The way it was: Why oh why? —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan
In a tragic
or a light-hearted vein literature has demonstrated an unusual capacity to alter
human perception, refine feelings and ways of thinking and believing. It
occasionally encourages the reader to laugh at his own vanity and reflect on
prejudices and follies
“Why oh why are my intellectual horizons not being expanded?” asked a man named Informidius Lackedus, who had an immense thirst for information. A vegetable vendor pushing a cartful of the season’s fresh vegetables, stopped and enquired, “Sahib! What information do you want? If you need to know the prices of carrots and turnips, I can provide you with those.”
Informidius Lackedus was annoyed at the temerity of the vendor and waived him off saying, “Don’t be absurd! Every housewife knows the price of a carrot. What I want is real information.”
A smart new recruit to a travel agency, who was waiting for a rickshaw, overheard the remark, and eagerly enquired if the gentleman needed to know the distance from Lahore to Lyallpur or between Pindi Bhattian and Pindi. When he got a dirty look in return he quickly added, “Perhaps you want to know about the flights to Cambay, Cathay or Canada?” Informidius Lackedus was convinced that the genial youth attired in a safari suit was a creep. He found him grossly insulting towards his superior intellectual concerns.
In the meantime a weary middle-aged man, dressed in a well-worn black jacket and a glossy black tie, who was striding towards an unknown destination, stopped next to him, looked into his eyes and asked, “Perhaps you would like to know about the state of the Constitution?” Informidius Lackedus was a bit baffled why an advocate should be interested in his constitution. But feeling a little flattered at the concern shown for his health attempted a smile and responded, “Sir, thank you for your concern, all is well with my health and constitution.”
The man in the black jacket with visible change of complexion and tone of voice persisted, “Would you like to know the distance between Democracy and the Parliament?” Our man snarled back, “Go on! Why must all of you bring in politics?”
In the meantime a burly fellow, with a day old stubble, a cigarette dangling from his lips, stopped his cycle and without any preliminaries enquired in a hoarse voice, “Baoo, you want to go anywhere?” “No I don’t!” was the sharp reply. “Look here, don’t be upset, if you want to go to Bhati or Lohari, I am going that way and can easily take you along.” “No! No! Be gone,” was the curt rejoinder.
In the meantime quietly with steady haste an old man ambled through the noisy traffic from across the street. He gave our distraught Informidius Lackedus a benign smile and amiably asked, “You seem to be lost young man!”
“I am certainly not!” was the cocky reply. “I just like to collect information.”
“What information would you want?” asked the old man.
“I don’t know what you mean. Information is information,” he replied.
“Yes, information is information, but what do you want it for?” the old man asked again.
“Nothing in particular, it is always good to have it handy. It helps to expand intellectual horizons.”
“Son”, affectionately replied the wise old man who had appeared from nowhere, “horizons are widened by knowledge, and not by knowledge of information.”
“I don’t understand you old man.”
“Young man! Information can be a pillar of knowledge but it is not knowledge by itself.”
“Old man, don’t try to confuse me. If that is so, tell me then which are the other pillars of knowledge?” asked Informidius raising his voice.
“You yourself are the central pillar,” gently the old man answered.
“Yes you! You! Your thoughts, your feelings and, and other faculties. Above all your own courage to put them to practice — put them to some use,” the old man persisted.
“Old man you are painting a very tedious and complicated prospect.”
“No I am not! Take my advice and stop collecting information. Ask questions instead. The information you need to collect will rush to your feet like a pet dog.” The old man patiently explained.
“Is that so simple?” asked Informidius.
“Life has always been that simple. It was created in all its diversity of textures and temper out of a simple life cell. So I am told.”
“Is that really so?”
“I really don’t know what is real, and truly I don’t really care what is true. All that I do know is that I have many questions to ask. I have always one ready in the chamber to fire at any time.”
“Who are you, old man?”
“I am glad you asked. I am your first question.”
Having said that the wise old man ambled away and disappeared into the muddy crowd and was never seen ever again. Soon he was forgotten like the dust swept under a carpet. Any time it is smarter to be better informed, than to be better educated.
Postscript: Intizar Hussain one of our eminent short story writers, I am sure would insist on adding to this; so let me conjecture what he may have said. Literature is neither about gardening or gathering information nor about acquiring knowledge. However in a tragic or a light-hearted vein it has demonstrated an unusual capacity to alter human perception, refine feelings and ways of thinking and believing. It occasionally encourages the reader to laugh at his own vanity and reflect on prejudices and follies.
Reminiscing about the past can provide a chance to resurrect events, revaluate lost opportunities, and help to reaffirm archaic belief in friendship. Literature and art can enable us to laugh for the pleasure of laughter, to perceive the ridiculous in the sacred and the profound in a profane place. Literature can give man courage to climb back to the Garden of Eden on to the canopy of the rain forest from where his forefathers, the hominids, out of curiosity descended to the dangerous, dark, dank forest floor. In the subsequent long winding torturous process becoming what they are, the humans.
There is also another way of looking at it. The man and woman were created without their consent and ejected at short notice. They arrived on a strange barren earth without a map or morsel. They kept each other warm through freezing winters, fended for food across millenniums. Unarmed they defended themselves against beasts and mythical monsters. They jointly discovered and harnessed the elements, and established civilisation. Actually he hasn’t done badly. Has he?
During this entire period, creative and aesthetic faculties helped man and woman remain human. Even today the best of humans are on trial, for no offence of their own. Condemned for a slip of their ancestors. Literature and art strengthens the spirit of man to persist being human. It induces him to make the best of a bad bargain — he doesn’t even know when it will end. The virtue of Literature in that sense lies in itself. I fear Intizar Hussain will not agree to this explanation either. He would find it long and a trifle argued. Literature needs no apologists. It is tragic that it needs to be defended and protected in my own country today.
Prof Ijaz-ul-Hassan is a painter, author and a political activist