A cascade of horrible recent events, all involving an outpouring of violence – in thought, in words, in deed – and culminating in the brutal murder of Salman Taseer continues to haunt the Pakistani psyche. We are left numb in disbelief of a reality which we always knew: the dysfunctional divisions in society are not just a scar on the face of modern Pakistan, it is a bleeding wound that threats the very body politic of our fragile being.
The fanatical murder of Salman Taseer, and even more than that the reaction to it, has shaken us as we should have been shaken well before. As one tries desperately to make sense of the senselessness that surrounds us, this line from an old poem by Himayat Ali Shair – Abhi tou kuch nahiN hua – keeps coming back to hound one’s senses. Indeed, this, along with two other poems – Obaidullah Aleem’s ‘Meyray shehr jal rahey hain, mairey loug marr rahen hain’ and Ahmed Faraz’s ‘Aaj aisa nahiN, aisa nahiN honay daina’ – resound today even though all three were written inn very different times for different (but not unrelated) crises. They are all worth a listen again:
Himayat Ali Shair: Abhi tou kuch nahiN hua
Obaidullah Aleem: Meray loug marr rahey haiN
Ahmed Faraz: Aaj aisa nahiN, aisa nahiN, honay daina
All three were written in very different times – Aleem in 1971, Faraz and (I think) Shair in the 1980s – in different contexts and about different but very related challenges to the ones we face today. Each was a cry of pain and a warning to the nation. Warnings we did not heed. One listens to them today and one wishes we had paid attention then. One also wonders if, in fact, we are paying attention even today.
The self-righteousness and intolerance on everything that everyone seems to have is frightening. Even on the most minor things and even in our comments section, just disagreeing seems to be never enough; there seems to be a compulsion to be disagreeable and uncivil, and forever angry. The hatred we display for anyone who we do not agree with and the violence we justify on the basis of that hatred boggles the mind. Intolerance is everywhere.
Anyone we disagree with becomes not just a subject of disagreement, but a fair target for slander and character assassination, verbal abuse, and ultimately murder. Indeed, there is a huge difference between venting anger with words and anger that leads to murder. But both lie on the same progression. A society that tolerates – and promotes – too much of the first will inevitably harvest too much of the latter.
It is good that at least some discussion has begun on what is happening to this society where everyone seems forever angry, forever incensed, and forever aggrieved, and forever at the tip of blowing up. But in proportion to the air of self-righteousness that pervades society the discussion is too little, and may well be too late. Some of the chest-beating is also self-serving and itself so angry as to lose its own meaning. But, at least, we are beginning to talk about things we have been ignoring for too long. That is a good sign. Maybe we should also do a little listening. It would be good to begin by listening to the reasoned words in these three poems. Reason is often the first casualty of anger. Ultimately, it is also the only antidote.
P.S. We are adding a fourth poem, sent to us by a reader, called “Abhi kuch dair baqi hai“ by Shakil Jaffery: