The Gleipnir

The Gleipnir

Hope is the rope we all cling to; either out of need or out of expectation. It is like the Gleipnir- smooth and soft like a silken ribbon but incredibly strong. It helps us to persevere. Hope – the fuel for life.  

“Three lakh rupees. It includes the cost of your visa, airfare and our processing fee.”  The manpower agent handed a form to Siraj. “Here, keep this. Come back once you are ready.”

Siraj has been secretly dwelling on the wish to follow the trend; the trend to work abroad. But the amount the agent quoted was too huge for him. “I need a fortune to fulfill my desire. I don’t know how, but I hope to find a way.”  He looked at his wife, and they exchanged a faint smile.

Siraj worked as an office boy, and they lived hand to mouth. He had his wife, two kids and elderly parents to take care of. The increasing expenses and commitments bothered him constantly. He heard inspiring stories from his neighbours who worked abroad. He witnessed kutcha houses growing into Pucca ones. Gradually, the seed of hope to become like them sprouted within him.

“I want to build a house and send our kids to a good school. This is my chance; I don’t want it to slip away. We can have a good life if I go and work in a foreign country. The pay is good, and I can repay the loans gradually.” Siraj explained to his family. After a long discussion, his father allowed him to sell their only asset- a small piece of land near their house. It wasn’t enough, so he borrowed the remaining from a local lender.

“Rehana, I’ve put a lot at stake, but I’m keeping my hopes high. It’s not going to be easy, I know, yet…”  Siraj clutched his wife’s hands and sat staring at the starless sky.

“There will be stars; one day. One day, this sky will be full of twinkling stars. But we will be seeing it through a bigger window; or from the terrace of our new house.” A smile flickered on Rehana’s face. “I have complete faith in you. I know, whatever you want to do, will be for our good. And don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything in your absence. Please call us whenever possible and take care of yourself in the foreign land.”  

Siraj wondered if she was consoling him or was trying to come to terms with her own dilemmas. Need and hope were the two bitter-sweet pills that kept Siraj on his toes. After six months, along with a few others, he boarded the flight with a heart full of hope. He took a deep breath and uttered a silent prayer. I hope everything goes well there. And here too. 

***

“Is it possible to make a call now?  I need to inform my family about my safe landing.”  Siraj asked the man who came to receive them from the airport.

“Don’t worry. There’s a phone booth on the camp premises. You can call from there till you get your local Sim cards.”  He replied with a smile.

The journey to the labour camp seemed never-ending. They were twenty heads in all. Having his countrymen around eased his mind a bit. Everyone was busy admiring the surroundings, but Siraj was restless. I hope they are all fine at home. It’s not even a day, and I’m missing their presence. Rehana and Ammu must be worried by now. The kids are out playing in the fields, I can guess. Abbu must be taking a nap now. 

A hard tap on his shoulder woke Siraj up from his reverie. They were at their destination. Siraj looked around. The place was crowded with people from different countries. He met several of his countrymen who shared their experience of living and working in a foreign land. He realised that despite all odds, hope was the only stimulant that kept them going. Let it be my magic tonic too. I’ll hold on to hope no matter what comes forth. 

Lush green fields…children playing in the field… the smiling face of a young woman…a thatched house…an old lady winnowing wheat…a group of men laughing merrily…an old man on a charpoy…muddy roads…gentle breeze… Siraj woke up with a jerk, all soaked in sweat. The lone fan in the room looked tired of being in constant motion.

“You’ll get used to it.” A roommate who noticed Siraj staring at the fan spoke. “The temperature soars in the summers, so we requested for an AC. Hope they put one soon.”   

Siraj smiled, and acknowledged with a nod. The conversation he had with his wife the previous day, the dream he woke up from, made his heartache. The not so delicious dinner from the canteen, reminded him of home-cooked food. He shrugged off his thoughts, and prepared for his first day at work. With a firm will, Siraj donned his new uniform.

After the briefing session, their Team Leader, Prashant, said, “I’ll show you around and hand over your assignments. Please follow the rules, and do your job well. Don’t give anyone the chance to complain.”

***

“Siraj, coffee please?” 

“Siraj, please pass this file to Maher Sir.”

“Siraj, get my lunch from Chowking.”

“Siraj, I left my wallet in the car. Can you please… Thanks, brother!” 

“Siraj, I ran out of cigarettes. Take this. Keep the change.”

