November 19, 2016


I worked as Assistant Professor of Horticulture at the College of Agriculture of the University of Baghdad in 1980-81. Incidentally, this College was located at the infamous Abu Gharaib, about 35 km outside Baghdad. However, the prison did not exist at that time. It was probably the peak period of prosperity for that country. The price of one Iraqi Dinar used to be 3.3 US dollars, probably the highest ever (Now one US dollar in Baghdad is reported to fetch 2500 Iraqi Dinars). The war with Iran had just begun two months back. All things of daily use were not only available in plenty but were also very cheap. Here in India during those days, a good cassette player used to be a dream possession for most university teachers. So Iraq used to be a highly sought after destination for foreign teaching assignments.

Iraqis paid very well to their foreign faculty, 400 dinars for a teacher with a Ph.D. degree plus five dinars for each years experience after Ph.D. My salary was fixed at 435 dinars, equivalent to 1450 US dollars. Here at Solan I used to be paid only 1136 rupees by my university. The Iraq Government allowed its expatriate employees to remit home 75 per cent of the total salary. There was no income tax. Life was quite cheap at Baghdad, even if one stayed with family. Most people could easily save half of the salary. Many even managed to save 75 per cent.

Salary used to be paid in the middle of the month, i.e. one used to be paid for January on 16th of January. The system of salary disbursement was very new and unexpected for one like me from India. I had heard the term “pay packet” before that. I always thought it to be just a business term. However, it was at Baghdad, I could see this pay packet for real.

The teachers and other staff members were asked to collect their salaries from the Accounts Office which they called MEHSABA in Arabic. This office was located at the first floor of a building in the College Campus. There was large verandah where a big table of the size of a table tennis table had been placed. Brown, letter sized paper envelopes containing fresh currency notes were placed on this table. Each envelope had the name of payee written on it. There used to be another smaller table nearby with a register placed on it. The payees were required to look for their name in this register and put signatures against their names. Then one would look for the envelope made for him in heap of envelopes and take it. That was all. No cashier or watchman on you.

The whole system was a great surprise for me. Of course the people would take out the cash from the open envelopes and count to verify the accuracy of the amount. I also did it. I found my 435 dinars intact. I asked an Iraqi colleague that what happened if the cash was found to be short. He replied that in that case one could walk into the cashier’s room and get the money found short. I said, though with a little hesitation, what if someone lied. He said that nobody did that in Iraq. I did not stop and said, “What, if some money has been stolen from the envelope.” He said that it did not happen in Iraq. It really did not happen so long I stayed there. 

College of Agriculture, Abugharaib, Baghdad

University of Baghdad building.  It was at Baghdad only.

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