Piety & low sugar

11 Jul 2020

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HYPOGLYCAEMIA is a medical condition where the sugar level falls below normal, and its effects can be devastating.

It results in poor coordination, problems with concentration, and passing out as the brain doesn’t get enough sugar to function normally. Often, it is caused by starvation or fasting.

I am not suggesting that the captain of the ill-fated PIA flight 8303 that crashed near Karachi Airport recently, Sajjad Gul, was fasting, but he was known to be a religious man.

This is why PIA and the CAA, our regulatory agency for airlines, sends out regular circulars to flight crew not to fast when they are flying. According to a retired PIA captain, this sensible advice is flouted every year by many pilots.

But who in our pious land will — or can — enforce such instructions? When the government can’t even prevent congregations at mosques during the Covid-19 pandemic, what are the chances of it barring pilots with a low blood sugar count from flying during Ramazan? There would be an immediate outcry about being forbidden from performing a mandatory religious duty.

Avoid flying on local airlines during Ramazan, or take an early morning flight.

So clearly, there is a conflict here between the dictates of technology and belief. However, the Holy Book clearly stipulates that in illness or emergencies, a Muslim can postpone fasting. But many of our pilots wish to show off their piety by insisting on going without food and liquids for many hours. So what’s the answer? Avoid flying on local airlines during Ramazan, or take an early morning flight.

The problem is especially acute during summer in Western climes where the day can stretch to 19 hours. So when our cricket team tours England in Ramazan, and some of the players insist on fasting, it’s a bit like playing with one hand tied behind their backs. Again, the management begs them to postpone their fasting, but to little avail.

When I wrote about our ‘Yes, sir!’ culture last week, I didn’t anticipate the overwhelmingly positive response that appeared in my inbox. One young woman wrote about her experiences in the classroom and at home. She was constantly snubbed by teachers for asking questions.

And when she told her mother she wanted to marry a young man she liked, the answer was that as he wasn’t from their sect, she would have to choose between him and her family. How many hearts have been broken by this attitude?

Many readers agreed that by discouraging criticism and questions, teachers were stifling curiosity and creativity. In fact, these teachers were also revealing their own insecurity and fear of their ignorance being exposed.

Parents want to retain control over their children even after they are grown up. And children, after a lifetime of conditioning, seldom argue with them.

One Indian reader recounted the story of his friend who was informed by his parents through a letter that they had selected a girl to be his wife, and he should make travel arrangements to reach home by such and such date. When asked if he had ever met, or even seen, his wife-to-be, the young man replied that he hadn’t, but was sure his parents had made the right choice as they knew him and his tastes. I hope he’s happy. But most marriages in South Asia are similarly arranged.

My personal experience of nasty teachers is pretty wide, but one stands out. The maths teacher at Karachi’s St Patrick’s School was a holy terror, even by the standard of the 1950s. He was so violent that even the bravest student feared to open his mouth in his class. After asking a couple of questions, and receiving an immediate beating in response, I learned to keep my ignorance to myself. As a result, my foundation in maths has remained weak.

I didn’t tell my father about this brutality at school, as those were the days of hands-off parenting where most kids were expected to sink or swim. No help from home: parents paid the fees, and from then on, we were on our own.

But what has made me really angry was my son’s account of his Pakistan Studies class at Lahore’s Aitchison College many years ago. Whenever Shakir asked a question, he would get slapped and then thrown out. Soon, the two reached an unspoken agreement whereby Shakir would walk to the door as soon as the teacher entered, and collect a couple of slaps on the way. Thus, for some two years, he never attended a single Pakistan Studies class.

He didn’t tell me this story until he read my last column. Now I know he can needle people with the best of them, but had he told me when this was going on, I would have stormed into the principal’s office and demanded an explanation. Perhaps all of us need to know what’s going on in our children’s schools.

irfan.husain@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2020