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:
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”)
“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.