IN times like these, when Pakistani is falling upon Pakistani, Muslim upon Muslim, and Muslims upon our poor minorities, one has to thank the Almighty for little mercies shown through good men who stand up and take cognisance of wrong and attempt to put it right.
I refer here to the case of once-famous Sindhi folk singer Zeenat Shaikh, who has been reduced to penury and in her seventies is begging in the streets of her village in Thatta to feed herself and her paralysed husband. They live in a mud hut with a thatched roof and draw water from the local filthy pond.
The story first surfaced in this newspaper through its Thatta correspondent. Once it was brought to their attention, the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation arranged a benefit concert in Ms Shaikh’s honour at the Hyderabad station of the PBC within a week of the news having appeared in the press. The organisation worked hard to contact Ms Sheikh, to bring the frail lady to Hyderabad and then to make the considerable arrangements for the benefit concert.
It was an honour for one who lives in the north of the country to meet Sindhi intellectuals like the 90-year-old but still sprightly author Ibrahim Joyo Sahib; former Vice Chancellor of Shah Latif University in Khairpur, Hameed Sindhi; Regional Director of the Allama Iqbal Open University in Hyderabad, Inam Shiekh; and young columnist and social activist, Jami Chandio. There were also talented musicians like Abdullah Khan on the shehnai, Amb Jogi on the dholak, Sodho Jogi on the harmonium, Abid Hussain on the sitar and his namesake Abid Hussain on the tabla.
All in all it was a wonderful evening, and it was great to see poor Ms Shaikh draped in gifts of ajrak and other clothes with the other presents that people had brought for her spread at her feet. A total of over 100,000 rupees was raised to help the lady, and the Sindh culture ministry has promised to build her a house. By far the most uplifting part was, of course, when Ms Shaikh herself belted out a folk song in her strong and melodious voice, not missing a beat, as if she had just come from a month of practising her voice and rehearsing with the musicians!
In the cultural desert that our country has surely become, many thanks to Gen Ziaul Haq, this small concert was a ray of hope for one such as I who despairs at the direction this blessed country is taking. It is important, also, to recall some events for the benefit of younger Pakistanis who have no idea of the damage the dictator did to the country and its social fabric. It is critical that they be told, for example, about the cruel and inhuman way in which great artistes like the incomparable Naheed Siddiqui, who brought so much honour to Pakistan, were treated by his regime.
I remember when the late and much-lamented Benazir Bhutto was visiting London for an investor’s conference in 1995 and one of the slated functions was a dance performance by Ms Siddiqui. She refused to even speak to the government because of the way in which she had been humiliated those many years ago, when she used to visit the culture ministry in Islamabad for a no-objection certificate to go abroad to teach dance. She would be made to sit and wait in the filthy corridors until the burra sahib (the section officer) finally condescended to see her, this disgraceful behaviour going on for weeks and months. Eventually she was convinced to forget the past, that the horror was no more and that Ms Bhutto’s was a democratic government that had immense respect for artistes.All I can say is that with more people like those who helped make Ms Shaikh’s benefit concert a reality and were responsible for lifting her up from the ground and giving her respect back to her, there might be a slim chance to invigorate and revitalise our culture, which has taken such a severe beating during obscurantist dictatorships. We can only hope.
And now let’s come back to earth with a most unpleasant thud ... Karachi, the city of my birth, is burning once again with many people losing their lives every single day and various political parties blaming each other and everybody else but themselves. And then there is the great disconnect: Ranchore Lines might be in flames, but you wouldn’t know anything was wrong if you lived in, say, Clifton or Defence, where the good life goes on.
But again, the situation in the country is getting through to some people. Walking in Clifton one can see many a fancy home in complete darkness (no, not because of loadshedding, for they have great generators), with the usual two or three expensive motorcars and SUVs parked in driveways, the owners having decamped to Canada or England or Malaysia or wherever they maintain their alternative nests.
We are in very serious trouble, my friends.