PESHAWAR: For 45 years, Mursaleen Mama has been carrying the weight of passengers who travel through the city’s railway station on his sluggish shoulders. He stands out among the press of people at the bustling railway station. He is usually seen wearing a red shirt.
The 75-year-old coolie, who hails from Mohmand Agency, has witnessed the changing moods of the society for at least five decades. Over the years, people’s temperaments have witnessed a sea-change. The gentle, dulcet voice travellers have now been replaced by passengers who are arrogant and speak to coolies with a measure of disrespect. Although he does not regret his job, he is incensed by the way he is treated by others.
The journey within
Back in 1960, he was offered the job of coolie. Mursaleen Mama accepted the offer as he thought it would provide a ticket to a better life. Fast forward to the present and Mursaleen has been working on the railway platform for decades. He is still on the lookout for passengers with luggage.
This is not the kind of life he had hoped to live when he left his hometown all those years ago. Lost in the crowd, old and alone, he waits to assist others, even though he, himself, needs assistance.
Mursaleen Mama has two children. His eldest son is a teacher. The 75-year-old’s daughter is married and is settled into a happy and peaceful life. He also suffers from knee joint problem and does not have sufficient money to pay for his medical expenses.
Bagging the baggage
Every day, he reaches the railway station and gets hold of an empty luggage steel trolley. He pushes it towards the railway walkway and waits for passengers to disembark.
He charges Rs50 to Rs80 per client, regardless of the amount of luggage. The bidding begins as negotiations are in order. The only disadvantage is that the client always wins. This is the only way he earns money to fulfil the needs of his family.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Mursaleen Mama says, “I was very happy with my work when I started because I had 100 friends. Some of them belonged to my village in Mohmand Agency, while others were from Peshawar.”
He adds, “But now I am not happy and excited as all of them left this job and I am the only one left. My daily wage is Rs50 or Rs80 depending on the arrival and departure of trains and the number of passengers.”
Mursaleen Mama says people in 1970s were more humble and cooperative. “During the time span of 40 years, I have seen a variety of people,” he says. “I used to meet people, including foreign tourists, who used to greet me with love and would appreciate my hard work. But such people do not exist anymore.”
He adds, “I used to see people greeting and hugging each other but now there is no such thing. More often than not, I encounter passengers who do not pay me money when I carry their luggage.”
Mursaleen Mama says in Pashto, “Uss Khuwand Nishta (There is no more fun at the railway station).”
Reminiscing about the good old days, Mursaleen says he had spent a memorable time with his friends at the railway station.
Beacon of hope
The Pakistan Railways has devised a new policy to provide small and big trolleys with a built-in lock system to carry the luggage, while the coolies will get Rs50 for carrying 40 kilogrammes the load. It also planned to provide 10 holidays to them once a year without any deduction from their salary. In addition, their uniforms will be changed from red jackets to green Shalwar Qameez with a cap displaying a logo of Pakistan Railways.
The new policy also includes that the contractor will get 30% money from the salary of the coolie. Mursaleen is highly satisfied with the new policy and hopes to receive financial assistance from the railway authorities.
However, contractors at Peshawar Railway Station rejected the new policy. They said they have only two porters working at the station.
Zahoor Durrani, a cultural heritage expert, told The Express Tribune trains in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa pass through villages of several tribes and the region has its own importance due to its distinctive geographical features.
He said, “But the government, railway and political authorities have neglected it.”