THE WAY IT WAS: Sweep it under the prayer mat —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

The artist confessed that there were a number of works that focused on individual suffering, which he thought he wouldn’t share with others. They were too intimately tragic. But in the end he broke his resolve and shared them with others in order to stop it from happening again. Choices are not easy

Sometimes I feel that a writer should reflect only on the events and not get entangled with unassimilated facts of daily occurrence. The evening discussions over tea or sherbet can be quite tiresome. It is amazing how some people have all the answers up their sleeves. Summarising the daily press is not everyone’s forte. Exchanging notes on published articles, that have been read or have escaped attention, can be informative but brings little satisfaction. Printed material can be properly absorbed only when it is read in person.

Since the parameters of law and constitution are not fixed and are subject to the vagaries of legal minds prone to please the Provider, it is futile to attempt a speculative analysis. For instance could anyone have guessed that the new local body elections were to be on party basis? I remember when local body elections were held during Zia’s regime, a host of winning candidates were disqualified because in their campaign posters they had declared themselves awam dost (pro-people), which according to the Election Commission was a deceitful manner of indicating their affiliation with the PPP. With changing times political needs have also changed. All candidates who wish to participate in the local body elections will now be required to declare affiliation with a political party, preferably with the ruling party if they plan on winning.

It is almost impossible to speculate about what is going to happen the next day. Ironically, it is easier to predict the direction. But to sum it up, or as they say to put the knot at the end of a long rope, those who have privileged information win the day. In many cases it has been observed that with few exceptions almost every one claims to have ‘access’ that is often not the case, but the pretence gives them privileged space for an evening. In Pakistan, anything and everything is possible in a day.

It is easier to predict the future in a long-term perspective. What is happening in Balochistan today is as predictable as the former East Pakistan. Unfortunately riders who cannot sit well in the saddle are less concerned about where the horse is going and more worried about being thrown off. This is also true of profiteers who are focused on immediate gains. Who cares about what will happen the day after tomorrow? Even tomorrow is another day. If at the end of the day Pakistan were to lose its hold over Balochistan one can always argue that we have actually profited. As for the gas, we have enough of it at both ends, in the head as well as inside us.

Somewhat similar sentiments were expressed when East Pakistan declared independence. The Bengalis were such a drain on the economy. They were not even proper Muslims. Most of them had been brainwashed by their Hindu teachers. Moreover their women were insatiable. I was once told that a young civil servant proceeding to East Pakistan was advised by his father to beware of Bengali women who tied their azarbund (draw-string) rather loosely. I have always wondered which azarbunds the father had been pulling because women in Bengal wear a sari. It is tragic that as individuals we have yet to pause to consider accepting responsibility for the ugly events in Sonar Desh.

I know most people like to patronise suffering of other people from a safe distance. It makes them feel good. It is for the same reason that the richie-rich and wielders of state power instead of shunning the day Faiz envisages in his poem, Hum Dekhayn Gay, nostalgically clap along with the singer when the verses are recited at music concerts. They insist that the poem be sung over and over again. Why should they long to see that day, the day of their undoing, remains an enigma?

The Victorian bourgeoisie loved to pander to the wretched poor as long as they were spared their odours. They romanticised them beyond description. There were hundreds of paintings depicting children with delicate demeanours in rags, some with tears rolling dawn from their blue eyes tracing their pink cheeks, innocent fallen women on London streets, wives bidding farewell to their men being transported on ships to the distant colonies, portraits of wrinkled men and women with sad faces. It was not till Kathy Kollwits picked up her charcoal and Millet, Daumier, Manet and Van Gogh their brushes that the artist started identifying with the working people — politically, emotionally and aesthetically.

But it is not enough to extend sympathy, which like charity helps only to make a person feel good. It is by denouncing the exploiters and perpetrators of crimes against fellow humans that evil in our own soul can be fathomed and cleansed. Do we as individuals and a nation have the courage to undertake this journey? The answer is no we don’t! It is important however that we do, to ensure that what happened in East Pakistan should never ever happen again. But that would hurt our national pride, wouldn’t it? We would rather sweep the knowledge of dark ugly events under the mussalla.

People who take a longer view of life are regarded as creeps who make life difficult for practical men who believe in kal kis nay dhekha hai. Anyone who talks of things that cannot benefit us today is regarded with mistrust. Social and political activism is dead. Fighting for poverty alleviation has become a profitable undertaking. Simultaneously, we are becoming insensitive. The other day a journalist was quoted as having said that when he saw a man proceeding to publicly burn himself, he curbed the urge to save him because that would have amounted to tampering with the news. A dispassionate reporter, reporting events honestly, can slowly add up to save far more lives than one. His work requires great courage and vision. But should the argument be used to discourage us to be human?

A few months back when I switched on the television I caught in midstream Tim Wilcox of the BBC facing a photographer, who was saying that he used his camera like a gun to battle perpetrators of crimes against his people. With the camera in hand he recorded his land and tragedies of his people. Often he extracted, as I learnt, gunpowder from bullets to use it as flashlight to capture the tragic predicament of individuals. The artist confessed that there were a number of works that focused on individual suffering, which he thought he wouldn’t share with others. They were too intimately tragic. But in the end he broke his resolve and shared them with others in order to stop it from happening again. Choices are not easy to make. Making honest choices is important even if they are wrong. It is better than sitting on a fence and then falling and breaking into pieces that cannot be put together ever again.

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