THE WAY IT WAS: Betrayal for the larger good —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

Whatever is happening in was unavoidable, consequently understandable and forgivable and essentially good. How pompous and transcendental can one get?

King Duncan’s castle was located in an idyllic setting. One day, a raven cried itself hoarse. The Elizabethans considered intrusion of a raven a bad omen. The croaking of the raven, just as they feared, did not augur well. The events unfolding subsequently led to the king’s murder at the hands of his most trusted Thane, Macbeth of Cawdor.

In Macbeth, Shakespeare constructs one of his finest tragedies around the ordinary theme of betrayal. History has proved over and over again that sentiments leading to betrayal are for more powerful than loyalty. Bara log betray for bigger reasons, chhota log betray for money.

Brutus betrays the great Caesar for the future of Rome, or so he believes. When the coup fails the noble Brutus takes his own life by bravely falling on his sword. Brutus dies in defeat like a samurai. (Although no samurai is known to have betrayed a friend or his master.)

Thank God Samurais are no more. They perished with the demise and destruction of Japanese feudal culture. Today we have much greater flexibility in structuring and restructuring our lives. With the anachronistic notions of friendship and loyalty out of the way, the contemporary man can pursue his, ‘enlightened’ self-interest without any sense of shame or remorse.

After the bloody deed was done, Macbeth was smitten with grief bordering on insanity. Macbeth, who was not afraid of facing a sabre-tooth tiger, was now haunted by the unnatural deed. He repeatedly rubbed his hands to clean them of Duncan’s blood. Macbeth, deceived by three witches and encouraged by his wife, accepted responsibility for his actions. He knew that there could be no forgiveness for what he had done and surrendered his life fighting — never begging for mercy.

There is no remorse or repentance in our lives. We experience a loss only at losing money and not a friend or a benefactor. And there is no question of accepting responsibility for our own deeds. We may be instruments of the most heinous crime or provocation but it is excusable on account of some larger ‘good’. Whatever is happening in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq was unavoidable, consequently understandable and forgivable and essentially good. How pompous and transcendental can one get. No one is haunted by the spilt blood. All is for the better and the best. Most of us who still prize their conscience, have learnt that silence is a greater virtue.

The other day a heifer was sacrificed at the altar in Islamabad. What made the occasion a historic one was the suppliance with which the sacrificial heifer submitted himself to the knife. In fact, contrary to national custom, he knifed himself thus saving the executioner the trouble to behead him. Like all sacrifices, this was also undertaken to please a god whose identity is being kept a secret.

All who know of Haner or Rosana Padasta, who played Helen of Troy in a film of the same name, are aware that Agamemnon sacrificed her youngest daughter to placate the gods to send wind so that the armada he commanded could sail off to Troy. His sacrifice was accepted. The price he had to pay for it on his return home after vanquishing Troy is another story. Had he known the ending, he would not have been eager to sail away from Greece.

The frieze that once skirted the Parthenon — parts of which were pilfered by Lord Elgin and are now in the British Museum — depicts two processions, both leading from the back, then proceeding from their respective sides to converge in front of the temple. The processions comprise Athenian nobility, common citizens and slaves who are carrying gifts for Athena, the patron goddess of Athens. A heifer garlanded with flowers and adorned with other decorations is being led to Athena’s temple for sacrifice, to the accompaniment of music. The frieze is one of Phidias’ surviving masterpieces. The modern viewer can still hear the notes of music, the thumping of horse hoofs, the hustle and bustle of the occasion that have been so vividly portrayed by the sculptor. Unfortunately, the larger than life statue of Athena is no more. It is perhaps a reminder to mortals, whatever garments they wear, that time is the final winner and takes all.

The ancient Athenians, it is explicitly evident from the Parthenon frieze, are proceeding on an auspicious day to make a sacrifice to their patron goddess, to ensure prosperity and well being of the city and its denizens. In Lahore, and other places surely, everyone is wondering to what purpose was the gentle and honest Jamali sacrificed at the Temple of Democracy. If Jamali is to be chastised, it must be for providing a polite and decent appearance to the rulers.

The president has expressed great satisfaction at the smooth transition. He is of the view that no one has been slaughtered. A heifer has been replaced by another that in due course of time will be replaced by yet another, who will husband democracy the best.

I believe in England dark clouds have a silver lining. Did our dark clouds ever have a silver lining or have they shed it? For the moment, the country can find solace in the fact that the exiting prime minister has neither been executed nor exiled. Another important fact is that Pakistan will soon distinguish itself for having three prime ministers in the shortest period of time. This should help us easily find our way into the pages of the Guinness Book of Records, unless of course a spoilsport points out that we don’t have a legitimate democracy.

There are people who never cease to amaze you with their imagination. A person quipped over the telephone the other day: “It seems all is set for the relay-race to elect Shaukat Aziz as PM, but what if Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain (the incumbent), inadvertently drops the baton and Shaukat Aziz loses the by-elections?” Would you have thought of that? Of course, not. Anything and everything is possible these days. If Brutus and Macbeth can murder their benefactors, it wouldn’t hurt a modern conscience to elbow out a cabinet colleague. In the end, does it really matter who is the PM, unless he runs the show?

Ravens and crows are cawing and croaking themselves hoarse on the hill in Islamabad. I wonder if this is a good omen?

Prof Ijaz-ul-Hassan is a painter, author and a political activist