by Daniyal Mueenuddin – published in the New Yorker (August 27, 2007 )
He flourished on a signature ability: a technique for cheating the electric company by slowing down the revolutions of its meters, so cunningly performed that his customers could specify to the hundred-rupee note the desired monthly savings. In this Pakistani desert, behind Multan, where the tube wells pumped from the aquifer day and night, Nawab’s discovery eclipsed the philosopher’s stone. Some thought he used magnets, others said heavy oil or porcelain chips or a substance he found in beehives. Skeptics reported that he had a deal with the meter men. In any case, this trick guaranteed Nawab’s employment, both off and on the farm of his patron, K. K. Harouni.
The farm lay strung along a narrow and pitted farm-to-market road, built in the nineteen-seventies, when Harouni still had influence in the Islamabad bureaucracy. Buff or saline-white desert dragged out between fields of sugarcane and cotton, mango orchards and clover and wheat, soaked daily by the tube wells that Nawabdin Electrician tended. Beginning the rounds of Nurpur Harouni on his itinerant mornings, summoned to a broken pump, Nawab and his bicycle bumped along, decorative plastic flowers swaying on wires sprouting from the frame. His tools, notably a three-pound ball-peen hammer, clanked in a greasy leather bag suspended from the handlebars. The farmhands and the manager waited in the cool of the banyans, planted years earlier to shade each of the tube wells. “No tea, no tea,” Nawab insisted, waving away the steaming cup.
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