Within six months, Siraj became the indispensable guy. His name reverberated throughout the office. He became the apple of their eyes. His jovial and friendly attitude earned him love and respect from everyone. And often a few bucks as baksheesh. Siraj saved money and bought a mobile phone to call home whenever possible. At times, he felt tired and longed to return home. There were days when he thought of giving up ‘cause he missed his family. But the hope for a better future, especially for his children, kept him going.

One day while talking to his wife, Siraj said, “You know Rehana, we are all same here. Far away from home, but with lots of hope in our hearts. Hope for a better future; for ourselves and our families. Some days I work overtime so that I can send you some extra money.”

“I hope you are taking care of yourself too. Don’t worry about us. We are all doing fine here.” Rehana assured him. “I started paying off the debts and bought a new walking stick for Abbu. The school fees are paid, and I bought a new pair of glasses for Ammu.”

“I still have a long way to go, Rehana,” exclaimed Siraj.  “You know what, we are going to have evening classes every weekend. The volunteers from an NGO will teach us English and computers. I hope to learn and better myself. Sometimes we have recreational events at our camp. Last week, I sang and danced with the others. It eased our minds and relaxed our muscles. Anyway, my vacation days are nearing. I can’t wait to see you all.” 

***

“What?? I clearly remember you mentioned 10% interest every month. How can you change your words now??”  Siraj fumed with anger. “Chacha, back then, I approached you hoping that you will understand our situation. But it seems like you had your own cruel intentions. You lent the money only to cheat us later.”

“What do we do now?  He doubled the interest rate suddenly.” Rehana looked at Siraj who sat staring at the night sky. A lone star twinkled from behind the grey clouds. “See, that’s a sign. We shouldn’t lose hope ‘cause that’s the only thing that keeps us alive. Everything will work out eventually.”

“Yes, we don’t have a choice. Lets hope that everything gets sorted soon.” Siraj was optimistic. “I want to spend a worriless vacation now.” He took his kids to the fair, spent time with his parents and wife, met his friends and relished the home-cooked food that he missed in the foreign land.  

With memories tucked in his heart, he rejoined work. Shortly after, Siraj was summoned to the head office. I wonder what is it about. Did I do something wrong? I hope not. Anyway, let’s see what’s in store for me.

“Hello, Siraj! Come, have a seat.” The HR greeted him with a smile. “How are you, and how was your vacation?”

“I’m fine, Sir. Thank you. My vacation went good. I spent time with my family and friends,” replied Siraj.

“That’s  good to hear! Here, I have something for you.” The HR handed him a brown envelope.

With a fluttering heart, Siraj opened the letter. Written in bold letters, the subject caught his attention. 

Notice of termination of Employment

A chain of chemical reactions occurred in his body. Siraj felt the panic rise within his stomach. The bile crept into his mouth, but he swallowed it down. He continued to read the letter. 

Dear Siraj,

We regret to inform you of the termination of your employment with Al Asher Facility Management company effective tomorrow, dated 31/05/2014. We received positive feedback about you, and would like to thank you for your services. The reason for termination of employment, the details of your severance benefit, and compensation are mentioned in the attached document. The decision is final and irrevocable. We will initiate the end of service formalities as agreed in the contract. 

We wish you all the best in your future endeavours.

Sincerely,

  xxx

Within seconds, his hopes came crashing down. Words fought to rush out, but he lost his voice. This can’t be true. All those words of appreciation, and yet… I abided by every rule, never gave anyone the chance to complain…then how is this possible? God, is this a bad dream? What did I do to receive such a cruel punishment? You know I have responsibilities and liabilities too. What will I tell my family? How will I keep my promises? What will happen to my kids’ education, and how will I pay off the loan? What will I do now! We will lose the land. Abbu will never forgive me. All our hopes and dreams are in shambles. How will I manage now?

“You’ve done good, Siraj. Don’t be disheartened. You never know what lies ahead. Accept the reality and embrace change. We are helpless. The recession has hit the company adversely.  We are left with no choice but to let go of some of our employees. I will clear your gratuity soon.”  The HR kept consoling and motivating him. “Stay in touch, and get back to me if you need any help. My best wishes are with you.”  

How can he be so casual? His words can’t heal my state. Nothing can. I can’t return home like a loser. God… He walked out of the office without a word. For the next few days, he stayed aloof and cried himself to sleep. I won’t dare to hope again. It was hope that kept me going, and now it abandoned me. I’m left in the dark with no way out. I need to find a job, but where? How? They said it’s recession, so… What will I tell Rehana? Arrgh!

“Siraj, can you come over to the office please? It’s kinda urgent.”  The HR called him after a week. 

