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A faceless generation nears its end


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We don’t know how it happened but it did. Somehow our generation became a faceless generation. But before that we lost our faith. Or perhaps, we lost our identity first and then we lost our faith. Does it matter now what we lost first? We know we have lost both.

Like other people we too had names; names that showed we had parents who cared for us. Our names reflected our bound to a family, a community and above all to humanity. But first we adopted new idols, those that sipped blood and spat fire and brimstone.

Those were fearsome deities that loved suicide-bombings, beheadings, and firing-squads.

And all of this was not done in the name of religion alone. We had many idols, each named after a sect, an ethnic group, or a political cult. They had one common trait, an insatiable lust for power.

Soon after we adopted those new idols, we lost our identity, or we may have lost our identity first and then we took these new symbols of worship, abandoning the loving, merciful and benevolent God.

Yes, we still lived in cities, towns and villages. But living was our only distinction. We had nothing to be proud of. There was no bond, no love among us. We did not trust each other. But did it only happen to those living in our city? No. People in cities around us stopped trusting each other too. It was a strange disease that spread across the region and affected everybody.

We were incomplete men and women, unable to recognise each other. Even those who had nameplates on their doors did not know who they were. We often asked each other who we were! Nobody had an answer.

"Whose children are we? From whose womb were we born?" We had heard that our mother became barren soon when we became faceless or we may have become faceless first. But we did not know why it happened what happened. May be we knew, but did not care.

We often asked our mother, if she was infertile why did she have this divine light on her forehead? And the pain of creation on her face? Why did the elixir of life ooze out of her?

She never answered.

"And if you are our mother, return our identity to us. Tell us who brought us up. Whose arms we held for support while growing?" we pleaded.

She was silent.

Some said we were children of the ocean, born out of the rage of the storm when it churns the sea into foam and froth. Like little fish, we leaned on every wave for support but were tossed around.

"Are we plants, growing on our own? Some obscure form of life in the depth of the sea? One moment we shine, the next it is dark. Are we fish wandering from sea to sea?

"Are we foam and froth? Why do we run to the beach with the retreating waves, rushing to our own death?

"Will we be scattered like the sand? Mother, are we the rock on the beach? Or the sea birds sitting on the rock or flying aimlessly in the blue sky? But even the birds have names?

"Are we related to the stars that brighten up the sky? Are we related to the sun or the moon?"

Little did we know that there were skies beyond our vision too!

There were many suns and moons. But our eyesight limited our vision. For us the Milky Way was just a bright line on the sky.

"Mother, who are we?" we asked. "How are we related to you? If you are our mother what is it that divides us? Who has poisoned this land that only hate grows out of it? Who could answer these motherless children, born out of rage, fathered by blood-spilling demigods?"

Every morning the sun came to our window and stole another day out of our lives. The wind blew dust into our hair. The time wove a net on our faces. We stopped looking at the mirror. This cobweb of time, this graying hair, wrinkles on our foreheads, scared us.

"Is this our image? Is this our identity?" we would whisper to each other.

But we refused to accept what was offered.

"This is not who we are. It is a conspiracy; a magic. The sun and the wind are plotting against us, leaving their marks on our withering body," we would argue.

"Mother, why don't you tell us who we are?" we would ask again and again.

But what could she say? She was in pain too, the pain of a mother whose children had no names and no faces.

It was difficult growing up with this faceless crowd. We were not only nameless but also quarrelsome, always looking for an excuse to fight. We were so engrossed in our little disputes, that we seldom noticed others as they walked past us. For us others did not exist because for them, we did not exist either.

There were some who never participated in these quarrels. They walked past us silently, with their chins touching their chests, watching their own steps, trying not to stumble on the uneven road.

What could they say to this nameless crowd? They had no miracle, no cure for our woes. They did not share our dreams or desires. Perhaps, we did not want a cure. We were not looking for a physician or a wizard. We wanted a snake charmer with his basket full of poisonous snakes who could dance on his tune to charm this nameless crowd. And then slip into the crowd and bite whoever they wanted.

Those few who were still sane, bewildered us when they asked us who we were. "How could we know who we are?" we wondered.

