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DAWN - Features; April 25, 2003

April 25, 2003

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Shah Milinda’s questions

Bactrian king Shah Milinda (King Mirendar) who ruled ancient Punjab more than two thousand years ago could have had very interesting time today sifting fact from fiction and truth from falsehood while watching the ‘embedded’ reports gunned down our disbelieving gullets by CNN, Fox, Sky and alas! Our once reliable BBC. The king had a passion for inquiry and had a troublesome questioning mind. He was also blunt and told you to your face your answer was foggy. For instance he would have liked to know how a country which possessed weapons of not only mass destruction but also of life annihilation and Planet Earth’s physical evaporation and which continued to make and amass even more lethal arrangements in its terrestrial and space arsenals could ask anyone to disarm, to throw away the piece of rock one hid in one’s hand for self defence. Like ABS Jaffri (Dawn April 22) he would demand of you to first disarm yourself before asking another to do so.

This is basic. You do not need to be living in this century to understand that; no post industrial wisdom, no Harvard degree, no exceptional IQ is required to appreciate this. Just a little fairness. That’s all. But if you insist on imposing your will by force, then Shah Milinda will have no difficulty in telling you that with all the economic, scientific, technological and supposedly social advancement you claim to have made, you are still where Darwin found you on all fours beating flies with your mighty tail. He will not be impressed by all the trillion thousand tons of paper that you print your glossy smiles on to hide the snarl beneath. He would tell you that if 230 million people educated in the best schools and universities of the world, with the highest living standard, could not appreciate the enormity of the atrocity that was committed in their name and could not stop that from happening, then there was something seriously wrong with their society which they need to look into before greater harm is done to the world to save ‘our way of life’.

This great ancient text comprising ‘Questions’ that Shah Milinda put to the Buddhist sage of his time, Naga Sena, to quench his thirst for knowledge, to seek the truth and to end his state of doubt about the nature of morality, and to know what was good and what was bad, was compiled in Sialkot, which was the great king’s capital. It was his practice to invite learned men and thinkers from all over to his court and question them about matters that perturbed his mind: kabhi soze-o-saz Rumi, kabhi pech-o-tab Razi. At last he found truth in the teachings of Mahatma Buddh. He abdicated the throne to his son and devoted the rest of his life to the service of the Dharma. How easy it was then to leave your golden throne and how difficult it is now to leave your wooden chair! These eternal and cosmic questions and their spiritual and scholarly answers found in a Pali text were translated by T.W.R. Davids and published from Oxford in the Sacred Books of the East series. It has now been translated beautifully into Urdu by Sharif Kunjahi, the well known Punjabi poet and published by the Muqtadera. The book has six sections dealing with the past of the King and the Sage, the issues that perturb Milinda, questions about important attributes, issues that arise from contradictory statements, issues generated by confusion of mind and metaphorical considerations. Kunjahi’s Urdu version is couched in a style that seeks to retain the original text’s antique flavour.

A work of great interest, it not only throws light on the intellectual and philosophical concerns of that period but also the customs and traditions that were then prevalent in the region that we now know as Pakistan. We learn that the people of Punjab were as fashionable then as they are now. There were sixteen cares that they lavished on their crowning glory: they wore head ornaments, they used decorative styles, they oiled, washed and garlanded the braids, they perfumed and creamed them and used medicinal plants for a good growth and shine, they coloured them, tied them with ribbons, they combed them regularly and went to the barber for a cut, prevented them from tangling and intertwining, saved them from lice and when they started falling made a lot of fuss and ran about the land to find a cure.

One of the major causes of our social and economic decline is attributed to our failure to strengthen institutions. We have been trying to build up personalities at the cost of institutions. When Naga Sena was presented with a shawl by his maternal aunt which she had knitted specially for him, he advised her to donate that to the System, as in that way it would strengthen the System as well as save him from the cold.

When asked why there could not be two Tatagathas or divine guides helping the world at the same time, Naga Sena told the King just as one could not eat another meal on a full belly, and just as it was stupid to have the load of one carriage transferred to another loaded one and since the best could not be the best if there were another best, there could be no two guides at the same time. This explains the emergence of the lone Superpower in our time and the failure of democracy in Pakistan.

What could we learn from the hunter? The appearance of the dear in the thicket gives him a purpose which he pursues with total attention. To a man of thought hitting upon a subject to reflect and meditate on was of similar import. It makes him the happiest man on earth. Can the smallest thing be divided, the king asked. Yes, said the sage. Then what is indivisible, O Naga Sena? Truth, he replied. The atomic theory, the divisibility of matter, was being discussed two thousand years ago.

