Thursday, 22 September 2011

Rehmat Cries for Salmaan Taseer

Today, when the MQM-Mirza conflicts have shifted most people’s interest from Indian soaps to Pakistani news channels and local conspiracy theorists declare dengue fever an American agenda; when Shahbaz Taseer has still not returned home and most people prefer Aafia Siddiqi over Taseer, I want to share something with you – something that you may not find as interesting at all, but still…
This real account includes incidents that take this story beyond me or the people related to it – it is a story relatable to every citizen of our decaying country.
It all begain in March on Faiz’s centennial when I wrote a  blog in The Express Tribune about an old power loom worker from Faisalabad named Rehmat who could not afford to enter a bourgeois gathering of Faiz’s elitist admirers. He was not the only victim of intellectual elitism; Rehmat represented thousands of those working-class followers of Faiz, who could never cross the barrier of a thousand rupee ticket decided as a mandate by Faiz’s family.
The very day when the piece got published on this site, I received a message on Facebook from Shehrbano Taseer, a bold journalist and daughter of slain Governor of Punjab. She wrote that she felt sad after reading about Rehmat and that she wanted to send a gift for him. This was really surprising to me. Why would someone like her send anything for a person that could be very well be fictional? So, I wrongly thought maybe she’s trying to be cathartic – like a lot of elitists who find relief in charity work.
A few days later, one of her staff members dropped the gift for the old worker at my office. I was impressed by her humanistic vision.
I had to go to Faisalabad in any case for the completion of my documentary about the power-loom workers. I had luckily penned down the factory’s name where Rehmat worked when I met him in Lahore. Now, the task was to find him.
After spending many hours in the poverty-stricken narrow streets of the industrial area, I found the mill I was looking for, and immediately began searching for Rehmat. Eventually, I saw him again, this time working among the haunting machines. The same old ragged clothes and wrinkled face, but this time the old man was holding a black piece of cloth, while manufacturing it in a machine, instead of a red flag.
It was a short meeting. We sat outside his factory where he could rest a little bit. He lit a cigarette and smoked it, holding it in the last two fingers of his closed hand. He was really surprised to see me and I was a little confused too. Finally, I started explaining the reason of my visit (in Punjabi of course).
‘’Actually, Ms Shehrbano Taseer has sent something for you.’’
That was obviously a vague way to start the conversation. He, thus, replied:
“Who is she?”
“Oh, well, she’s a journalist who came to know that you could not enter the Faiz day at Alhamra in Lahore…”
I gave him Bano’s gift, an audio CD, a special centennial edition of Faiz’s poetry. Rehmat sorrowfully smiled and kept looking at Faiz’s photograph on the CD cover for a few seconds. He then asked:
“So, who is she?”
“Well, she is the daughter of Salmaan Taseer.”

He stopped smiling and looked into my eyes with great disbelief. His eyes reflected an expression I could not understand. His expressions changed all of a sudden and the wrinkled face looked even more wrinkled. After a silent pause, he started crying. He kept crying for a while. I found out his full name, Rehmat Masih (Masih is the Arabic word for Messiah) and that he’s been a die hard worker of the People’s Party since Bhutto’s era.
He started speaking with great difficulty:
“Onhey meray wastay apni jaan ditti si…” 
(“He gave his life up for me”)
He continued:
“Tell his daughter that her father lives among all of us who still see hope for a secular and classless Pakistan in the future.”
He kept crying. In his each drop of tear, I saw the smiling face of Salmaan Taseer; In his each drop of tear, I felt the defeat of Mumtaz Qadri and his supporters. In his each drop of tear, I found the success of truth and defeat of those who kill that.
I had absolutely nothing to say,  and no way to console him. I was about to leave when Rehmat stopped me, put his hand on my shoulder and said,
“Sahab, tussi waday banday lagdey o. Tusii Bilawal nu dusna ke Bhutto da raasta chuney.  Jinhey aakhya si ke Socialism sadi maishat aey.
(Sir, you seem like a high-class person. Ask Bilawal to follow Bhutto’s path who said that Socialism is our economy…)
“I’m not a high-class person.” I said and moved away.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Being 'Bloody Civilian' in Pakistan

They pointed their guns at me, and started comparing my face with different photographs of wanted terrorists.
“What do you do?” an officer asked.
After an anguished bit of silence, I replied.
“I’m a teacher.”
“Teacher of what?”
“I teach film.”
“Sir jee he is lying! Who on earth teaches films after all?’’
This was about two weeks back, while I was entering the Lahore Cantonment, when army personnel stopped me at a check-point. The minute I was about to leave after the usual investigation, I heard an army officer say something out of the blue, that offended me to the core:
 “Bloody civilian!”
I instantly turned back and strictly asked the reason for their immoral stunt, also impelling them to apologize. They did not expect such a reaction, and thus resorted to harassing me in the way I’ve mentioned above. What has given the courage to this uniformed bunch of fascists to affront the people in every possible way?
Our people’s almost sacred love for the military!

A constant delusion of Pakistan’s majority regarding their armed forces has been the most effective tool for the military forces to keep their hegemony alive. This delusion is the upshot of our state’s policy of distorting and narrowing the history since its inception in 1947.

“Hindus are our worst enemies, India is behind every misery, Islam is the center of the universe and Pakistan is the greatest nation” are the compulsory clich├ęs of our curricula and hence the first few things our children begin to learn and believe in. Why are we surprised over this hate culture which culminated in an era of terror and horrid bloodshed? What else can be expected from a generation which has grown up in the siege of state-sponsored illusions and cultural narcissism?

On the one hand, the content of our state-prescribed text books inject our minds with hatred for almost everything that has officially been declared “against the religious and national sentiments” of the country.  On the other hand, they continue to preach the ‘heroics’ of Pakistan’s military forces, with a strong emphasis on the “great nationalist” army dictators, portraying them as the protagonists of the state’s chaotic history. This nauseating propaganda is the foremost reason behind this delusional culture. People mostly see the military as the most “organized, committed and corruption free” national institution, ignoring a history of their crimes and failures.

An exaggerated fear of India’s conspiracies has been a stereotypical justification for supporting and strengthening the military forces since 1947, although according to all records outside of Pakistan, they have lost all four wars with our neighbouring country.

Pakistan’s holier than thou military has frequently imposed martial laws and emergencies. They have tortured and killed countless people who stood for democracy during their dark tyrannies. They had inevitably brutalized the people of the former East Pakistan and are responsible of massive atrocities over there during the war of 1971. Numerous Bengali women were being raped and tortured. Bangladeshi sources cite a figure of 200,000 women raped, giving birth to thousands of war-babies. This shameful brutality reflects the real face behind the ‘oh-so-holy’ persona of Pakistan’s armed forces.. They, along with the ISI and CIA as their key backer, are responsible for producing and training the Mujahideen against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, an act whose fallout in the form of Islamic extremism keeps haunting us. They continue to kill people in Baluchistan and other conflict-ridden areas in the name of national defense. 

Pakistan’s military has also turned out to be a trained corruption syndicate which is the major stake holder in every immense business of the country ranging from commercial banks, housing societies, airlines to hospitals, schools and super stores, not to mention the greater percentage of GDP our poor country spends on defence every year. This haunting tale that has left Pakistan as a traumatic state, doesn’t merely end here. The vicious circle has reached to a point where they feel pride in calling us “bloody civilians!” 

Our silence amidst this worst exploitation – taking place at every level – will lead towards more social, political and psychological destruction by the fascist armed forces of the country.  If the Pakistani masses choose to shut their eyes from reality, we may soon see a time when our children will be forced to memorize that India was once a part of Pakistan!