THE WAY IT WAS: Bugti lets our heaters burn —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

When Forster exclaimed that he would rather betray his country than his friend, he, I believe, was saying that a person who cannot be truthful to a friend will never be truthful to his country. We owe it to ourselves to have friends. When time runs out, friends don’t

It is a cold grey day. It has been drizzling for the last two weeks. The prospect looks dismal but wheat looks cheerful. The farmers on the Potohar plateau and the highlands who depend on rain for their crops should consider themselves lucky for having such a long rich spell. In the recent past winter rains have been slight. Is it because of global warming? My wife tells me that global warming will cause the next ice age to arrive early. We had better start acquiring warmer woollies and thicker quilts.

In old times on rainy days children insisted that their mothers make pancakes for them. Our pancakes or pooras as we call them are different from European pancakes that are thin, flaccid, eaten with spoonfuls of maple syrup and cream. I believe the best maple syrup comes from Canada. Whoever drives across the border from the US tries to bring back a can-full. Our pancakes are sweet and portly, eaten without cream or sauce. My late friend Taufiq Rafat, our celebrated English poet, whose family came from Dera Doon and settled in Sialkot after the partition, insisted that he be served salty pakoras instead. Personally I do not consider that better but it is an option open to diabetics. Those who suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure) would do well, however, to stick to the sweet pooras. Most wives are convinced that their husbands harbour hypertension in order to enjoy bad tempers. Try persuading them that it is not true, while they are taking your blood pressure, they will dismiss you with a “shut up”. No one should speak when his or her blood pressure is being taken. But this is the only time retired husbands get to get a word in. Rest of the day the wife is so busy attending to more important chores.

Bless Akbar Bugti for letting our heaters burn. There is nothing better on days like this than sitting together next to a fire. Pealing chalghozas or peanuts and throwing their shells at a log fire can be a dream experience. I wonder whether we are depleting our forest reserves in order to nurture our dreams or to add to personal wealth?

On a lighter note, I am reminded of a notable from southern Punjab who loved his hookah dearly and was very particular about the wood lighted to prepare his chillam (the terracotta bowl with ambers residing on tobacco). He believed the mango wood to be the best for this purpose. The gentleman in question wore his turban rather well and was in his mid seventies when he was mentioned to me in absentia. He had in his lifetime smoked away his entire mango orchard except for a few magnificent superannuated remnants under which he sat during the long summers, puffing his hookah without a troublesome thought.

Letting down old friends cannot be easy. No one can feel good after having done it. In an era where commitment to ideas for ideological reasons has been abandoned and brute nature allowed to pursue its vicious course, the idea of friendship acquires weightier significance. It seems that soon the garden cultivated, manured and manicured by humans for centuries may revert to a wilderness that harbours its own terrible laws.

For one, nature does not take any prisoners, I heard someone say the other day. Every creature lives on or off the other for its survival. When homo erectus strode and strived ahead he must have stumbled on the idea of friendship to consolidate human community. Friendship encouraged man to achieve incredible feats for love and honour and helped build the essential fabric of materially and culturally rich civilisations. Without friendship life would be meaningless.

Men who cannot bear the weight of friendship are surely incapable of undertaking bigger tasks. Men without friendships live for themselves alone. They are usually predators and parasites. When EM Forster exclaimed that faced with the choice he would rather betray his country than his friend, he, I believe, was saying that a person who cannot be truthful to a friend will never be truthful to his country. We owe it to ourselves to have friends. When time runs out, friends don’t. Only rats hurry to abandon ships, not friends. It is said that men in high places cannot afford to have friends. Perhaps that is why they are astonished to find themselves unexpectedly pushed into the cold or with a bit of luck beheaded or shot in the back of the head.

Would you say that sitting next to a cosy fire on cold days makes weak minds sentimental? Perhaps a little, but show me a worthy person devoid of sentiments.

Prof Ijaz Ul Hassan is a painter, author and political activist