The moment he walked into the HR’s office, he was greeted with a smile. Prashant, the team leader was there too. For some unknown reason, he looked quite amused. For a second, Siraj felt disgusted at their behaviour. 

How can they be so casual about this whole thing? Termination is not a joke.  Siraj couldn’t help but let go of the tears he has been holding back. 

“You are a strong man, Siraj. Don’t break down so easily? You have a long way to go, my boy.”  The HR passed a glass of water and told him to calm down.

How can he tell me to relax?  Can’t he be little more empathetic? Just ‘cause he’s the boss, and his job is safe…

Well, he was in for a big surprise! This time, the surprise was bigger and better. Way much better, indeed. 

***

“Thank you, Lord! I laid my trust in you, and kept holding onto hope. This wouldn’t have been possible without your blessings and everyone’s support.”  Siraj picked up his visiting card. A smile flickered on his face. Finally!

Siraj Hussain.
Business Development Officer
Al Ahli and Associates
UAE

Memories from that day flashed in front of his eyes. He clearly remembered how broken he felt after receiving that termination letter. Just when he thought his life was at a dead end, he got blessed with a new beginning.

“You know Rehana, at first I was mad at them, but when they disclosed the truth… Gosh, that feeling can’t be expressed in words. I cried out of sheer happiness. I couldn’t believe that my prayers got answered. Infact, I didn’t even hope for it, but God had his plans.”

“I never thought of seeing the sky from the 15th floor. The stars look closer and bright too.” Rehana took a sip of her coffee, and gazed outside. “It’s all ‘cause you never stopped hoping. I know it must’ve been hard for you as it was hard for us too. But hope kept us fuelled. And here we are today. Sitting on the terrace of our beautiful house, reminiscing the past. That too, in a foreign land. The land of our dreams. The land that never allows hope to fade away.”

“Yes, and it’s all ‘cause they saw some potential in me. One chance was all I needed. I was and will always be thankful to each one of them. It happened so suddenly that I couldn’t believe my luck. I remembered having a brief chat with one of the senior officers of this company, but that was all. I don’t know what got into him that they appointed me as an Office Assistant. I never expected in my wildest dreams that a casual discussion would turn into a blessing.”

“A blessing for all of us,”  Rehana smiled and rocked the jhoola, energetically. “Ok, ok, continue the story. I won’t disturb the flow. I know how special those moments, these memories are for you.”

Siraj continued. “The whole affair was surprising and very special for me. Just when I was about to lose hope, that news restored my faith. A new company, a better post, and a modest package…I was on the seventh heaven.”

“All of us cried with joy when you gave the news. Abbu and Ammu distributed sweets in the village. I can never forget that day. We felt so proud of you.”

“Oh, I had to treat everyone at the camp and office. Fixed working hours, better opportunities, the chance to learn and excel thrilled me. It was such a relief. Yet, I was afraid ‘cause I got more than I ever hoped for. I thought it was just a beautiful dream. I didn’t want to wake up from.”

Rehana added, “That was just the beginning. The beginning of a new life for all of us; for our children.”  

Siraj cherished those memories from his past. The evening computer classes by the NGO helped him to hone his skills. He upskilled himself to stay in the game, to move ahead. Siraj was like a flawless pebble. He worked tirelessly, and kept polishing his elements in order to make way to everyone’s heart. Gradually, he paid off his debts and bought back their land. He bought an apartment in a foreign land, and moved his family in.

“Five years!” exclaimed Siraj. “It has been a long journey. I couldn’t have done it without your support.”  His eyes moistened but with tears of happiness.

Rehana embraced him and said, “See, we stood the test of time, and thus the returns are far better than what we hoped for. The journey was difficult, undoubtedly, but the fruit of our perseverance is the sweetest.”

“Well said, my dear wife. Hope for a better tomorrow helped us to reach better heights. Abbu and Ammu are done with their Hajj. I hope we get to go too once our kids are settled.” Siraj looked at the sunset sky and heaved a sigh of relief.

Somewhere, deep down, Siraj had his regrets. The regret of losing many beautiful moments while being away from home. The unfelt and unlived moments kept poking his conscience. Incompleteness within completion.

***

Glossary:
GleipnirIn Norse mythology, Gleipnir is an enchanted chain.
Ammu- Mother
Abbu- Father
Jhoola- Swing
Hajj- Holy pilgrimage
Charpoy- a bed 

Authors note: Characters and company names are fictitious. Any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.
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