THE WAY IT WAS: Take it or leave it —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

A romantic can out-jump and out-sprint anyone at the Olympics, hit a bouncer out of the stadium or thrash the hell out of a bully three times his own size to impress a fair woman

I am a romantic — in so many words. The Left regards romanticism a deviation, the Right considers it a sin. While Romanticism has its faults, I think the Classicists are more inclined to tell lies than the romantics. Some would call Romantics fools, because the Revolutionaries were nothing but romantics. But I’d dispute that. Passion and idealism cannot be foolish even though making revolutions against overwhelming odds is not a day’s work.

Most Left-wingers would rather have the romantics purged from their ranks while the Right-wingers would have them castrated. So what can one do? The Left won’t let them love, the Right won’t let them make love. Neither would let them go the whole hog.

But while Classicism is founded on rules that crystallise into dogmas, Romanticism will not be fettered. Marx and Engels at the conclusion of the Communist Manifesto invite the workers of the world to unite, they “have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” Lenin, unlike Marx, wrote chaste prose but without emotional crescendos. Marx inspired, Lenin had a job to do. I presume the first astronauts must also have been romantics, but those who patiently map the universe through a telescope must do their job with restraint and have an orderly mind.

Romantics by their very nature and temperament are a bit crazy. The classicists pander to tangible form; the romantics are moved by intangible passion. The best of modern realism or neo-realism in literature, painting and the cinema is a product of Romanticism. Most fascists and authoritarian regimes try to adopt an orderly classical appearance. They are for obedience, not abandon. Passion and emotions are considered subversive for they cannot be tamed.

But while I may be a romantic at heart, I was never one in the real sense. All I could do was to have coffee at Lintotts in Murree, sifting the crowd going up and down the generous slope of the Mall and allow my heart to flutter at a new face (or was it the gait) each day, while nibbling on a chicken sandwich. One of the attributes of Romanticism is the endless reservoir of imagination. A romantic can be anywhere, at any time, with anyone. He can be with Marilyn, Madonna and Madhubala at the same time or for that matter the charismatic Ronnie Schneider and the awesome Anita Eckberg.

A romantic can sail with Agamemnon to punish Paris for shamefully violating the laws of hospitality by carrying Helen away in the absence of her husband. He can as easily take a stand with Paris and Hector against the Greeks to defend Helen who had a “face that launched a thousand ships” but no longer wished to live with Menelaus, her husband the prince of Sparta. A romantic can out-jump and out-sprint anyone at the Olympics, hit a bouncer out of the stadium or thrash the hell out of a bully three times his own size to impress a fair woman. A person with a wild imagination can never be lost in the wilderness. A thing imagined should be considered half done.

I was recently in Murree. It is not the Murree of my youth. It looked terribly unfamiliar. For private gain of pennies and vulgar taste Murree is being destroyed. Things have changed and are changing for the worse. The tennis courts adjacent to the Marina Hotel have been converted into a car park. The hotel itself has disappeared behind the commercial buildings that have risen on both sides of the road, which descends to Sunny Bank from next to the church. The famous view of Marina Hotel painted by Ali Imam in the fifties that was reproduced in a foreign magazine is no more.

Ali Imam has also gone but life goes on as usual — for some, however, with a difference. The sunset point at the end of the Mall, from where people used to set off for their evening jaunt for Pindi Point has also been blocked by commercial high-rise structures. The cool panoramic view of the distant mountains has been erased out of sight. More people go to the resort than ever before but not for its trees, ferns, blue bells, wild roses, daisies, blue sky and green prospects. I wonder if anyone tries to recognise the faces in clouds or is bored enough to watch vagrant clouds float across the sky. Commercialism does not mean destruction of whatever was once valued. We love burdening good things, not caring for them, but there are limits to everything. That summer weekend is not far when a commode will be flushed and the Murree Hills will burst with a thunder.

The good thing is that the monkey population has multiplied. If they continue to procreate at this pace they may inevitably outnumber us and demand their original rights of possession. A friend accompanying us to Nathiagali quipped, “very soon they (the monkeys) will demand their right of vote and then outnumber us in Parliament.” Another friend responded, “I don’t mind that if they don’t declare Martial Law or rig a Constitution”. “If they get access to a match box they may do exactly that,” added another.

I wonder if such a situation were to arrive would we be able to live in peace? Certainly not, especially if we don’t stop throwing stones at them, as we are wont to do. Fortunately our attitude is changing. I found at regular intervals on the road ‘corn on the cob’ vendors having entered into a joint venture with the monkeys. Tourists buy the corn from them and feed the monkeys. Everyone is happy. But I thought the monkeys looked a trifle lazy, tame and lost. This is what happens to those who live off free meals and decline to earn their own bread, like our saviours hooked to foreign aid — economic and aesthetic. But enough about that.

I am presently invaded by pensive thoughts that have transported me across the border into the India of Sonia Gandhi? A lot has been written about why she declined to be the prime minister. I am of the romantic view that in her private moments she never thought of becoming a beneficiary of her beloved’s assassination. This may seem a male chauvinistic point of view, but a romantic one. At least it is a more humane one than the insensitive and vulgar espoused by some gross elements in the BJP. Take it or leave it — if you are not a romantic.

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