Our people know each and everything under the sun. They even know what they aren’t supposed to know. They can tell you with full confidence how to treat cancer, grow crops, cure animal diseases, build architectural ensembles, do gardening, attain spiritual illumination, decode the secrets of international politics and manage vehicular traffic in a metropolis. The list is endless like their number.

It seems our people still live in ancient times; they know something about everything. Now trying to know everything in our contemporary context means knowing little about anything in the presence of available advanced scientific and rational knowledge. You are traveling in public transport for example and a fellow traveler sitting next to you strikes a conversation with you. During the conversation you happen to mention, of course causally, that a member of your family suffers from cancer. The guy would as a gesture of good immediately express his sympathy for you and start offering you the tips on how to treat cancer with medical mumbo jumbo. The others would hesitate little to jump in with their experiences and remedies that worked wonders. Some would urge you to take the patient to a faith-healer in some far-flung rural area with miraculous powers. Another would suggest you to recite some religious text for weeks and months at a particular time of day and night to get rid of the disease. Yet another would denigrate the western medicines [allopathy] and bemoaning their lethal side effects persuade you to consult a particular Hakeem [local apothecary] who could cure any disease with herbal medicines and dietary advice and supplements. Ayurveda of course is out of bounds for having so-called Hindu origins. By the time you get off, you are confused as what to do with the patient if you aren’t scientifically inclined.

Now a personal experience as to how patients proudly self-medicate. This scribe is in a clinic in Sahiwal owned by a doctor friend. A patient enters and tells the doctor that he has fever and cough. “Please sir write such and such medicines for me”, he requests. The doctor who charges a little and treats poor patients free of charge looks at him; “since you know the medicines you need to take, why to pay me. Go and buy the medicines from a medical store”, retorts the doctor.

A professor of medicine, an alumnus of Nishtar Medical College, Multan, now practicing in Lahore had something hilarious to share: A landlord in Multan had a health problem. He accompanied by a battalion of his servants visited three top physicians of the city and got prescription. He came back to his outhouse and asked his most trusted servant Bakshu to help him prepare a new prescription based on pickings from different prescriptions given by the qualified doctors.

A couple in Lahore wanting to build a new house goes to an architect. It harangues the architect for hours on end on the kind of dream house it intends to build. The architect, a serious professional, insists to know their actual needs but they find it hard to come out of labyrinth of desires and needs which are inextricably mixed. And when architectural plan is ready for discussion and approval, the couple insists on making changes in the plan without fully realising how it could mess up the whole design. They being not trained don’t have the ability to imagine the constructed house in all its dimensions. For them it’s all about construction which isn’t a big thing. Even a village idiot can do it. But for an architect it’s much more than a mere construction; it is management and utilisation of space. People often end up paying the architects for drawing houses which in their opinion are good however ill-designed and shoddy they might be. They spend money to buy the prestige the architect’s stamp carries.

A garage owner, an auto engineer, tells this scribes laughingly: “A brand new vehicle weighing for example 700 kg hits the road. After a year if we weigh it, it would be 850 kg. Why has it grown in weight? Simple! It’s because of owner’s engineering feat. To begin with, in order to have larger size tyres, he has to have larger size metal wheel rims. Why larger the tyres than the specified ones? For greater road grip! Then he collects knick-knacks, gaudy and heavy, to decorate the front and rear of the vehicle. A grille especially of metal bars is affixed to the front and back to protect the vehicle. After doing all such things our vehicle owner likes to kick the tyres. They are convinced that Japanese auto engineers are foolish and suffer from lack of aesthetic taste”.

These are just few examples. Little knowledge can be dangerous as it pretends to offer what is beyond it. Rebel poet and saint Bulleh Shah was acutely aware of such knowledge. “Maen paa parhyan ton darda haan [I fear those who know only a quarter”, he declares in one of his verses. One can live comfortably for 100 years with little knowledge. It poses serious danger only when it’s touted and paddled as the knowledge. Our people have a mindset which is a legacy bequeathed by ancient times that haven’t vanished from our cultural edifice. The base can change but the superstructure erected on it continues to linger through the sheer force of habit underpinned by psychic powers. The ‘knowledge’ our people have at the moment is shaped by superstition, traditions, experience and information orally transmitted from generation to generation. They are hardly aware of process of science based knowledge generation in the West and its cumulative effect on human development. What our people take from the West is not science but its by-product; technology. Not familiar with reasoned thinking we even mess up with the products gifted by technology. The good thing is that our people have strong sense of sharing; they want to help their fellow-beings. But the downside is that intrusive questions can be quite unsettling and unsolicited advice based on hearsay and guesswork dangerously misleading. So it’s in your own interest to beware; people’s wisdom has paradoxical nature. — soofi01@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2021

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