It is rightly believed that the officers of the Raj administration started the practice of writings treatises and books on diverse subjects that they found important as lynchpin of the vast colonial empire in India. But it’s also true that much before the advent of colonial era, we can see the traces of such a tradition with distinct indigenous stamp: inimitable Vishnugupta generally known as Chanakya Kautilya, for example, composed his immortal ‘Arthshastra’ on the statecraft and governance in the fourth century BCE.
Chanakya was a Punjabi born in Takshashila (present day Taxila) and associated with its highly celebrated university that was glory of the ancient world. He was one of the main architects of Mauryan Empire. He helped Chandragupta in rise to power. He was adviser to both Chandragupta and his son Bindusara.
Taxila is not far-off from Sialkot from where Tariq Mehmood has come up with his autobiography titled Daam-e-Khayaal prefaced by Akram Malik and published by Sang-e-Meel, Publications, Lahore. He is a reputed ex-bureaucrat. But his rise to fame lies in his being a prominent fiction writer, translator and intellectual. His autobio doesn’t exclusively deal with the issues of statecraft but a number of prevalent issues of power politics and governance have been laid bare in his narrative. Since the author has served for decades in the higher echelons of our civil service, he has been in close touch with both public and power wielders.
The position of bureaucracy as a legacy of colonial state invests it with immense authority. It’s in fact a permanent fixture in the power structure of the country. Fortunately, his autobio discreetly avoids being a chronicle of self-glorification as is the case with most of the books authored - usually ghostwritten - by individuals who have been in the business of power.
Its significance lies in its being a compendium of political, social and cultural life. Whatever is described is richly detailed and lucid that creates immediacy with its film like images moving at natural pace. The details are what makes his narrative realistic and lifelike. They expose the life as it actually is; messy and sleazy.
Mundane nothingness when exposed through the lens of objectivity gets impregnated with some fresh meaning which usually remains hidden beneath the patina of staleness.
Tariq Mehmood makes a real effort to go beyond appearance while depicting it. To grasp the difference between appearance and reality is what makes an intellectual or scientific undertaking worthwhile. And it wouldn’t be wrong to state that appearance if correctly understood and analysed would lead to a point wherein the path lies to reality.
Life in our contemporary society is not as simple as it appears. It is indescribably complex and layered because of its incredibly long history spread over at least 6,000 years of urban dwelling. It has been simultaneously battered and enriched by near interminable stream of immigration from foreign lands that ended being absorbed. This has resulted into a staggering phenomenon of diversity, plurality and multiculturalism. Consequently we have mass psyche that is composite, variegated and convoluted the delectable samples of which can be seen in this book that make it fascinating. We come across innumerable characters of flesh and blood during the course of the narrative hailing from all classes; from the rich to the poor and from the powerful to the powerless with their distinct physiognomy, traits and behavioural patterns. Ridiculously interesting are ‘yes sir type’ servile subordinate members of staff at the beck and call of their ‘Saab’, the civil bureaucrat who are ever ready to do anything to appease him in the most obsequious manner. Then we encounter landlords and politicians who thrive because of their connections with the bureaucracy which put them on a higher pedestal vis-a-vis people. They are tyrants in their dealing with people but are petty sycophants before the bureaucrats through whom the power of the state and government is mediated. There is nothing personal about it. The relationship is purely functional bordering on transactional. The moment an officer is transferred, he/she becomes an alien for them. The newly-posted is the one to be saluted. Tariq paints such a hilarious picture of one of the landlords who was more interested in knowing whereabouts of his replacement for whom he carried gifts than saying him goodbye at his transfer. His sketch like portraits of powerful politicians, rulers and military strong men are equally revealing. He exposes them matter-of-factly by describing and depicting them as what they are. And one finds all such stuff in the details and anecdotes regarding their behaviour and public dealing.
One event stands out when according to the instructions of ruthless dictator Ziaul Haq members of national assembly from some parts of Balochistan and Punjab were herded in district D.G. Khan and, stuffed into plane and dispatched to Islamabad as if they were to be delivered by parcel post.
Tariq’s fascination with erstwhile East Pakistan (East Bengal that’s now Bangladesh) where he spent some years as a student derives from his sincere attempt to know its people, their organic relationship with their language and literature, and syncretic culture which defy the peculiar ideological notion of state developed in the West Pakistan. The author clearly hints at the process that gradually led to the alienation of Bengali people from the state and its eventual dismemberment at a huge cost.
Readers in our quasi-democratic society who have little access to the inner working of the power structure, will come across several serendipitous discoveries in Tariq Mehmood’s autobiography. It has the flow of a noiselessly meandering stream that carries much in its current for the discerning eye. The best aspect of this tome is the author’s worldview; it is rational and people friendly as it quietly unveils and cogently analyses what is hidden and not so hidden in our public life. It would be an enjoyably illuminating read if you are interested in deciphering the secrets of what happens in the corridors of power which impacts our private and public life. — email@example.com
Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2022