The Way It Was: Stability and poise in things at rest

Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

There are some people who believe that our nuclear technology programme is also a by-product of our aphrodisiac concerns. I don’t believe that this can be true. It is a pity that it has become a habit with us to be constantly frivolous

In the colonial days the blacks and browns were encouraged to abandon their traditional ways in order to better themselves. It was the only way they could save their soul and civilise themselves. The proper thing to do was to eat with knives and fork, only apes ate with their fingers. Lamb chops with mashed potatoes or roast beef with mint sauce was the thing to eat. Not goeey Bhindi Gosht or some bloody curry. How could loosewallahs learn the benefits of being dressed in a trouser? You couldn’t possibly play cricket wearing a dhoti (loincloth) or a shalwar. Wearing a dhoti even when pulled up and tied as a langota or langoti — depending on the gender wearing it — could make playing tennis particularly awkward and even embarrassing. What do you say? Imagine just when you were up in the air taking an overhead smash, it slipped down to your feet? Of course if you were taking a volley with your racket in the right hand it could at least be held up with the left hand without having to dive down to grab it.

However perchance if you were required to wade through a stream a dhoti is far more convenient than being stuck in a pair of trousers. A dhoti is adaptable apparel. It can be easily managed and pulled up or drawn in accordance with the depth of water. If the water gets too deep, it can be easily taken off, without it getting wet or causing you any shame and flamboyantly carried across on one’s head. Fortunately gentlemen who play tennis don’t have to wade through streams and natives who ever so often have to step into water don’t wear trousers — and a pair at that. I am sure that it must have been for this reason alone that process of colonisation began from the top. While a jacket and a necktie replaced our upper midriff garments, we persisted for some time in sauntering around in the shalwar.

My grandfather who dressed rather elegantly insisted on wearing a jacket and a tie on desi occasions like attending a wedding or going for the namaz for Eid. It certainly set him aside from his relatives and most of the crowd. I never saw him wear a desi jooti because with a shalwar he preferred to wear the black patent leather Gurgabi with a silk bow tie. Frankly our desi shoes are quite awful for walking. This of course excludes the fancy ones sold in the cities that are worn in the evening. It takes ages for your feet to settle down in the real ones. Initially the pair has to be greased and rubbed with oil before the human foot can be slipped in.

Incidentally desi jootis are interchangeable. There is no distinction between a shoe for the left or the right foot. With time the jooti moulds itself to the singular shape of the rural foot. Like un-saddled horses they have to be broken in with patience and inevitable pain which, it is best, is heroically suffered. The sharp bite of the uncured leather is borne by the backside of the heel and the big toes. Regrettably by the time a pair is broken in for comfortable ride, it starts to wither at the seams, which is a signal for ordering a new pair. But as the great English bard has said, “Life goes on with petty pace to the last citadel of recorded time”. But jokes aside, from a strategic angle our desi shoes are rather well made and can be slipped off and on the feet in a jiffy and easily carried on head while manoeuvring a water hazard. The most troublesome pairs, like a General’s Swagger Stick are carried under the armpit. How sensible! It saves wear and tear of the shoes as well as the feet. Statistically speaking, I bet if distances were to be measured on the basis of reciprocity; a pair of desi jootis in their lifetime rides their owner for more distance than the mileage he gets out of them.

It is comforting to have things remain the same. There is stability and poise in things being at rest. There is a saying that the more you change the more you remain the same. This is true, that is why wisely we don’t make an effort to change. Take the last 1,000 years and ask yourself, what has changed? You would be proud to learn how well we have stood our ground. The sickle is the same. The hammer and the axe are the same. The basic design of almost every animal-drawn vehicle has remained the same. Stepping onto a Sindhi bullock cart transports the passenger to the days of Mohenjodaro.

In the past God had given us everything we needed. There was no need really to look beyond our selves. We would go for Hajj but not once did we become curious about finding out what was happening in Rome or London. We were quite content and full of ourselves and never cared to venture into strange distant places. We liked building temples, mosques, mausoleums, palaces, gardens and pavilions and architectural specimens of great strength and beauty. We patronised artists who established innumerable schools of sculpture and painting. We encouraged musicians who invented great many musical instruments and created ragas and raginis to express the seasons, changing moods of the day, essential human emotions and feelings of love, devotion and longing, above all sentiments of joy and sadness.

We employed and patronised the arts and literature to enrich our selves and integrate the aesthetically and spiritually fragmented world. There was in our land of plenty no need for science to investigate and discover secrets of nature. Nature had so over indulged us that we never felt the need to seek her for more. We were never impelled to sail across the seas, walk great distances to look for better pastures. On the contrary every one who came looking for better turf here, never looked back.

We studied the stars, not for being compelled to chart our direction in deserts and the seas, but for predicting auspicious days. The scientific sphere was extremely limited and peripheral to our concerns. It was confined to the study of astrology, alchemy and aphrodisiacs. I must say that since then there has been considerable advancement in these three traditional areas of “science”. In modern times when resources and opportunities — except for food, housing, employment and political power — are no longer confined to the kings, maharajas and Nawabs, these professions have received a great impetus.

Today Advisors and Political Columnists have replaced the royal Astrologers and the Alchemists by peddlers, who can convert baser powder into gold. I have it on trust of a friend who dabbles in science that international pharmaceutical companies are marketing aphrodisiacs which have been zapped with nuclear power. My friend, who is an honourable man, asserts that the pills can endanger life because it incites people to undertake the impossible. He also fears that these pills are likely to run our own hakeems out of business, which would certainly be unfortunate if it happens. This however seems unlikely because they are thriving on selling their traditional recipes to strengthen flaccid muscles as is evident from their advertisements in the Urdu press and the graffiti scrawled on walls along the highways throughout the country. I must tell you that there are some people who believe that our nuclear technology programme is also a by-product of our aphrodisiac concerns. I don’t believe that this can be true. It is a pity that it has become a habit with us to be constantly frivolous.

On the other hand how can we possibly take pride in our nuclear technology, when we still can’t produce a water tap that doesn’t leak? It is natural for people to value only those things, which benefit their lives.

During Ziaul Haq’s period a determined effort was made to encourage science. An international conference on Islamic science was organised at Islamabad. Unfortunately little was done to follow up the proceedings. In one of the papers presented at the conference, the delegates were reminded that since the Jinns (Genie), as every practising Muslim knows, were made from fire, they could be an unending source of power for our sick industry and domestic needs. Unfortunately no one acted upon the recommendation, which while remedying many of our chronic social and economic ailments would have also broadened our scientific horizon from Astrology, Alchemy and Aphrodisiacs to Jinn power.

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