The way it was: Even a bald eagle would do

Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

You know a person can actually get hurt in a struggle. I would rather be in a zoo, safe and well-fed rather than taking risks on the street for something so intangible as Peace and Rights

Art and literature have a unique power to set things on fire. They have magical attributes, which can move matter — move mountains. That is why friends and foes alike, connive to appropriate the talent of writers and artists. Inherently, art and literature are in conflict with the rulers. Poetry and painting aspire for change, whereas rulers by their very nature resist change. Dialectically, form is static whereas content desires change. Content is the dynamic part, which impels form to change. Form doesn’t have a mind. The State is thus also devoid of thoughts and feelings. In human affairs, art and literature can drive people, by arousing emotions and ideas, to change the inert State.

Form and content are both incompatible and inseparable. It is in the best interest of art and society that they should both sympathetically evolve to avoid conflict and chaos. Since among the humans, material needs and ideas continuously evolve, there is concurrent need for social forms to evolve and change with them. Unfortunately it is not always easy to abandon ideas and beliefs, howsoever worn out they may have become with time. The people who control the State exploit this reservation to resist change by either demeaning new ideas or outright declaring them hostile and dangerous. They resist them through propaganda and whatever force they have at their command. If need arises they will kill. They fear that any change will weaken the political and social structures through which they wield and exercise power. Samuel Huntington in Clash of Civilisations makes an interesting observation that it is not power that corrupts but the fear of losing power, which corrupts.

The other day I was at a reception arranged in honour of a visiting writers’ delegation from India. There were these good intentioned, foolish men and women, who believe in fighting for peace. I should have thought that having enemies and decimating them was a worthier pursuit. Any coward and a sissy can struggle for peace. It is not a martial art. The standard bearers of peace are mostly these twisted and dented (wingay chibbay) persons who seem to have all the time in the world to pass resolutions and measure the length of their streets.

Striving for peace is a commonplace ideal of the weak, wretched and seedy intellectual sweating for inane causes. They are a regular hazard for those who make sacrifices on their behalf to keep the world safe. I fail to understand why increasingly people of the world prefer to wear the logo of a silly dove rather than brandishing the image of an eagle, even when it is a bald one.

Unfortunately there is never a dearth of foolish people in the world who support lost and weird causes. They are never tired of being contentious. I should have thought it wiser to measure one’s size before pushing the mighty around. Unfortunately history is crowded with these sorts who take on Goliaths. If David had missed the slingshot, he could have got the whole town in trouble.

History is full of such cocky individuals who have an attitudinal problem. Such types have smeared the tidy pages of history with their sweaty insolence and blood. Look what the Pharaohs built and what Moses left behind, not a single pyramid, temple, or a statue or two. If the ignorant Vietnamese peasants in dirty black vests and black pyjamas had not got restless, Vietnam could have been like Florida. But this was not to be. Let’s hope the Iraqis demonstrate better sense. Shouldn’t a country’s sense of self-respect be commensurate with its poverty?

Ms Ajeet Kaur, the leader of the Indian delegation, demonstrating arrogance of the rich insisted that the weak must all stand up for their rights. Imagine she said, ‘Freedom lies in the struggle.’ Very funny! You know a person can actually get hurt in a struggle. I would rather be in a zoo, safe and well-fed rather than taking risks on the street for something so intangible as Peace and Rights. If at all, Rights need to be curtailed. Look at our children they talk back and come back home so late. You have all the rights don’t you? You can even go hungry if you like. Rights, my big toe.

There was another Indian writer who informed the audience that God uttered one word ‘Kun’ and the world was created. He also reminded everyone that man today has the power to destroy the world by just pressing a single button. I suppose the boring point he wished to make was that man has become his equal in the negative sense. Ajeet Kaur, a mere woman not more than eighty kilos, warned those who rule the world, “Don’t sow seeds for which you might have to go through hell.” Do we care?

The banner under which the leaders of the writers’ conference were seated was brandished with the motto, ‘Pen for Peace.’ What has literature and poetry to do with peace? In the early seventies, I produced a string of canvases based on the important concerns of the time. They were anti-war and focused on the problems of the third world countries and their heroic struggle for independence, democracy and freedom from want. A group of modern artists branded them as posters. Modernism that began as revolt against old values had by now become a movement of obedience. Most of my paintings were censored and excluded from exhibitions. If literature and art were produced for peace, would it not be propaganda? Should not writers and artists focus on their inner trials and conflicts and allow others to establish peace for them through war?

Once the terrorists have been silenced, mothers who launch their children as suicide bombers have been weeded out, the evil freedom fighters have been eliminated, then there will be peace. It is commonsense that without the vanquished there cannot be victors, and without victory there cannot be peace. If the Vietnamese had allowed Vietnam to be napalmed and then allowed it to be levelled with tanks and bulldozers, there could have been more land available for growing rice and laying serene traditional gardens. Vietnam thus could have been better-fed and better set to reap the benefits of the modern economy. People who eat with chopsticks just don’t know what is good for them? Anyway that is history. Let us hope for better results in other parts of the world.

But getting back to matters of personal security, being in a zoo or being behind bars in any other place should be safe. I believed this until I went to buy a chicken for dinner. Buying a chicken in developed countries is devoid of pleasure. The chicken is inert, well-dressed and packed (without feathers, a limp head and claws).

Buying a chicken in Pakistan is a lively sport. You order a chicken; the butcher opens a small inlet to the cage, where there is a peaceful population of broilers. Since I knew that the best ones have a healthy red crown, I insist on the bird, which I want. The butcher shoves his bloody hand into the cage, holds the fowl by the neck, a leg or a wing and pulls it out. The unlucky bird utters frightful cackles, which makes some passers-by come to a dead stop. There are terrifying cackles in the cage, but soon the birds settles down, each content for being spared. Normal life is restored, picking a grain here, pecking and pushing a companion there, and excreting droppings all over.

In the meantime their erstwhile companion has been slaughtered; skin and feathers are pulled off the warm body, which is then deftly chopped into the required number of pieces. The birds, which have luckily survived return to live their brief lives in the belief that what has happened to others, will not happen to them. The bloody hand invades the pen again and another bird disappears. Life goes on as usual in peace and safety in the belief that no harm will come your way.

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