THE WAY IT WAS: Cows and buckets —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

Those who may have missed the point should know that the satisfaction lies first in the revelation that the doctor was not gang-raped but just raped and secondly that she was not raped 12 times but merely twice. Should that not be a matter of great relief?

This winter it rained buckets every other day. It rained last night; the sky cleared in the morning and is overcast again. The prospect would cheer anyone who bears scorching heat for most of the year. It is past one, Maulvi Sahib is calling for Zohr prayers. The Zohr azan in winters is like a knell announcing the end of the better part of day. After lunch the steeds harnessed to the sun-chariot begin to gallop towards the western horizon.

By the time people have poured their second cup of afternoon tea, it is dusk and room lights need to be switched on. In summer the Zohr azan is a beacon for an afternoon nap. When there were no air-conditioners, blinds (chiks) were pulled down and ventilators (roshandans) covered with black covers to keep the heat out. In those days there used to be few stragglers on the roads after lunch. Since the vast majority of the citizens lacked the luxury of electric fans, they retired for a snooze in the shadow of their favourite tree.

There are of course a variety of shades. There are trees blessed with a cool shade, some that cast a shade of a lighter hue and many that flaunt chequered patterns of light and shade, constantly changing with the movement of sun. The tree spends so much time keeping its agonised body and soul together that it has little patience to care for its foliage. Its leaves are so delicate and feathery that they can barely restrain sunlight from penetrating to the ground.

Professor Aziz ud Din Ahmed once recounted how on one hot summer afternoon while he was proceeding along a dusty road on one of his political jaunts in the arid southern Punjab, he encountered a townsman comfortably reclining under a kikar tree. There was nothing in sight for miles except for the hot afternoon air (loo) and the blinding sun. Aziz ud Din Ahmed was greatly intrigued to see a human prostrate under a kikar with such ease.

Without bothering to introduce himself, Aziz Sahib inquired “Great one, what are you doing out there.” Abid Ameeq (a well known Seraiki poet and intellectual) melancholically surveyed Aziz ud Din with his dilated eyes, speculating who was this (they didn’t know each other then) short creature with thick lenses and light rusty hair, sauntering about in the afternoon heat. He then replied, “Saeen, I was proceeding to the village down this road but on seeing this cover I lay down for a brief rest and then dozed off.” Prof Aziz stared in disbelief wondering how the glowing dusty shade where Prof Ameeq had taken refuge could be categorised as cover.

This reminds me of two Englishmen who were on an assignment, collecting intelligence and taming the native tribes in remote and desolate districts. The one stationed around Jacobabad in Balochistan reported to a friend in a letter. “It is above 120 centigrade in the shade but no shade.”

The other one who was an assistant collector at Bhakkar in the Punjab informed the Scotsman, who arrived to replace him while a dust storm was raging in the district, “Don’t worry, we have a dust storm only once a year. It lingers on for the whole year.” I wonder what the Roman had to say about the English weather to a Roman. “Somewhat misty again, Marcus Spencus?” or something to that effect.

I love English weather in Pakistan. Mists flirting with wild chestnuts and fir trees can be enchanting. Even when it slowly builds up to deluge valleys or blind entire prospects it can evoke pensive feelings, provoking passions out of reach. As I said it is an overcast day but instead of feeling cheered, darkness infests my heart; a darkness that would not be lifted even if the sun was blazing into my face.

By now the Zohr prayers must be over. How many devotees prayed for forgiveness for remaining silent over the rape cases of Mukhtar Mai and Dr Shazia Khalid? Should we take satisfaction from the inquiry tribunal report handout issued by the Balochistan government (March 8, 2005) that Dr Shazia was not gang-raped but raped twice by one (unidentified) person while another (unidentified person) stood guard outside the room.

Those who may have missed the point should know that the satisfaction lies first in the revelation that the doctor was not gang-raped but just raped and secondly that she was not raped 12 times but merely twice. Should that not be a matter of great relief?

It should also be a relief for everyone that Mukhtar Mai was not raped. Since five of the six scoundrels who had been sentenced to death for allegedly raping Lady Mukhtar Mai have been released, it can be assumed that they did not commit rape. The sixth of the gang has had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment. I guess because he was not harsh with the victim. The picture doesn’t look as bad as it was initially painted to be.

According to the latest reports, the score is that Mukhtar Mai may have been only partially raped and Dr Sahiba was only twice put to inconvenience. We must not, of course, forget to mention the unidentified person for acting so nobly by standing guard outside the room to ensure no one else inconvenienced the Dr Sahiba. If the matter is pursued and investigated with the same concern, all facts that have escaped notice should be in place soon. Once this is done both ladies can be exonerated for having been raped and sent back to lead their normal happy lives as objects “like a cow or a bucket”.

On this cool cloudy day I am for once, not cheered. To use a poet’s words, my heart aches, a strange numbness overtakes, as though of cowardice I have drunk.

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