The way it was: For a fruity, sporting Pakistan
Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan
We certainly have had more than our share of frost, however no one reported sighting the moon, which traditionally encourages lovers to break into sad songs, which it is believed soothe a broken heart. At least this is how it was in the black and white films. In those days lovers rarely got together in private and sang their lines from respected distance. True Lovers were supposed to suffer. I must say that heroines today have a much better time raucously shaking their buts to rousing tunes
Winter is finally on its way out. We haven’t had such a severe winter for decades. And the one with such dense fog that made our haughty sun seem like a giddy smudge on a solemn sky. But the sun is back in all its radiance, pricking nature to wake up from its brief slumber. Nature, in the hot regions, like our people is hardly ever allowed to rest. It is always busy replenishing what it sheds. Just compare an apple tree, which sleeps half the year with our mulberry. After it has yielded its sweet burden to the birds and urchins, its branches and limbs are severed to weave baskets and make axe handles. Poor things! What a predicament to be in? Sometimes it is also disrobed of its verdant apparel to feed worms for silk.
How can anyone specialise in anything here? In the West pear bears pears and apricot, apricots. Here all of us have to undertake numerous and often contrary tasks. Where there is little merit given to achieving excellence individuals tend to become all-rounders, loosing sight of their own nascent talents. The one who excels in surgery seeks gratification for his expertise in golf. A physician holds stronger views on divinity rather than on medicine. Those who have a talent for creative writing spend a lifetime typing political columns and intellectuals instead of rummaging through knowledge are enticed to try their hand in commerce.
Once upon a time intellectuals believed that politics was a powerful agent for social change. It is unfortunate that steadily politics has become a means of acquiring and retaining power and wealth. Once it inspired people to action, today it makes voters sneer and arch their eyebrows. Moreover people today are constrained to diversify and work overtime to keep their ovens burning. If they pay for gas they don’t have enough to eat. If they can tame their hunger they still cannot send Pappoo and Billo to school. Only God knows how they treat their ailing elders, pay house rent or travel to their place of employment — if they have one. There is then, the small matter of paying the electricity bills, haggling for old shoes and used clothes sold on the footpaths, managing the unavoidable salami at the wedding of close relatives, marrying off daughters who grow up with blinking of an eye. The list is long and goes on adding liabilities, pacing beyond the grave. But these are grave matters, which are best forgotten or like autumn leaves swept aside for better days. Iqbal says, “paiwasta reh shajar se, umeed e bahaar rakh”, (Stay clasped to the tree and hope for spring). Iqbal surely is not advocating that one should not seize the moment. What he is stressing is the necessity for firm commitment to an ideal, and the need not to lose hope. In the pragmatic contemporary world where everyone is bent upon castrating ideologies of ideals one wonders what should one make of Iqbal?
The streets are invaded these days with abundance of delicious fruit, which makes the taste buds salivate in expectation. Just when we had bidden adieu to grapes, apricots and melons, the citrus fruits have made their appearance. I wonder if you have noticed that the early fruiting oranges this year are unusually large, juicy and sweet. They are ordinarily bland in taste, but I like having them because like the old desi oranges they are easy to peal but are never sour. This year the kinnoos are also sweeter than usual. Apparently frost and moonlit nights encourage the citrus to acquire a sweeter temper.
We certainly have had more than our share of frost, however no one reported sighting the moon, which traditionally also encourages lovers to break into sad songs, which it is believed soothe a broken heart. At least this is how it was in the black and white films. In those days lovers rarely got together in private and sang their lines from respected distance or from their respective habitat. True Lovers were supposed to suffer. I must say that heroines today have a much better time raucously shaking their buts and berries to rousing tunes.
Only the other day driving along the canal I saw basketful of fresh strawberries and crunchy beirs. I have known this for some time that while the rehri wallahs can appreciate people eating beirs they are quite baffled that why should anyone so eagerly buy the red berries. Strawberries admittedly have a distinct fruity scent but they are often so sour. As berries go, a normal South Asian would prefer jamans to strawberries anytime. To have strawberries with icing sugar and clotted cream in London is another matter. I cannot recall without a degree of amusement the distortions on the face of a bus stand vendor occasioned by a strawberry, which he had innocently lodged into his mouth, while waiting for a buyer. Strawberries visibly sell well in Gulberg and Defence and on roads leading to other affluent parts of Lahore.
If all our fruits, ranging from peaches to Leeches, plums to papayas, dates to grapes, guavas and greengages were assembled for a photograph, with of course the mangoes seated in the centre. Shareefas, melons, shaftaloos, prunes and lauquats overlooking their shoulders, with strawberries, gooseberries and mulberries cuddling in between, and many other fruits of our land, which I have failed to name — figs for instance — be requested to sit on the lawn in the foreground. What an attractive portrait it would make, expressing unity in great diversity of our land. We have all so often seen a friendly pine leaning on an upright Ghajoor. I have often wondered if God’s natural manifestations can cheerfully live in togetherness why can’t we the “chosen ones” do the same? If contrary natural forms, bushes, birds and beasts can live in an ecological harmony, why can’t we humans take time out to identify common points that can unite, rather than focus on elements, which are divisive?
Without doubt, the next best thing to fruit or draining down a glass of lassi or Anar juice is cricket. The World Cup is on. I hope in the end we do well, because it is the only time we seem to unite as a nation. We are without doubt talented people. We have constantly been making news playing bridge, hockey, squash, cricket and even sailing. There was a time we used to come home bagging most gold medals for the athletic events in the Asian Olympics — Iqbal for Hammer, Khaliq for 100 and 200 metres, Raziq for 400 metres hurdles and others for the javelin and steeple chase events. I wish Pakistan instead of insisting on the membership of the Nuclear Club would declare itself a fruity, sporting nation and spend major part of its resources producing athletes, artists and men of talent and virtue. The nation would rather have good plumbers and athletes, than nuclear scientists and hawkish generals.
Prof Ijaz-ul-Hassan is a painter, author and a political activist