Published in The Magazine, Dawn
Sunday, November 1, 1998

As if you didn't have enough troubles of your own. Your 60 neighbours ask you to manage the affairs of the building where you have your apartment. The building will soon go to the dogs, they say, unless drastic measures are taken.

You know that it'll be tough, but you agree. A committee of four is formed to help you, but they resign within a few days. There are people who refuse to pay what they should pay, on the grounds that they don't earn enough to feed themselves, even though some of them have two cars and some whose wives spend a thousand every day on make-up.

One resident says he will pay only if his relatives are hired as watchmen. Another says he will pay only if you buy water from his brother who is a prominent member of the tanker mafia. A third wants you to hire a plumber who happens to be his nephew, while a fourth wants the contract to operate and maintain the lifts.

You presevere. You borrow money from some residents to pay some of the debts incurred by the previous management, you ask the present lift contractor to allow you to settle his bills in installments, you persuade a plumber to repair the pumps at half the going rates, and pretty soon the building looks like there are civilized people living in it.

But there are many who do not like what you're doing, and among them are those who ran the building before you, the ones who who had embezzled the building funds before you took over.

Someone throws a bucket of filth on you as you emerge from your car. A motorcycle is stolen, and the owner charges you with the theft. Hot words are said, and blows are exchanged freely. You are a guest of the area SHO for a couple of days.

Suddenly you realize that what is happening in the building is the same that's happening in the rest of the country. Some people don't pay taxes, some are thieves, and all want to bleed the country dry.

There appears to be only one way to force the defaulters to pay and that is to sue them in a court. But this requires money, which you don't have. You even think of giving a contract to some cops to recover the dues, but you know that a policeman is sometimes a dacoit in disguise, and could make life hell for you as well.

You decide to give up. You resign, and move out of the building into another neighbourhood. But you can't help thinking, "It was easy to get out of the building, but if the situation gets intolerable, how will I get out of the country?"

By Shakir Lakhani