For months now, I’ve watched a building being constructed across the street. I first saw it when it was just a pile of sand. Truckloads of sand but a pile nevertheless. A band of pathan brothers was to be seen everyday. They would be shoveling sand before I woke in the morning, and would retire to their huts before I got back home in the evening.
Slowly, little by little, the foundation was laid. Criss-crossing steel bars which would be smothered by cement. Never ending supplies of sand and bricks. The deathly gray mortar filling up the gaping hole in the ground. The pathans toiled away day after day. A turban was to protect from the sun. Loose, flowing clothes to keep the skin aired.
I went on a vacation. A few months passed by and never did the pathans or their structure strike a match in my mind. I got back home some weeks later. I walked to the window whence the hole in the ground had first been glimpsed. Though still unfinished and unshapely, the skin and bone was standing tall. Did the pathans see the beauty in their creation? What more did it mean to them than green in the pocket and food in the breadbasket?
One morning I woke up to find bamboo shoots being erected on the periphery. Although devoid of urgency, their speed had the semblance of a well practiced craft. Each movement was precise and seemed to be devoid of conscious thought. The rate at which bamboo shoots were connected was remarkable. Within the span of a few days, several floors worth of bamboo was to be seen. The bamboos were virtually glued together by complex knot systems which ensured inter dependence. At the same time, it looked as though several connections could fail before compromising the integrity of the system.
Day after day I watched the pathans lay down the bamboo shoots and tie knots with practiced ease. They would hoist themselves to the next level sans ropes or any safety except the strength of their grips. For a bystander, their position seemed precarious but upon careful observation, I learned yet again – ignorance is bliss. By sufficiently shutting out the idea of falling from that height, they had effectively learned to ignore a risk which could infiltrate conscious thought and make work inefficient.
A strong and un-worded bond seemed to connect all of them. A delicate weariness would envelop them if I stood around observing for too long. They almost seemed to be blood brothers.
Today, the project nears completion. The pace of work has slowed to a crawl. They say you never finish a piece of art – you just stop working on it. Everyday the pathans add some finishing touches to the intricate designs on the building. (We break) bones and stones but not hearts – these words are used to describe pathans. Will they leave a piece of themselves behind when this wonder is completed? Do they now deliberately work in a mellow manner – sensing that this endeavor is near its end?