The way it was: Sobering thoughts for a new year óMian Ijaz Ul Hassan

Abdul Butt, who must have the last word in almost anything, adds, that while Chaudhry Rehmat Elahi was vaingloriously laying down strong foundations for his haveli, he cared little for his own foundations that were about to crumble

The New Year is already a fortnight old. It was ushered in only yesterday with jubilant functions. I attended two though I wish I could have attended more. Time has taken its toll. With the passing of years the body has become less receptive to desire. Unfortunately there are creatures that cannot bear others having fun. Strangely those who have least cause for mirth, the poor living a wretched existence, never miss a moment to have fun. They are invariably making digs at others and laughing at jokes at their own expense.

I have seen unclad urchins frolicking around heaps of dry dung and dust. I have seen poor children invent games and make toys from waste material, playing and being happy. Why do those claiming to be pious have to be morose and ill natured?

At midnight everyone wished each other good tidings for a very happy new year. I believe there were grouches who wasted the night on the streets being offensive to those having fun. Assaulting things, which are aesthetically beautiful or have the potential of imparting joy, give some individuals a kind of perverted satisfaction. Smearing black ink on the bright faces on hoardings is their idea of having fun. It seems they find their male virginity assaulted by the presence of women, and are impelled to protect their honour in cover of darkness, which befits these warriors.

Years have come and gone, waiting for Godot. Should we not have made some difference to our world? Hopefully the last year should augur well for the New Year. It saw people from all over the world flood the streets to express their solidarity for peace and condemn war and violence. The New Year hopefully will lend impetus to this international movement for peace and help us restore harmony among ourselves? While thinking of our self let us not keep the others out. People come and go measuring life with silver spoons and dollar notes. It is ironic that to enrich personal life one has to enrich the lives of others. Actually in the end nothing matters. Does it?

Recently I accompanied my daughter and my grandchildren to the Lahore Fort. Pensively while I sauntered through time the children pranced around the courtyard. Pondering in empty rooms, peering through the marble Jharokas at the vulgar traffic below, I wondered where everyone had gone. Vanished as though nothing had ever existed. The element that pricked my imagination to their amorphous awareness was an occasional draft of air. The only feeling of tangible human presence that I experienced was provoked to mind by the hands, which had shaped the stones, carved the lattice screens, inlaid precious stones to create delicate motives of flowering plants or rendered vivid images of the time in mosaic with shaped enamelled tiles.

Where have indeed the Mughals gone? They donít own even a small residential plot in Defence, Model Town, Samanabad or even at Badami Bagh or Ravi Road. Visiting old places often makes people sad, putting them in a melancholy mood. Can a sensitive, feeling person resist dwelling on the transience of life, the fate of the mighty and small, and all those who were, and are no more?

Abdul Butt, my friend at the village, has his own way of making his thoughts known. The other day on a freezing evening, while he tried cheering a pensive fire by gently prodding it with a stick, he told me of a certain Rehmat Elahi. Rehmat saved every single paisa he earned through his Ďahratí at the Tehsil Ghalla Mandi. The only small cash he willingly spared was for the mosque fund, which was later charged, in addition to his commission, to the farmers who periodically came to sell their produce.

By the time Rehmat Elahi grew a beard with streaks of grey, he had patiently amassed quite a bit of cash. It was time, he thought, that he built a haveli at his ancestral village. The haveli would establish that he was a man of substance. Rehmat Elahi was a thrifty person, never having a penny or a moment to spare for anyone, but he insisted that the foundations of the haveli be made strong, dug deep and wide. He assured the masons, that if need be, he would not hesitate to pour silver into the foundations. After all they were to support the weight of his vanity.

It took Rehmat Elahi several years to complete the project. It was not easy to procure and stock the best building materials, to find and enlist able brick layers, wood carvers, carpenters, furniture makers and others required to cater for other embellishments. Finally the day came when the haveli was complete. It stood tall, staring down at other buildings in the vicinity.

The very next day Chaudhry Rehmat started to shift from the Ghalla Mandi back to his nearby village. In spite of commuting back and forth, from dawn to dusk, there was some luggage, which could not be shifted. The whole family moved to the new mansion but Chaudhry Rehmat Elahi insisted on staying back for the night. Someone had to look after the possessions left behind. Chaudhry Rehmat Elahi retired early. Anxious to leave as early as he could he slept uneasily. Chaudhry Rehmat Ali was up as planned, but commenced on a journey that he had not planned.

Abdul Butt, who must have the last word in almost anything, adds, that while Chaudhry Rehmat Elahi was vaingloriously laying down strong foundations for his haveli, he cared little for his own foundations that were about to crumble. A sobering thought for the New Year.

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