THE WAY IT WAS: Live now or cash later? —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

The religious ideologues try to appropriate every sphere of our life. They act as barbers, insisting how we should or should not shave or pluck hair. They act as tailors circumscribing the length of what Englishmen call the baggy trouser. They encroach on our love life and are haters of the rubber

A time comes when a person begins to feel that things should come to rest. Why just linger around? Even our green earth will cease to be one day, if rapacious men inflated with greed and arrogance don’t destroy it earlier.

Would you say that a tidy end was any better than an untidy one when on both occasions you are unlikely to be around to see it happen? Most of us are romantics deluding ourselves into believing that our going will cause an unbearable loss to others. Life goes on at its petty pace and actually no one cares. Thing are forgotten sooner than we think. We are getting increasingly estranged from each other and the world in which we exist. Who was it that asked, mother died yesterday or was it the day before?

I have heard men grumble at janazas (funerals) and mutter complaints more loudly at quls (prayer and conolence gathering) if they are held at golf time in the afternoon. Relatives of the deceased are best advised to organise funerals without taxing the patience of their aggrieved friends. And yet we fancy seeing ourselves in favourable dramatic settings. We imagine that the gallery will profusely applaud when we are declared ‘Out’ and visibly sympathise with us over the intervention of the umpire for not allowing us to complete a century. Once we are assured that the player will never return to bat again, he is credited with exceptional talent — in spite of his terrible record.

Life is immensely contrary and amazing in its diversity, ultimately devoid of substantial meaning and yet so poised and full of purpose. It is essentially bland like boiled cabbage, a judicious sprinkling of salt and pepper can pep it up; but that is about all. It remains crass in its sameness irrespective of whether you are hovelled in a mountain cave or an apartment in a city; whether you ride a horse or an automobile; whether you are inclined to kill and slaughter the weak for personal or collective gain; and whether you have or lack a predilection to plunder the bounties of nature. Has life moved ahead? Yes it has in one direction! Some can take pride in reinventing and improving upon the attributes of barbarism.

What makes life move is the overwhelming need to abate hunger and sate material needs. Individually, above all, it is the irresistible sensation that bubbles in us to believe that we are special and can be better — with some luck could even be unique. We all feel that our inner life is unusual, more valuable than others. This is the magic of life — the whore makes everybody feel special. Life enters into private conference with whosoever comes to life.

Take it or leave it? Life can always be snubbed and spurned by men of faith wishing to wander off on transcendental paths or distorted and abused in pursuit of personal wealth and power. The difficult part is to live and abide by it.

Inanimate objects have a life of their own. A pair of brand new shoes is infused with life, acquiring meaningful identity by its incessant use. Men in new clothes often look similar to mannequins in shopping arcades. There are houses that are kept; there are homes that are lived in. There are houses that demonstrate wealth. There are houses that are designed for gracious living. There are houses and houses and houses. There are rich houses that are contrary and poor homes that hide miseries of their dwellers.

Whenever I stare into a bland blue sky, not animated by the wings of birds or loitering clouds, I am petrified by the thought that whatever has been created is governed by a system of fixed rules that have no concern with my ideological considerations. The criminal and the saint both fade away with time. I am convinced that a time will come when the time itself will come to an end. Do all ends have new beginnings? I am sure they do. I believe whatever happens there will always be rebirth. This is one of the permanent themes in my paintings that focus on nature.

Primeval eternity of nature and life existed before we were born and will continue to be there after we are gone. One must believe it to be so even if it is not true. But returning to what we were about, the Good, Bad and Ugly would all drown if ducked in water beyond limits set by nature. Men and women cannot fly although the latter are sometime referred to as birds. It is science that has enabled humans to propel into space and time. Science has enabled us — howsoever little — to peer into the heavens and peep into the heart of an atom.

A man of science has a better perspective on creation than a man of faith divorced from the laws that make the clock work. Ironically, the man of science admits to knowing so little, the man of faith claims to know all. Can faith that is not inspired by beauty and awed by the secrets that govern creation lead humans anywhere? It will surely lead men and women to ignorance and chaos rather than heaven or hell.

The conflict between faith and science is best illustrated by the conduct of a cat and a dog. There was a time when science and magic/religion were one. The conflict been the two has sharpened since the dawn of civilisation. The religious ideologues see science as a threat to their position as sole lawmakers and interpreters of the world.

They try to appropriate every sphere of our life. They act as barbers, insisting how we should or should not shave or pluck hair. They act as tailors circumscribing the length of what Englishmen call the baggy trouser. They encroach on our love life and are haters of the rubber. They insist that love is an obscene consideration for marriage.

It is understandable why the priest and the mullah have deliberately nurtured prejudice and ignorance. They preach a static notion of religion; permanently frozen in time. There have been, on the contrary, men of faith who advocate a more dynamic idea, where religion chides man to action in order to know his self and the universe better. Religion is not merely a set of social rules and laws set to govern life. It is not there to provide answers but asks us to answer questions. Unarmed with empirical passion and the tools of science man has no choice but to prostrate himself to ignorance and authority.

Today there is for us an urgent need to put aaj and akhrat in a divine perspective. It is unimaginable that akhrat can be won without love and a sense of beauty, the tools of science and the will to better the God’s world today. If that were possible wouldn’t life become less tiresome? After all ignorance, as a sage said, is a great bliss. However, life in ignorance would also be less enigmatic, more weary and tedious?

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