It was deliciously cool inside the car, but I knew that the outside temperatures were hovering around the high forties. This was Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital city and I was being driven to the Pakistani Embassy for a meeting with our envoy.

Halfway through the journey, my driver took a diversion through, what appeared to be a dry watercourse. I saw that the spot was abuzz with activity and heavy construction machinery designed for bridge building. Men in hard hats were moving briskly to and fro and closer scrutiny revealed that some amongst them were Europeans. Three hours later, after an interesting discussion with Pakistani officials and a sumptuous lunch, I left the Mission for my hotel. As we sped along the wide metaled road, I asked my driver Abdullah, if he had adopted a different route home, since we had not encountered any diversion or construction activity en-route. The man smiled and said that we were on the same road, with the difference that the dry water course had been bridged in three hours using prefabricated structures. “Sahib, the men you saw assembling the structure were Pakistanis and the ‘goras’ were their supervisors”.

I looked at him in disbelief followed by regret, as my mind flew to Margalla Towers in Islamabad. This high-rise facility became news when one of its three towers collapsed in the October 2008 earthquake, killing more than seventy people. Declared dangerous, the remaining towers were condemned for demolition. What followed was nothing short of a comedy – first the contractor brought in a wrecking ball, which remained under repair most of the time. Human labor was then recruited, which began taking apart the concrete walls and roof with hammers and crowbars. I marveled at the courage (or foolishness) of this work force and the criminal negligence of those that had hired them and given them an environment fraught with danger. Work stopped at the site with the arrival of Ramadan and Eid and has not resumed to date.

In a world where complicated tasks of similar nature are accomplished within hours by companies using specially designed explosives charges, we are mired in stone-age methods with utter disregard for time, costs and benefits.

On a tour of duty in Central Punjab, I was required to accompany two ‘goras’ on a project. As we drove along the main highway, one of the engineers turned to me and enquired if the day was a national holiday. When I replied in the negative, he asked me as to why were so many able bodied young men wasting away their time sitting leisurely on culverts and along the road. I had a hard time explaining that this was the way life went on in rural villages and that these people were perhaps resting after an early start in their fields.Embarrassed and irritated by their amused looks, I decided to maintain a stony silence for the rest of the journey.

I have never reconciled to the sight of a large crowd that immediately gathers at the site of an accident, a brawl or any other out of the ordinary incident. I have often commented to friends that we appear to be a nation of (pardon the word) ‘tamaashbeens’. We will stand around the spot oblivious of the fact that we are wasting time, which could be better spent doing something constructive. We also do not realize that our presence at the spot may be obstructing police or rescue work.

I often turn my face in disgust when I see groups of workers lolling in the shade or taking long breaks, when they should be engaged in speedily finishing their tasks and increasing output. I should know what I am talking about as the masons engaged in ‘brick and mortar’ work at my house are not yet done with their Eid celebrations.

The writer is a freelance columnist.