LET’S hope this is a bit of false information, a clumsy attempt at creating horror fiction out of this country’s unending turmoil. The chances, however, are that the news is true.
A news item last Saturday announced a ward in Rawalpindi’s Holy Family Hospital had been named after an infant who was attacked by rats during the period he was admitted there.
Given the nightmare the reference to the incident conjures up, isn’t it a brave attempt by a bold and sincere government to forever live a dark moment in history?
But spare a thought for the future occupants of the ward. It is quite clear the name-giving game being played here for some time has been carried out too far. This is one name that gives the name-givers away. They do not appear to be in the right state of mind.
There are names which evolve on their own and in defiance of the rules the government and other elders around set for the motley to follow.
Some years ago, an army officer who was going for routine duty at a ‘sensitive’ site in the country was stuck midway after his car broke down. He decided to take a public transport van, in uniform, mindful not to reveal his destination. Not too long into playing the undercover agent amid his ordinary co-passengers, he was brutally woken out of his security zone when the van conductor called out aloud for those wanting to disembark at the apparently quite conspicuous ‘bamm chowk’. The cover was blown. It had only existed in the mind of the officer.
Then there are names which are superimposed on old identities by the authorities. Some of them stick, others don’t. There is a tendency among the old dwellers to boast about the erstwhile name of their area and to not really be too bothered about shifting to the new, however politically correct, title.
The area which sees a lot of people moving out and coming in would be easier to rechristen since the newcomers do not share the old occupants’ bias and romance for ‘originality’ and need time to develop a relationship with their surroundings.
This is why the old Krishan Nagar in Lahore has conceded ground to its cleaned up version going around as Islampura. To the old-timers it remains Krishan Nagar, but then they are a breed fast fading out, clearing way for the tentative newcomers to build their own landmarks.
Back in the times when Krishan Nagar, one of the posh pre-Partition localities of Lahore, was renamed Islampura and in fact for a long period after that, the renaming was considered to be a simple exercise.
The city government would issue a notification and soon a sign would emerge at the head of a road announcing its new identity.
In recent weeks, the procedure has been discussed in detail in public because of the controversy surrounding the proposal to dedicate a square in a not so central part of Lahore to Bhagat Singh. It has been revealed that before a name can be notified, it has to stand a potentially tough test where those opposing the move are given an opportunity to argue against it.
Not only have some people agitated against glorifying a non-Muslim and ‘an Indian’ when so many from our own faith are so deserving of being celebrated, a group has even gone to court against this commemorating of Bhagat Singh.
And as the court sits in judgment in this case, the government has already faced quite a lot of trouble over Bhagat Singh to feel too confident about trying to bestow a similar honour on a non-traditional hero, and it may revert to safer options.
These safe options reside deep in our past. The more contemporary times can only throw up choices that are or are deemed to be partisan.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the popular leader whose PPP celebrated its 45th anniversary last week, is praised by most politicians, but when it comes to honouring his memory even through as symbolic an act as naming some place after him, only the PPP can be expected to take the initiative. And when the PPP does it, it does so at considerable risk of raising a controversy.
The otherwise extremely respected Benazir Bhutto is all the more likely to raise eyebrows when her heirs superimpose her initials on a district in Sindh or an airport in Islamabad — rather than creating something new and befitting her stature. The harder these BB heirs try the more ill-will they generate against a banner they run their politics under.
Of course, the essence of it lies in bringing any new or old place or institution to a position that conforms with the status of the personality whose name it is operated under. If this premise is applied to entities in Pakistan it could actually lead to a de-naming campaign.
In our urge to dedicate and honour, one place which we have routinely given boastful identities to happens to be hospitals. But we have never been as innovative and original as those behind the latest naming of a ward inside the Holy Family Hospital in Rawalpindi — without any fear of protest.
How proud can a hospital in Karachi known after Jinnah be when it is in the news only for the dead bodies it receives daily of people killed in various battles in the shehr-i-Quaid?
It is surprising that while Bhagat Singh draws people out in protest, no one agitates before Jinnah in Karachi. The helplessness of a city the hospital so often signifies would appear to translate into the gravest disrespect for the founder of Pakistan.
The hospital could be, it should be, renamed after any of the men who have routinely fallen in the unending rat race in the city, now that Holy Family has broken the tradition of celebrating victors and has set a truly remarkable precedent in naming hospital space after ‘victims’.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.