Shah Milinda, the great inquirer, was always in search of sages and saints to learn from them lessons of wisdom and seek their guidance in matters of confusion. That tradition lives on. There is no dearth of seekers but sages are hard to find. Ashfaq Ahmad assures us that Babas, like municipal water taps, are everywhere, it is our search which is defective. Moreover it is not wisdom that we seek. We seek more substantial things having grown wiser by the year seeing the wisest amongst us grow from strength to strength.

Sense on dress

By Ismail Khan


FOR a change, the Frontier assembly did meet at the stipulated time and things went well as far as the day’s agenda was concerned — the usual lacklustre question hour. However, the brinkmanship of our legislators: if they have no issue to talk about, they create one. Khalid Waqar Chamkani is a lawyer by profession, that too of the high court. One expected him to do better than moving a resolution which, although good in substance, included a controversial sentence, calling the trousers-shirt dress a symbol of slavery and an un-Islamic dress.

The actual resolution had called for a shalwar- qameez uniform for students and teachers in all public and private schools from the next academic year. But then Mr Waqar Chamkani moved a step further, describing western dress un- Islamic. This caused an uproar.

ANP’s Bashir Bilour jumped from his seat to point to a huge portrait of the suit-and-tie-wearing Quaid-i-Azam overlooking the house. He dared the MMA MPs to say that the Quaid was wearing an un-Islamic dress. “Why is this picture there if it is un-Islamic? Bring it down if it is un- Islamic”, he challenged the MMA MPs.

This prompted a few other opposition MPs to join in. Israr Gandapur, who like his father, Inayatullah Gandapur, comes to the house wearing ‘un-Islamic’ dress, rose to explain the history of western-style trousers, their connection with the Ottoman empire and Turkey. The MMA members were not willing to listen.

Senior Minister Sirajul Haq did make an effort to brush the resolution aside. “There is nothing un-Islamic about the  dress”, he said. But the harangue created by some of the diehard MMA MPs forced Speaker Bakht Jahan to put it to vote. The ayes obviously carried the motion, amidst loud desk-thumping and cheers of congratulations to the mover.

The opposition, which by then had assembled in front of the Speaker’s podium, in frustration walked out.

Better sense however prevailed and when the house reconvened after the break. The senior minister rose again to ask the speaker to delete the contentious sentence from the resolution. Bakht Jahan obliged and the MMA MPs who had pushed the resolution by voice and show of hand grudgingly said aye again to omit the disputed sentence.

The debate then turned to the fate of contract employees, and kudos to PPP-P parliamentary leader Abdul Akbar Khan who made an impressive presentation. A seasoned parliamentarian, Abdul Akbar had come prepared for the debate. He quoted from the Services Rule, the annual report of the NWFP Public Service Commission and the relevant official record that the so-called contract policy of the government was nothing but a farce. And the house heard him in full silence. He pleaded with the government to introduce a bill to regularize the services of thousands of contract employees.

Bashir Bilour had earlier spoken on the subject and called for scrapping contract policy. Mushtaq Ghani of the PML (Q) also endorsed Abdul Akbar’s arguments.

It appeared that the government had no intention of countering the argument, though it may pull a smart one when it reconvenes on Friday by declaring that it already has amended the contract policy, regularizing the services of contract employees to the extent that the contract period has been done away with and that they are entitled to promotions, etc. The only exemption is that these employees are not entitled to pension.

The senior minister was non-committal when approa-ched for comments. Abdul Akbar said he planned to bring a bill and present it to the house for endorsement to regularize the services of contract employees. The issue concerns the lives of thousands of contract employees and as such deserves to be given a sympathetic consideration.

On another note, the house referred a motion by Abdul Akbar Khan to committee that had called for the dismissal of district nazim Mardan for making ‘rebellious’ statements against the provincial government. This has averted a battle for turf between the two, at least for now.

Suicide and salvation

By Dr Mahjabeen Islam


SUICIDE in simplistic terms is a ticket to hell. We are admonished in the Quran to treat life as an amanah or inviolable trust of Allah. And for a moment or two let us examine the causes of suicide. In the majority of individuals that commit suicide, the diagnosis attached to the patient is major depression. Sometimes there is bipolar disorder/manic depressive illness and less frequently schizophrenia. Drug and alcohol abuse can be admixed with any of the above.

It is only over the last twenty years or so that medicine has refined the underlying cause for these psychiatric illnesses. In clinical depression there is a paucity of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. People are born with varying levels of these neurotransmitters; some go through life not knowing anything better than a dysthymic disorder, or a low-grade depression.

