I have been going house to house now for some time. Had I known this is what I would be doing with my time, I would have become a salesman instead of a primary school teacher. Believe me, getting information from these households is way harder than selling them detergent they don’t want.
The good thing is I have become mates with the soldier who accompanies me door to door. At least his house will be open to me after this exercise. We tell people we are here to count them, and it seems like everyone has learned the same joke: “So after you have counted us, will we count in this country?” Can’t they understand, we are enumerators, not Justice Cornelius.
And what’s with all the hostility? The suspicion? It almost makes me want to rob them blind and say ‘there you go’. Every time we are at the door faced with those questioning eyes I want to say, “Look, I promise, we don’t come bearing polio drops.”
The boss tells us every day we are doing important work to keep us motivated. He says after this exercise we will know exactly how many people we are failing. That we will know who to serve and how better to manage after this. Honestly, I don’t get it, do you need to know there are a million people before giving them basics like a health unit or sewerage?
So, what have we found out so far from the census? Well, that Pakistan is the only country in the world dangerous for statisticians.
You just don’t know how hard it can be asking some of these questions. Just try asking someone their sect when your name is Omar Farooq. Or getting at the fertility of some gruff man’s wife.
But it’s the comedians, oh the comedians. Comedy is the silent epidemic of this country. When you ask for their source of water and they say tap, you want to tap them out. When you ask them about their occupation in a basti and they say industrialist, following it up with an offer of a Qatari letter as proof. Ask them about language and they say they speak the language of money.
We have been told by the Bureau of Statistics that we cannot indulge in retaliatory comedy. If I had a rupee for every person I did not quip to ‘you can make a cricket team of your household members’, the money would be more than the bribe Imran Khan claims Nawaz offered him.
The Pakhtuns keep insisting to double-check whether we have undercounted them, the muhajirs keep asking if we can inflate them, the Punjabis insist we undercounted them last time and we don’t listen to anything the Baloch say. My friends in Lahore who are doing the same job say the government is okay with us making Lahore as big as Karachi, while friends in rural Sindh say they would like to make Karachi as small as Lahore.
Filling in forms day in and day out is cumbersome. Forget about the Panama Canal, I have Carpal Tunnel. Grading papers is so much easier, at least there is someone to take my frustrations out on. Aah, the joys of being in a classroom again, when will I see my decrepit school?
They say this is going to change the politics of the country. I get the feeling that happens more when you have consensus instead of a census. But who are we to say anything, we have been pushed into this by the Supreme Court. If only they would push others into birth control.
This article was originally published in the Herald's May 2017 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.