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Day 0 Blog: The PPP in a wheelchair

April 18, 2013

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The PPP in a wheelchair

Saeen-Hara-1000

(Click on images to enlarge)

I could barely understand what he was saying. He labored to mumble even a few words and those too were hardly intelligible. You can easily ignore him as a lunatic beggar but what grabbed my attention were his props. The traditional beggars can be quite dramatic when it comes to costumes and accessories – hundreds of beads around the neck, rings in all fingers, colorful caps and all that. His props, however, included a portrait of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, another of Benazir and a flag of the PPP, all installed on a wheelchair.

The ramshackle wheelchair, I am sure, he must have retrieved from a garbage dump. It in fact is a bare skeleton of a wheelchair with innumerable marks of mending efforts. He drags it on the Mozang area roads along with his disfigured body and when he gets out of breath he rests on it. Probably, by that time the wheelchair is also tired.

Saeen Hara and the People's Party are inseparable. When I first met him, I had doubts that he was stable. But he could recall that it was the sword that he stamped for the first time and later on the arrow. As I got accustomed to his imprecise way of talking, I realised that he is a normal man.

He surprised me by telling that it was the slogan of roti, kapra aur makan that made him what he is. He loves to tell his stories and doesn't mind repeating again and again the words that you can’t understand. He went to a jalsa some time in the 1970s, with a garland for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in his hand. He was pushed away from the stage by the jostling crowd. Bhutto noticed from the top this crippled man's struggle to reach him and ordered to clear his way. "I garlanded him. He hugged me and garlanded me in return and after that I came down to join the crowd." That probably was the turning point in Saeen's life when his political commitment transformed into madness.

He installed a sound system on his donkey cart and took rounds of the city all day playing ZAB's speeches. He told me that he had been to places as far as Gujranwala and Sheikhupura on his cart and remained undeterred even in Zia's period.

Probably looking at his 'saintly' green robe, the police refused to arrest him during a protest in Zia's era. "I slapped one of them in the face and abused him. Annoyed, they threw me behind bars at once," he laughed naughtily, opening wide his toothless mouth and extending his palm towards me for a high-five. He then held my hand and pulled it towards his chest, suggesting that I lean in if he had a secret to share. "I could not roam free. My leader was imprisoned and the party had decided to fill the jails."

No knowledge of political science can help me understand this man and his conviction. When he grew old and rearing a donkey in Lahore city became too expensive, he invented this wheelchair. He can't go far now but wherever he goes, he takes his Bhuttos with him.

I tried to confront him by accusing PPP of betraying the roti, kapra aur makan slogan. He stopped me in the middle, saying that they did give him a makan. The place where he now lives was an uninhibited mound decades ago when Mozang was one of Lahore's outposts. He claims his was the first hut in the area that changed into a sprawling katchi abadi over the next few decades. Benazir regularised this settlement by awarding its occupants the ownership rights and thus, they got the promised makan. But Saeen has reserved such arguments for the 'non-believers' like me, as he himself hardly needs any proof of the greatness of his demigods.

Saeen lives in a dungeon-like room tucked under a small, yet towering house in a narrow street of this lower middle class locality. The room is as wide as his bed and it is surrounded by pictures of the two Bhuttos. His son lives upstairs with his family and runs a small property dealing enterprise in the neighborhood. His son, Akbar has to face tougher questions about the family's association with PPP than does the Saeen. "It runs in our blood. If I quit the party, believe me, I will die before my death." He is an ardent follower and an active political worker. He is also a person with views. He has suggestions about how the party can and should work and a list of dos and don'ts for the leaders. But, who cares?

-Photo by author.

When Benazir was assassinated, Saeen didn't eat for days. His fifth granddaughter was born a month later and was named Benazir. The school-going girl will take that name into the next generation. Will she carry Saeen's legacy too?