The way it was: Of pride and prejudice

Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

It is so easy to live with prejudice and so difficult to live a life without it. It is so convenient to surrender and hard to resist a prejudice

Bobby who has recently retired from service recounted a rather interesting dialogue he had with a village notable who boarded the bus Bobby was travelling in from Faisalabad to Lahore. Then a young college student, Bobby has aged rather well and has acquired a weightier presence over the years. It took some time for the village notable to collect himself and descend on the seat, which bore his weight with some protest. But as soon as he had managed the difficult operation of seating himself next to Bobby, with his servant obediently sitting immediately behind on the rear seat holding a live hookah, he asked Bobby ‘tussee kaun haunde o’ (who might you be).

Mind you he did not ask ‘who are you’ or ‘what do you do’ or’ where are you coming from or going to’. The question was clear, demanding of Bobby to divulge his caste or baradari. Bobby without batting an eyelid replied, ‘We are Changars’, considered by some as a low caste. The village notable felt absolutely scandalised. He was put off by the offensive reply but kept silent realising that he had been rebuffed. Unfortunately the servant who sat at the back, the idiot, in order to curry favour with his master rejoined ‘This cannot be true! You are too fair of skin to be a Changar’. Bobby pausing only for a moment to look into the inflamed eyes of His Village Highness replied, ‘That is because we are bastards’. Our distinguished village notable stunned in total disbelief at what Bobby had so proudly divulged, but considered it wiser to shift to a seat where people were better bred.

It is so easy to live with prejudice and so difficult to live a life without it. It is so convenient to surrender and hard to resist a prejudice. It is such an inebriating feeling to look down on others. An individual who wishes to elevate himself can only do it through courage, intelligence and humanity. Of course there is much greater satisfaction in denigrating others, because you can elevate yourself without having to do anything.

I must say most children can be quite amazing in their want of prejudice, unless their elders inculcate it in them. My four-year-old grandson amused me no end when I saw him, without encouragement from anyone, first balance himself on his feet and then lean forward on his toes, in order to kiss a she donkey on her hairy left cheek. Naturally, the lady used to being thrashed all the year around was taken aback and turned red in the face.
On another occasion someone else’s grandson in an interview for admission to a prestigious school was asked by a Lady teacher, ‘Son, How old are you?’ He lisped candidly without the slightest hesitation, ‘Actually I am six, but my mother told me to tell you that I was five. ‘What a handsome thing to say. If I were taking the test, I would have without any reservation whatsoever admitted the lad, even if he was a year older than the unreasonable five-year age restriction. Speaking the truth certainly needs to be encouraged but it is not always easy to face the truth. In the same interview another child was asked, ‘What does your father do?’ ‘He drinks’ was the candid reply. The moral is to think twice before you ask a question and remember to frame it well.

On another occasion a young mother accompanied by her young son and daughter visited her bank to enquire whether the cheque she had deposited a day earlier had been cashed. The banker who was a friend of her husband enquired ‘Why are the children not at school?’ The mother replied, ‘Because they are not feeling well.’ At this point her son, the younger of the two chimed ‘But mama you didn’t send us to school because you got up late. ‘This is what you get for pampering your children. A slap a day would certainly keep the truth away and make life easier to live.
But who has the heart to slap a child? Only those who are personally frustrated or those who hate themselves for not having the means to embrace them. Life is full of trials and contradictions, which cannot be individually resolved but can possibly be addressed if society as a whole has the will to do it. I have seen poor children share space with dogs. The children play their own games and dogs play theirs. By the end of the day the dusty naked bodies of our children resemble the dung-brown coat of the dogs. A young lady who worked among the poor once tried to educate local mothers about personal hygiene and benefits of washing and cleaning the children. One of the mothers replied, ‘ Bibee Jee! Do you really think we don’t try to keep our brats clean? Almost the moment they have been bathed they go out in the street and cover themselves with dirt. We can’t make them sit on a charpoy the whole day, can we?’

Mind you the street she was referring to is one of our typical streets with waste and dirt, with dirty black water gurgling out from shanks in open drains onto the street. A nice place for our children to play! The rich send their children to expensive nurseries while the poor children play on mounds of filth. This should be unacceptable. If nothing can be done, at least let us begin by separating the humans from animals, separating the dogs from the children. Let the rich be rich, buy as many toys or tanks as are wanted, but let us jointly cry out and say, enough is enough! People are people and not cockroaches! Treat them with respect. By all means say no to even their legitimate demands, but say No politely. Have them out of your cool comfortable offices with patience, without hurt and insult. Treating them with dignity and self-respect needs no budgetary allocation or foreign assistance. There is of course one flaw in this argument. If we start treating people with respect, they may very well start believing they are our equals. How can this be acceptable? So let’s keep them where they are, at any cost.

Prof Ijaz-ul-Hassan is Pakistan’s leading painter. He is a teacher, art critic and political activist. He was awarded the “President’s Pride of Performance” in 1992. He is currently the president of the PPP Punjab’s Policy Planning Committee and Chairman of the party’s Manifesto Committee