In others the stress of dealing with the death of a loved one, divorce, financial crisis, or a long winter with reduced sunlight hours (which in turn decreases the manufacture of these neurotransmitters) there is a clinical depression which can be successfully treated with short term anti-depressants. In the last third an earth-shattering event, unmasks as it were, the deficiency of the neurotransmitters and plunges the person into the depths of depression and these are generally the cases where there is suicidal ideation.

There is unanimity about the one sin that Allah will not forgive; that being shirk or the sin of association of any entity with God. In Surah Luqman (31:13) “Join not in worship (others) with Allah for false worship is the highest wrong doing”.

If the Quran and Sunnah are taken contextually though, one learns that there is a very wide margin wherein the Grace of God comes in. On the Day of Judgment our sins and good deeds will be weighed and the scale that is heavier will win, but aside from the sin of shirk which is definite cause for damnation, all others are subservient to His Grace and ultimate pardon. In Az-Zumar (39:53) “Oh my servants that have transgressed against their own souls, despair not of the mercy of Allah, for Allah forgives all sins and He is oft Forgiving Most Merciful”.

The degree of psychosis varies among the patients with major depression and within the same patient also there is a wavering of the intensity of the deranged thought process. A concept applied to psychiatrically ill patients is that of the “lucid interval”. In this the patient has a greater than usual grasp of his mental faculties. The serotonin and nor-epinephrine levels at a particular time are obviously well known to Allah for the Quran states that not a leaf moves without His express will.

When the levels of the neurotransmitters have bottomed out and the patient sees nothing but blackness and despair and commits suicide, it is highly unlikely that action will be held in the scale against them on the Day of Judgment. In Surah Nisa (4:40) the Quran says, “God is never unjust in the least degree. If there is any good He doubles it and gives from His own presence a great reward.”

Surah Al-Mulk (67:14) “Should He not know, He that created? And He is the one that understands the finest mysteries and is well acquainted with them”. In His knowledge of these finest mysteries is the knowledge of the level of serotonin and norepinephrine in each individual and that even severe major depression is treatable with a variety of chemical and procedural treatments. Especially in the 21st century.

There are so many effective treatments that most patients can be returned to quite a functional state. Let us imagine for a minute that Allah had made the sin of suicide contingent upon the medical condition of the patient. Most certainly there would be abuse of this condition, instead of the fear of Hell stopping a patient at that last microsecond when his life could take an irrevocable course.

So in terms of the survivors feeling pain and embarrassment one can only pray for the soul of the departed for it is for Allah to judge the severity of the depression and the degree of departure of the mental faculties at the time of death. And as the Hadith says, if we have good expectations of Allah, good is likely to result, and dua is extremely pleasing to God, especially when supplication is with heart, soul and sadness.

In Surah Baqara (2:286) the Quran states “On no soul does God place a burden greater than it can bear” and the Hadith exhorts us to not just make dua, but to also make an effort. Dua and dawa both. This Muslim belief is the redeeming factor in treating Muslim patients, for not just depression, but other disease too. It appears that Muslims have internalized this tenet of our belief system, as opposed to some evangelical Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses who come to see a doctor only to defeat their treatment plan by refusing it and saying that they will “pray about it”.

The only problem that remains really in the case of suicidal depression is its identification. For an axiom in medicine is that half the treatment is the recognition of the state of disease. Depressed mood, irritability, fatigue, anhedonia, reduced libido, anxiety and sleep difficulty are some of the symptoms, and in most cases that commit suicide, there is usually mention of the plan or intent to a friend or relative. These conversations must be taken seriously, for aggressive treatment can lead to complete return to function. And needless to say a life and in this sad case three lives could be saved.

Another very important concept to grasp is that mental illness is not a moral weakness or a character failure on the part of the patient. Major depression and the deficiency of serotonin and norepinephrine is as much a disease as diabetes where there is a quantitative or qualitative lack of insulin. Just as a patient’s sudden and excessive weight gain can cause the unmasking of an insulin resistant state and cause frank diabetes, similarly a life-altering event can be the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back and a depression is unmasked. Sadly since depression deals with the emotional state of the patient, the patient is erroneously held liable for it, when in actuality he is entirely innocent of all such societal charge and stigma.

We must strive toward the degree of spiritual evolution where we can feel what God says so exquisitely in Surah Qaf (50:16) “It was We who created man and We know what dark suggestions his soul makes to him: for We are nearer to him than his jugular vein”. As an extrapolation, our mind when out of serotonin and norepinephrine, tires of the pain that life appears to be and exhorts us to end it all. If there had been spiritual evolution prior to the onset of the disease state, the patient himself is able to see and do the path of “dua and dawa”. In other cases family and friends must be keenly aware of the developing symptomatology and guide the patient toward a cognizant and competent physician.

