THE WAY IT WAS: Half-empty glass of water —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

While I fumbled the foreign gentleman turned around with a reassuring smile and said, “You know! You are not as bad as you think you are” and then added, “I have travelled a lot but have never come across people who are as angry and cross with themselves as the Pakistanis”

Is half a glass of water half-full or half-empty? It really depends on how you look at it. One person may think the glass half-full. The other may perceive it as half-empty. There has been an increasing tendency particularly on the part of intellectuals and privileged to dilate on the empty half. We have become champions at cribbing and finding faults. We cannot find virtue in anything.

It is true that the state and governments have done little for us to celebrate but let us also not forget that individually and collectively, in spite of endless adversities, we have constantly demonstrated courage, creativity and talent for excellence. Let us not run ourselves down for selfishness and betrayal of others. Let us not depress the already depressed. Let’s occasionally be the harbingers of good news. Let’s try to uplift our spirits. Let us instead of cynical bickering inspire our self to doing something. Let us do something rather than passively wait for others to do so.

Surely criticism is an instrument of self-improvement. Negative things should not go unmentioned. But criticism can also become a tool to absolve oneself from individual responsibility by directing anger at others. Some one observed the other day that the high moral ground has become so terribly crowded these days that it was best not to step on it. Every one is ready to point a sharp finger but few are prepared to bend it to do something for fear of getting it hurt.

Shah Hussain, the great Sufi poet liked to present his person in a bad light. Being a radical Sufi he was a malamati. Malamat is a stage in the Sufi discipline of Salook, which focuses on social practice and human conduct. He was perhaps the greatest scholar and poet of his time, befriended by learned members of the Mughal royal family and sought after by Akbar’s court. He supported the cause of the rebel Dullah Bhatti and provided him refuge. If his royal devotees had not pleaded on his behalf he would certainly have been executed along with the legendry hero. Shah Hussain publicly defied religious and social codes advocated by the Mullah and privileged society. In order to be close to the people he tried to become commonplace. He wore patched red robes, and contrary to the Mullah’s Shariat danced in the streets. Allowing oneself to be derided and held in low esteem in the opinion of others was at once a means of reining in the personal ego and at the same time attacking hypocrisy and deceit.

Self-castigation in the context of Sufi belief makes sense; it aspires to spurn hypocrisy and inculcate humility, modesty and self-restraint. But criticism, as demonstrated by the Mullah on Friday prayers or the liberal armchair elite at leisure can become a tiresome habit, flaunting personal conceit. Most of us love counting the lice in other people’s heads and finding faults in things that surround us. We constantly crib, croak and chatter without pause. We can talk on any subject at any time and know what is best. We forget that we are endowed by nature with two ears and only one tongue and accordingly we must at least listen twice as much as we talk. But we like to excel in verbosity.

I must at my own expense narrate the lesson I learnt from a fellow passenger who was seated next to me on an afternoon flight from Karachi to Lahore. He was an Australian working on an engineering project in Pakistan. This was his third visit. He seemed to be an agreeable person so I engaged him in small conversation. He was a patient listener and a man of few words — probably because I held forth on numerous issues ranging from our total lack of traffic sense to corruption in high places. I also fretted about how we liked to brag, our total lack of discipline and our ingrained love for rhetoric. Not realising the irony, I declaimed without pausing for breath for most of the journey. I must confess that as captive audience he listened visibly with keen interest.

Soon the airhostess interrupted my harangue by announcing that in minutes we would be landing at the Lahore international airport. She asked the passengers to get into the upright position and fasten their seat belts. We were also reminded that we should remain seated until the plane comes to a complete halt and not forget our belongings before proceeding out of the aircraft.

While I fumbled with the latch the foreign gentleman turned around with a reassuring smile and said, “You know! You are not as bad as you think you are” and then added, “I have travelled a lot but have never come across people who are as angry and cross with themselves as the Pakistanis.” I felt stumped but before stepping out of the plane thanked him for his observation, which has stayed with me ever since.

However let us not delude our self into believing that all is well. I am sure the man was being generous and trying to compensate for my bitter tirade at our failings. But at the same time let us also remember that it is unproductive and positively negative to talk only of our faults. I see individuals continuously run down their country and people in the presence of their children. There are many good things that are happening all the time. I think it would be healthier to focus on achievements rather than on listing failures. Some people just can’t appreciate anything.

Here let me quote Mullo who asks a friend that why she didn’t accompany her husband for a holiday to Changla Gali. “It is too bore for me” replied the lady with a shrug, adding, “take away the mountains, the forests, the waterfalls and the views and what’s it got?” (Diary of a social butterfly, The Friday Times, March 12-18, 2004.)

I remember there were teachers at school who never tired of finding faults of their students. They would never compensate them with a word of encouragement. It is up to the teacher to help pupils discover the special talent with which they are endowed. Every individual is gifted with something rare. It is always rewarding to discover it.

In any case it is always more productive to focus on a person’s assets rather than waste time mentioning his inadequacies. Adults without dreams have no business killing the dreams of the young. All dreams must be kept alive, nourished, obviously not on lies but by feelings that are born of a sense of wonder, uncommon courage of common people and vision of a world more human and just. I believe that while addressing evil that never ceases to descend upon us, parents, poets and painters should never cease to encourage; in particular the young so that they can benefit from our achievements that are beautiful, worthy and creatively laudable.

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