It was not a leaderless crowd, though. We had many leaders - powerful, pompous, mighty and influential leaders. Our soldiers were ferocious fighters and proudly filled many graves with their enemies before they too fell to someone’s bullets.

Our intellectuals claimed to know the secrets of the earth and the sky. But they did not know who they were. So how could have they told us who we were!

Yes, it is true that many wise men, and women, were born among us. But what difference does it make now? The wise among us left home early. From the doors of their youth, they set out to earn a living and never returned.

The only wise man we saw in our neighborhood was called a pagal, the insane, because he talked to his shadow. He liked a particular hour of the day when his shadow walked with him. He talked to the shadow. The shadow talked to him. They often argued. But they always walked hand in hand - each foot following the other. If he stopped, the shadow stopped. If he sat, the shadow sat.

It was a faithful companion. The night took him away. But he returned the next day, like a faithful friend.

The wise, old man, when asked why he loved his shadow, replied: Because only he will go with me to my grave.

The author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

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Anwar Iqbal is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

Comments (35) Closed

Shankar Feb 28, 2012 02:49pm
Wow! That was wonderful! Touching! The despondence & sorrow brought tears to my eyes! Every dark cloud has a silver lining! Calm always follows the storm! There will be deliverance from this confusion & misery, for the proud people of Pakistan deserve far better! In the near future, there will be a face, there will be a name, there will be a purpose to live & occasions to rejoice. Do not despair! It is all a part of evolution!
Aisha Feb 28, 2012 03:38pm
Pray for a better tomorrow for Pakistan. A tomorrow where self interests come after National interests as far as our politicians are concerned. A tomorrow where everyday is only a new beginning and not an end. Just extremely overwhelmed with this piece.
Hamna Feb 28, 2012 04:13pm
A BRILLIANT piece of work, Sir!!! Thank you so much for this. It was truely an eye opener. Got me thinking about what our future may hold for us if we continue to go on like this. Without a face, without a name. May Allah bring us out of this ordeal, and grant us the strength to build a better tomorrow.
Umair Feb 28, 2012 05:25pm
Few days ago I watched a religious video on Youtube. Some users (belonging to different sects) had commented on the video blaming & accusing each other. But there was a comment which caught my eye. The comment was something like this: Your state (Pakistan) is being wiped off the face of the earth (via terrorism, corruption, natural disasters, inflation, lack of resources ......) but you guys are still busy in blaming, accusing and killing each other. It is written in the Quran: O you who have believed, whoever of you should revert from his religion - Allâh will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him [who are] humble toward the believers, powerful against the disbelievers; they strive in the cause of Allâh and do not fear the blame of a critic. That is the favour of Allâh; He bestows it upon whom He wills. And Allâh is all-Encompassing and Knowing. I guess this is exactly what is happening to us as individuals and nation. We are loosing out identity as Muslims and Pakistanis and also loosing our faith :(. May Allah help us. Ameen!
Noor Kamal Feb 28, 2012 07:58pm
- we lost nothing. it is just that we never had them.
Naeem Feb 28, 2012 08:13pm
We know we have a big problem as a nation, but what is the solution? we need to work on that.
Zeeshan Feb 28, 2012 08:26pm
I feel the baby boomers generation of the 70s were the ones who lost all identity by abandoning Islam in their drive toward aping the West. Now that this generation is mostly nearing or has already retired, the fruits of their labor are visible in the form of neglected Islam (which has led to extremism) and a ruined economy in one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The state of the nation is simply a reflection on them.
Falcon Feb 28, 2012 08:57pm
@Shankar...Thanks for the kind words...we need a lot of hope, courage, and prayers to pull it off...but with due resolve we will make it because we don't have a choice, we have to!
S S Sidhu Feb 28, 2012 09:30pm
Iqbal Sahib, It is too much pain and despondency. Remember it is darkest before dawn. English is a very unfriendly language but there is a very apt saying in it , this too will pass. Want to bet that before too long South Asia will be at peace. When I was a young boy in in 60s Europe was thought to externally divided and before that the nation states were thought to be final product of human existence . Look at the world now it is much better today. Look at the comments on your article they are most of the time they make wonderful sense. What makes me feel good about mankind that we the human beings have been able to maintain of humanity inspite of religions. Keep the flag flying. This too we will overcome. SSS
