IN a far-flung village of Haripur district, an elderly man wakes up each morning to deliver letters. Draped in a warm sweater or shawl, he sets out with a four-foot willow stick to find his way to even the last house in the village over the 12-kilometre-long track through the hills.
This is Muhammad Anwar, the village postman everyone fondly calls Hafiz sahib. He is blind, yet his handicap has not kept him from delivering letters for the past 44 years.
As he carefully makes his way along the rugged and pebble-strewn walkways he knows so well, villagers smile and lower their gaze out of respect. Some walk up to him and shake him warmly by the hand; he is a familiar and well-loved face. He recognises the voice of each villager just by their greetings.
Anwar was born eye-impaired. His mother and siblings too were born blind. The responsibility of running the household fell on Anwar after his father died. Recalling his early days, Anwar says: “Four of us were blind in my household, including my mother, a brother and a sister. I had to leave the house to find work at an early age. I was partially blind at the time; even though it was very blurred, I had some vision.”
He talks about how his mother arranged his marriage. “My wife was not blind. God gave us four children, three daughters and a son, all of whom have full vision. This job then became even more important, so that I could raise my children.” Unfortunately, Anwar’s brother also passed away, leaving behind four children for him to support.
Anwar’s ability to navigate through between the two post offices in the area is so skilful, it often amazes people when they learn he is blind. Villagers often invite him into their homes for a cup of tea or a meal when he delivers a letter.
“I got this job in 1973 for Rs55 per month, and it was because of this that my family could afford our daily meals at the time,” he says. “For the past 44 years I have been a non-permanent member of the area’s post office. My job is to deliver letters and take post from one post office to the other. I now receive Rs1,040 as payment for this job each month. This area did not have roads or cars in the past, but even now, when it does, I still travel on foot.”
He says with pride that he has always worked with honesty. “I have delivered heavy packages and even large sums sent through money order,” he tells me. “I am old now and want to rest but the people of my village support me a lot and do not let me retire.”
Although he says he is content, over four decades his monthly salary has merely gone from Rs55 to Rs1,040. Anwar says he gets a raise every five years. “The officers in charge keep giving me hope but don’t increase my salary. I request the higher authorities to provide my nephew a permanent job in the post office so my problems are solved,” he adds.
His current salary amounts to a mere 10 per cent of the current minimum wage in the country. Despite having been in service all these years, he is still not a permanent employee, which means he is not entitled to a pension.
Anwar’s outlook about his work and handicap is an inspiration for his community. It has earned him respect and admiration from the people that work in his department as well. The Kakotri post officer says: “Hafiz sahib has exemplary dedication. He reports to duty under any circumstance. The road is difficult and he often has to haul packages up on his head to bring them to the post office but he never fails.”
Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2017