably because I was the youngest,’ he shrugs. ‘He sent me to Aitchison, expecting I’d become some big shot lawyer studying with the sons of judges and politicians. But he was mistaken.’ He lowers his voice conspiringly, ‘they always think the youngest ones should be the best in everything. What the older ones couldn’t achieve, the younger ones should get that badge and put it on their goddamned chests. If you ask me, younger ones like to live up a little too.’
He repeats his story every time a new employee gets transferred to his department. ‘Look at what I have achieved. Nothing. My older brother would have done so much better. So much better I tell you!’ his voice rises sharply. ‘He only studied till tenth grade and he’s sitting in the US today running three fuel stations. Two of his children have gone to Ivy League colleges while white people cry about their children getting into drugs, and my children don’t bother to raise their heads up from their cell phones to respond to me.’ He takes a large drag from his cigarette shaking his head.
‘Khair yaar, you tell me, why did you get transferred here, what did you do, huh?’ He asks the newly transferred employee dramatically taking off his glasses.
Honestly I think Sami Sahab underestimates himself. He passed the exam of Superior Services of the country at the age of twenty-nine and was appointed as a civil servant, although he couldn’t get the first department of his choice. Or rather, in his words, he got selected into one of the least preferred ones.
‘By that time I was so sick of switching jobs that had they given me the Postal Group, I would have taken it too.’ Postal Group is supposed to be the most unwanted department. But when I object that he should be proud that he’s serving the country in the highest of offices, Sami sahab has a rigid response, ‘don’t tell me about this highest of offices crap Nasir, these are nothing but the remnants of the British Raj. What have we done for ourselves? For this country, huh? He gives a dramatic pause, ‘I’ve been in this job for almost twenty-six years, have you seen any change in the system?’ he asks Nasir irately.
Nasir is his Personal Assistant who you would always find in Sami Sahab’s office, never outside at his desk; sometimes making phone calls, other times just giving him company while Sami’s subordinates and guests come and go. Nasir never answers his boss. He only nods. So Sami resumes. ‘Except Bhutto Sahab, no one brought any reforms to the civil service. And were those really reforms?’ He asks taking a long drag of smoke and shakes his head. ‘He deformed this bureaucracy. That bloody genius of a politician.’ He throws his remaining cigarette forcefully in the bin under his table, his long fingers hitting the pen holder in the process.
Sami Sahab is an expressive man. Larger than life that he already is, his presence can never be missed in a company. When he talks, his large hands mimic the gestures of his tone, moving in all directions, sometimes bumping into things and people around him.
But what I appreciate most about Sami Sahab is that he is an honest man. Never involved himself in kickbacks and under-the-table deals. His promotions have been delayed, he has been transferred to far flung areas of the country, but he has been relentless. With a meagre government salary it’s difficult to live a comfortable life unless you have ensured some other means for yourself. And Sami Sahab’s family is used to a very comfortable lifestyle.
His wife, a daughter of a Lahori businessman was brought up in a well to do family and went to all girls Liberal Arts college in Lahore. Living in a household of four sisters, all loud, chatty, highly opinionated and prodigal, there was always something or the other going on the house—birthday parties, lunches and dinners full of cousins and dozens of friends invited by each sister, Seema had never witnessed a dull life before, devoid of human chatter and activity, until Sami was posted in Khuzdaar, a far flung district in Balochistan, right after their wedding.
‘You know my wife hates me.’ Sami repeats as matter-of-factly whenever he asks Nasir leave to his room for some privacy to talk on the phone each time things heat up between the two. Nasir says it’s always Seema who hangs up the phone first. I may be naïve but I don’t understand how two people could be so unhappy with each other, when they married out of love — another of his famously told stories.
(full story in the link above).