Mohammad Wahab Feb 28, 2012 09:32pm
An excellent literary masterpiece but truly representing pangs and sorrows of every true Pakistani. While going through it, I was thinking, how does the author know my heart? We have gravely erred, we have committed blunders and we have acted too irresponsibly. Thats why we have got worst around us. Corrupt masters and corrupt subjects. Even angels won't have thought about the nadir, we have reached. We have crossed limits of brutality and inhumanity. On one hand, our society got traumatised by the so-called misguided terrorists but who could we blame for what happened in our big city Karachi where people were beheaded in the name of ethnicity quite recently. No, its not a land of muslims, its a land of brutes and beasts much higher in degree, than the beasts existing in forests. My Lord, I am afraid to say, 'no group of people' ever created by you would have stooped that lower. My heart cries and womits blood. I can't see my country disintegrating like this and government acting criminally against its subjects. Oh, my Lord, Your patience is unfathomable. How long will You remain patient? Why did you create such people who have set new satanic standards? Even Satan will be smiling above skies. My Lord, of course you knew, how would we treat our home called, Pakistan. Why did You allow us to create this country? We would have behaved better without it. We won't have slit throats in the name of sect, ethnicity, tribalism, extremism, Ghairat, etc. There were others as well on earth who hadn't behaved well but why did You make us the Worst? Why did You give us so mean rulers who I am sure won't have given to any other people on earth so far who stooped so low in morality that they are killing Your poor creatures and piling up treasure over treasure, the worst creatures on earth. Oh, Lord when Your patience will reach the limit and when will You liberate us from these criminals who have made our survival impossible? When will You grant us wisdom to repent as a nation and to break the hate-idols who we have been bowing to, so steadfastly? My Lord! You know Your creatures well, we can't tolerate anymore. Oh Lord, please liberate our souls.
Aman Khan Feb 28, 2012 09:41pm
The only thing we Pakistanies do best is to pray! I guess we don't pray hard enough!!!!!
Shahid Akhtar Feb 28, 2012 10:08pm
A brilliant analysis of what's happening in Pakistan, and what's also happening in other countries ... in this or that way, in this or that degree...
kishwer Feb 28, 2012 10:53pm
well well try not to blame any body, remember you guys were bought out to vote for these vultures, who are ruling the country. How shame to have leaders like them. what a nation!
kishwer Feb 28, 2012 10:55pm
well well try not to blame any body, remember you guys were bought out to vote for these vultures, who are ruling the country. How shame to have leaders like them. what a nation! sure you are having a problem displaying it you are all sacerd.
Zafar Feb 28, 2012 11:44pm
Wah!!!!!!!!! What a beautiful piece, have enjoyed reading something after a very long time, both the idea and the beautiful words. Excellent. I guess I wanted to say the same thing an someone had put on heart on paper wrapped in these beautiful words. It left my heavy hearted though.
Salim Feb 29, 2012 12:37am
First I could smell my mother's presence, I could taste her breast milk, then I could smell the fresh monsoon soaked soil, I could taste the sour green mango on the tree.... this all filled my senses and gave me a belonging....then I started reading words, words which did not spring up organically from the native flora-fauna, rivers, mountains... those alien words made me bow down to distant places, I made them divine and I lost connection to what is "here and now" around me... I got uprooted, I started hating everything around me....I lost my identity and became a breathing corps, worst a devilish ghost.
Warren Feb 29, 2012 01:14am
This is extremely moving and well-written expressing hopelessness, despair and a search for identity. I believe Jesus Christ can bring help and healing to every hungry heart for he said, "Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest in your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-29).
asma Feb 29, 2012 01:37am
good work sir there are many problems and everyone is there to talk on these problems but no one is there who give the solution who honestly lead and faithfully serve nation
Madness Feb 29, 2012 01:44am
