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Look back in sorrow

July 16, 2011

IN times of dire turmoil, when things on all fronts seem hopeless and one does not know what might happen in the coming minutes, when the system just does not work because those put in place to work it are, to put it mildly, unfit — the leadership consisting of alleged criminals, hoodlums, substandard minds, liars and deceivers — some of us look back into time when violence was not the theme of the day.

This year has been a beast, it opened with a bang, literally and January has been followed by incidents awful and dispiriting, the month of May being the high point in what is very much Pakistan’s war against itself.

What never ceases to amaze is that those guilty for the happenings and disgrace, even humiliation — particularly of the not-so-merry month of May — are all in place, where they were, having evidenced not an iota of shame. The shameless flourish, and they are legion.

Mid-year blues were with us last month when coincidentally a number of columnists came out to remind us what this sad country once was, and how life was lived in consonance with the rest of the democratic free world, of how there was hope, of how there was enjoyment, of how life for the particular few held happiness.

Down the decades we have all failed to even begin to learn from history that when religiosity — the stressed false selective practice of religion — overtakes a state, imposed upon it by those who use the easiest of artifacts, their own brand of religion, for reasons of expediency or to prop up a dicey or failing regime, things fall apart.

The first to remind us of days gone by, bemoaning ‘Those were the days’, was friend Masood Hasan of Lahore on June 12 writing elsewhere. His sadness concerned the once flourishing and fun-loving Anglo-Indian and Goan communities of the first two and a half decades, of how they had enjoyed and enriched life in the early days of Pakistan.

Joyful, urban communities, given to wholeheartedly partaking in the good things life had to offer, happily mingling with the majority — yes, in those far-off days the white stripe on the flag of Pakistan did actually denote something — their contribution to life, particularly the then night life which is now not even a distant dream, was substantial.

Masood followed up on his nostalgic account of what life once was on June 19 telling us of the sad and forlorn reactions which had poured in from all over the world, from the greener kinder pastures to which the Anglos and Goans had fled when their life became unbearable and futile in a country that had betrayed them — the promises made at the beginning coming to naught.

Not all of this country’s minorities, particularly the deprived Christian community, are in a position to leave. They are forced to hang on, even though their lives are made intolerable.

Mind you, in those early days all was not hunky-dory for the Anglos and the Goans. There was discrimination in the job market and elsewhere.

Remembered from those early days is the case of an outstandingly brilliant Goan cadet of the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul (now of OBL fame) who was an outright winner of the coveted Sword of Honour. Because he was what he was, it was given at the last moment to a Muslim cadet. The Goan boy then and there threw in the towel and left the country to settle in far-off Canada.

The grand exodus of the two communities, very much part of subcontinental life that occupied their own spheres in the scheme of things, was in the 1970s.

The first signs of decay came in 1974 when parliament under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto having grandly promulgated a constitution, pandering to the growing forces of obscurantism, converted an entire community which had been part of the country’s majority since its birth, into a minority community. Then in 1977, topping obeisance to the mullah-maulvi brigade which Bhutto hoped would come to the rescue of his tottering kursi, alcohol, gambling and Sundays were banned.

By this action, which ultimately failed him, all he did was to pave the way and lay the foundations for Ziaul Haq to finish off the job with the imposition of his own brand of religious laws — cruel and alien to the religion he claimed to practise. The evil he did lives on not only in his bones but in the life of this nation, now brainwashed to the extent that it has largely even given up groaning.

Nostalgia surfaced in Dawn’s Lifestyle 2011 supplement when Anjum Niaz in a gossipy column wrote on the gay, gay (in the old fashioned meaning of the word) life as lived by the upper crust in Karachi in the 1960s when the city swung in tune with the western world — though the country was under military dictatorship. And also with Menin Rodriguez and his writing on how the Goans were happy, and made others happy, before they were forced to decamp.

Of those who have looked back, the most sorrowful, and saddest and the most touching was young Hajrah Mumtaz of this publication, a child of Zia is how she describes herself. In desperation, one supposes, at what she has seen around her since her childhood she delved back into Dawn’s archives and on June 20 reminded us of ‘Pakistan, 50 years ago’.

From a dive into the press of 1961, she emerged a deeply saddened person.

Who is more saddened, more disconsolate? We who have seen the other country and weep for what has gone? Or the children of Zia who have known only the horrors heaped upon the nation? Perhaps the latter’s loss is greater for they have never known.