Monday, August 15, 2016


Should religion intrude on the turf of patriotism?
Midnight preceding 14th August isn’t a time any sane person would choose to leave home, but we were on the road to visit the home of a dear relative who had just passed away and gained her personal freedom from pain. The main Defence Boulevard, normally quiet at that time on other days was not quiet at all that night. Pakistan, launching on the seventieth year of its existence as a country independent of India, was commemorating the event but instead of doing so with renewed resolve to make Pakistan a better place, the citizens of Lahore had decided to embark on a night of chaos, mayhem and insanity. We watched as someone pulled a person…alive or dead we could not tell…from under a car on the other side of the road, the one approaching Defence. That car had driven against the direction of traffic and crashed into another vehicle coming up the correct side. In a city where people drive like demented non-humans…I will not specify which species…the innocent driver had yet not expected anyone to be quite this insane and had paid dearly for his or her optimism. And that was just the beginning.
Every male twenty five and under appeared to be on the road, either seated on a car window leaning half out of his car, or weaving in and out of traffic on a motorbike doing wheelies trailing enormous green and white banners on sticks, the poor discredited flag of this country. A small boy aged six or perhaps less had everything except a leg inside his car, his head missing adjacent cars by inches. Although one wonders at the child’s parents allowing him to do this maybe one should not since every adult behaved with similar heedlessness that night. That prodigious tide of cars and bikes carrying all this humanity on its back was not allowed to flow unimpeded. Law enforcement personnel in their wisdom forced it through frequent bottle necks with some vague notion of security. Where there were no bottlenecks there were cars standing across the road, blocking it. Behind them a sea of vehicles were ground to a halt for several kilometres, containing tired citizens on the way home, and perhaps sick persons on the way to hospital. And why were these cars parked across the road? Because the occupants had been attacked by zeal and fervor, something involving the glory of Pakistan and our willingness to die for it. They capered on the road performing some kind of celebratory dance in which it was possible to detect that twisted understanding of the ‘glory’ that is Pakistan. Just what else they were celebrating is hard to fathom unless it was a seventy-fold increase in madness, seeing that every law was being trashed that night along with a sublime disregard for human life and security.
Pakistan O Pakistan! Beautiful thy spacious skies
Its amber waves of grain
And purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
Pakistan! Pakistan! God shed His grace on thee
And yet art set to destroy the good
And mock thy liberty
 (Generously borrowed from Kathleen Lee Bates)
When will this change? Can it indeed, unless the narrative fed to this country with every morsel, each word and sound, changes? Do we really need to hear the constant refrain hum Pakistan pay mar mitnay ka irada rakhtay hain (we resolve to die and annihilate ourselves for the glory of Pakistan), particularly given the mood these days? Where are the songs that glorify peace and security, the stories containing heroes who might be exemplary leaders, humanitarians and plain hard working citizens who manage not to break every law in the book?
Dying for a glorious cause is a great act, the ultimate sacrifice, and no one denies that, but it is a sacrifice made when all other solutions have fallen through. There is also the fact that the hereafter is not the only facet of existence. There is the here and now and one ignores it at one’s peril. Focusing exclusively on ‘glory’ is the practice of those with a particular, rather undesirable view of religion and somehow this religious perspective has been confused with patriotism. Those who build narratives for this country need to ask themselves some questions quite seriously, such as: Will it dent the the hereafter if we also concentrate on getting this country on its feet today? And the other all-important and rather explosive question: Should religion intrude on the turf of patriotism?
Let us all be brave enough to die the death of a martyr, but let no one lust for martyrdom.
So true. And no, I am not an Indian agent. Gandhi was a great man, as was Jinnah. And so can Pakistan be a great country if our youth are guided towards good citizenship and provided with positive avenues for venting their energy.

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