Pray less people .... work more and think more! Take responsibilities for your actions!
Mustafa Feb 29, 2012 01:46am
Dear Mohammad, you said the truth from your heart. No question about it. Do not forget, Allah gave human beings full discretion to choose good or bad actions and they will be accounted for their actions on the Day of Judgment. Allah will never change human beings unless they seriously make an effort to change themselves.
BRR Feb 29, 2012 03:42am
Most of the respondents jumped into a prayer mode, rather than reflecting upon the status. Prayer alone cannot bring about changes in society. Too many killers are also praying 5 times a day. Grow up, and find solutions, enough of praying just like the killers.
saleem Feb 29, 2012 11:30am
Its sad that although the article is brilliant yet the comments are funny, @zeeshan wrote abondoning islam, neglecting islam, etc. isnt it ironic that the growth of awareness of faith in whatever form increases the graph of intolerance and butchering of humanity
vijay india Feb 29, 2012 11:52am
Dear Mr. Mohammad A very heart wrenching comments by you. What can I say except offering my deepest sympathies and hope the almighty come to your rescue.
Muhammad Omar Iftikh Feb 29, 2012 01:15pm
Anwar Iqbal sahab, your article is one of the best works I have read. It has all the elements of an excellent write-up. You have shaken all the senses of the readers. Indeed a great read with excellent metaphors and expression. I think this article can be taken as a novel, "The Faceless Generation." The shadow you talked about in the end can be one of the character.
spnebula Feb 29, 2012 01:18pm
Your sorrow and tragedy has nothing to do with not being a true Muslim; it is your nature (culture or a set of societal beliefs) that has let you down. Just look back in the history and you will see how people in your region have lived and died. Your agony will not be heard by Allah or any other God, for you have betrayed yourselves.
MUHAMMAD UMAR BIN TA Feb 29, 2012 02:17pm
Dear U r Right. I like your this Artical, now we are fighting for same things which U have mentioned. Really new Generation is Faceless and near its END. ALLAH TAALA will come a New Generation, who will replace them.
Mohammad A. Wahab Feb 29, 2012 02:25pm
Dear Vijay, thanks for your consoling words. Just pray for all of us to come out of these hate syndromes and create a society with no discrimination on the basis of faith, language, clan and area. Lets pray that we fight against poverty, injustice, opresssion, cruelty, hate, discrimination on both side of borders hand in hand and create a model society.
Khalid Usmani Feb 29, 2012 03:26pm
Well said BRR...find solutions and stop listening to the conspiracy theories...
Khalid Khan Feb 29, 2012 03:45pm
Dear BRR-I hate to be the one who critiques yet again. I've spent the last 6 years in a Madrassah before graduating from a US based University, so you know my background now. Agreed prayer can not alone bring about change in society. But come on, too many killers praying 5 times a day? you're going to categorize all 'killers' in the same way? the ones sitting in president houses, the ones killing for money,and the ones killing for faith..lets divide further, the ones killing correctly for faith and the ones killing incorrectly for faith? So no, your statement can not be categorized more than mere fiction. And really, enough of praying just like killers? Lets all just stop praying cause the killers pray? lets all just also stop eating, and sleeping cause maybe killers do that too?
Mona Feb 29, 2012 05:03pm
Though, I come from the same generation yet I quite agree with you Sir, for we are what we think! We neither have the face nor the character of a human! In such a bleak state , we expect Allah to help us out! May God kill the satan inside us!
Mona Feb 29, 2012 05:06pm
Though, I come from the same generation yet I quite agree with you Sir, for we are what we think! We neither have the face nor the character of a human! In such a bleak state , we expect Allah to help us out! May God kill the satan inside us! Amen
GR Feb 29, 2012 09:28pm
It is really good one, but the efforts are in vein unless we recognize and give value others. Everything we measure with one same tool, but not with HUMANITY and ETHICS.
Anand Mar 01, 2012 05:07pm
Dear Pakistanis, Raise above all your fears and current situation..It is dis-heartening to see reading this article about losing identity but you will need to fight out to come out of this (terrorism, corrupt leaders etc) and may god help you
Sumeer Mar 01, 2012 06:47pm
Simple, stop commending those killers who, according to you are the ones killing incorrectly for faith. Prayer is the best way, the best exercise to reach a state of calm mind. So, pray my dear, pray. I am falling short of words to appreciate the writer. Amazing......
blaa Mar 09, 2012 12:36am
A good readd..