And when the patient is well on the road to recovery, he would be intensely fortunate to realize yet another tender Quranic quote: ala bi zikrillah-e-tatmainnal quloob: “for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction” (13:28).

Peculiar sound pattern of Seraiki

SERAIKI DIAN KHAS AWAZAN DI KAHANI (Seraiki script in the 19th and 20th centuries) by Prof Shaukat Mughal; pp 176; price Rs100 (hb); publishers, Jhok Publishers and Maktab-i-Qasmia, Chowk Ghanta Ghar, Kutchery Road, Multan.

PROF Shaukat Mughal is a crusader for Seraiki as an independent language spoken in a vast area having more than seven dialects. With so many dialects it has many problems of pronunciation. Many scholars of southern Punjab have been trying to create some uniformity in its alphabet and the sound system which was first taken up by the British missionaries in the early 19th century. They produced a translation of the New Testament in Seraiki in 1822 in the Persian script. The alphabet was that of Arabic then used in the subcontinent.

At a later stage Richard Francis Burton, who captured Sindh for the Empire, referred to the languages of this area in his article, A grammar of the Jataki or Belochki dialect in 1849, published by the Bombay chapter of the Royal Asiatic Society. His description of the language: “The corrupted dialect of Punjabi used in Sindh, is known to the people by three names-1. Seraiki, 2. Belochki, 3. Jataki.

“It is called Seraiki from Siro (upper Sindh), where it is commonly spoken by the people. As many of the Baloch clans settled in the plains use this dialect, the Sindhis designate it by the name of Belochki. The Balochis of the plains generally use the corrupt dialect of Punjabi called after their name, particularly the Nizamani and Lashari clans.

“The name Jataki as applied to this dialect, is of Punjabi origin and refers to the Jats, the aboriginal inhabitants of the country...”

Now it was another missionary, Dr Andrew Jukes (1847-1931), who gave attention to this language and published a dictionary titled, Dictionary of Jataki or Western Punjabi Language, which Prof Shaukat Mughal is going to transcribe and reproduce under the title, Seraiki-Urdu Lughat.

Dr Jukes says: “The western Punjabi or Jataki language has many local names applied to it, Multani, Derawal, Jagdalli, Shahpuri, Banuchi, Peshawari, Pothohari, Hazari, Bahawalpuri are all names of the dialects of the language which is spoken by the Jafir Pathans and Khetrans on the west of Dera Ghazi Khan district to Bahawalpur on the east and from Sindh in the south to the confines of Kashmir in the north, covering an area of about the size of Ireland and with a population variously estimated at from three to five million. There seem to be three well-defined dialects.

“(1) Southern Punjabi, including Multani, Derawal, Bahawalpuri — spoken from Sindh to Dera Ismael Khan district.

“(2) The Salt Range dialect, called in Bhai Maya Singh’s dictionary, Pothohari, spoken in Rawalpindi, Jhelum, Shahpur, Gujrat and Salt Range.

“(3) The Hazara dialect.

Each district seems to have its own local name for the language, which has dialectically differences of pronunciation, meanings or idioms, varying more or less every few miles, or even in different quarters of the same city. This is more or less the case with every unwritten language...”

So we come to one word of Punjabi, ‘Sut’ (to throw) ‘sut’ is in the central Punjab, ‘sit’ in the eastern Punjab (now Punjabi Suba in India) and ‘sat’ in southern and western Punjab. The tragedy of Punjabi and its dialects is that it was an unwritten language but the fact is that it is the only language of the Punjab which is understood in all parts of the province.

The dialects spoken all over the Punjab have different pronunciations and sound patterns which do not necessarily means that there are more than one language.

Seraiki scholars have done a lot to give the sounds peculiar to their areas but still differences are found in them. According to Shaukat Mughal, 24 out of 41 scholars agree that at least five sounds should be accommodated in the Seraiki alphabet. The first attempt in that direction was made by Qazi Fakharuddin in 1893 who prepared, Multani Boli da Qaeda (the primer of Multani). He did it on the pattern adopted and suggested by Dr Jukes.

The best solution for Seraiki is that it should adopt the orthography of the first published poetry of Khwaja Farid who had himself written the collection published in his lifetime.

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SHAM PAYEE BIN SHAM by Tabish Kamal; pp 128; price Rs120 (hb); Kamal Publications, Rawalpindi.

THE young poet has dedicated this book to his father, the late Prof Bagh Husain Kamal, a poet of Punjabi and Urdu turned into a practising sufi and established his aastana. He was also associated with another sufi, Maulana Muhammad Akram Awan, himself a Punjabi poet with one book to his credit.

Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi is sorry in the foreword for the senior generation of writers from the Punjab in that they did not pay due attention to Punjabi literature and hardly tired to exploit their literary talents for the promotion of their mother tongue. Qasmi Sahib is of the opinion that Punjabi has many dialects. Qasmi Sahib belongs to the Salt Range dialect and is sorry that he cannot speak standard Punjabi. One wonders what he means by standard Punjabi. All Punjabi poetry is in standard Punjabi and that is western or Lehnda Punjabi, the linguistic belt he himself belongs to and shares with Tabish Kamal’s dialect.

Tabish Kamal is sorry for the loss of many values and the landscapes having the richest cultural heritage of the province. In one of his poems he paints the transformation of the traditional social pattern: Jitthhey mill aey, oathhey banh si/ Hun aey jithhey sooha bangla oathhey ssavey khaitar san/ Jithhey caran da showroom aey oathhey majhan da warra si/ Beley, banney kujh naheen rahia/ Sabh kujh sapney jeha/ Jithhey panj-sitara hotel/ Oathhey piplan di chhan si, ik garan si. — STM

City without potable water

THE city with a population of about four lakh is without potable water. Underground water is not fit for human consumption. Yet, the people are drinking it as they have no other option. However, in some areas, there are some tubewells which can only serve a limited number of people.

The residents of the walled city have no facility of tap water, while the residents of Satellite Town and its adjoining localities also depend on their own water pumps.

At the time of the establishment of Satellite town, tubewells along with two reservoirs were installed, but now they are inadequate for an expanding population with the result that most parts of the city are without potable water.

In Model Town-B, potable water is not being supplied to the whole of the locality and its adjoining areas. Model Town ‘A’, a posh area under the administrative control of the cantonment board, has water supply arrangements.

The defunct municipal corporation had failed to realize the importance of potable water.

Many new localities have been established, but the civic body never planned any water supply scheme for the colonies falling within its jurisdiction.

After the launching of the district government system, the tehsil council is the civic body responsible for solving basic problems like water supply and sewerage, but it has made no such plans until now. The district government claims that it has embarked upon mega projects of sewerage in Bahawalpur and Ahmadpur East. However, the water supply issue has been totally neglected both by the tehsil and district councils.

There is an urgent need that the district government should formulate a comprehensive policy to initiate a greater water supply scheme, which should cover all new and old localities, including the Satellite Town and the walled city, so that the residents could quench their thirst with potable water instead of infected underground water.

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THE statement of Bahawalpur Tehsil Nazim Mian Najeebuddin Owaisi, at a recent press talk here, is a proof of the failure of the district government system aimed at solving the people’s problems at the grassroots level. In his statement, the tehsil Nazim was bold enough to admit that the local government system had “not provided any relief” to the people, and instead it had increased their difficulties. The Nazim said there was a shortage of sanitary staff, but due to the ban on recruitment of sanitary workers, the Tehsil Council could not appoint new staff. He said sanitary workers could be engaged at the rate of Rs2,300, which was too low to attract jobless workers. He said the termination of “corrupt” employees of the Tehsil Council, Bahawalpur, was not within his powers as their “roots” were very deep. However, he said, if any complaint was reported to him, he would take action.

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THE conversion of some places into mini-slaughter houses by the butchers has become a nuisance for the residents. People complain that most butchers instead of taking the animals to the main slaughter house near the bus stand, do the job in their own houses and streets. The residents had protested against this practice with the Tehsil Council, but to no avail.

There are also reports that butchers slaughter lean and weak animals in various localities to avoid official checking. With the unchecked slaughter of weak animals, the residents are getting substandard mutton and beef, which is being sold at higher rates. The Tehsil Municipal Administration should look into the genuine problems of the people.

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THE issue of the establishment of a girls degree college in Ahmadpur East has been unresolved for the past 15 years, with the result that girl students of Ahmadpur East and Dera Nawab Sahib have to travel to Bahawalpur for their graduate studies. This adds to the financial burden of their parents.

Ahmadpur East had been the constituency of Nawab Salahuddin Abbasi, from where he was elected MNA five times. Dera Nawab Sahib is the abode of former Nawab of Bahawalpur. The matter of setting up a girls college was highlighted for the first time in 1988. After that, the successive governments issued notifications to this effect, but could not get them implemented. Due to non-availability of this facility locally, students either have to be boarders here or travel a distance of about 100km (to and from) daily. A number of announcements and notifications are on the record, and the government should issue orders for their implementation.