To learn to grieve - Ghazi Salahuddin - Sunday, March 06, 2011

Source :

We can be sure that the Taliban would not read Faiz, or poetry as such. We know that Salmaan Taseer was fond of quoting Faiz, particularly when he talked about threats to his life from religious extremists. That Faiz was his khalu is another matter. But Faiz’s verse did provide a fitting epithet to his death. And so it has been in the troubled life of Pakistan, right from that dagh, dagh ujala.

So, what words would you pick from Faiz’s vineyard of verse to mourn the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad on Wednesday forenoon? It is hard to think of an appropriate requiem for a death, even if it was largely foretold, that has further diminished the hope for our survival as a civilised society. It is so terribly shattering that I find myself incapable of composing a thoughtful and reasoned analysis of the event. I have no more tears left to shed.

We know who the murderers of Shahbaz Bhatti are. They may be proud of their vile deed. But the guilt that belongs to their unwitting collaborators is not fully acknowledged. It is obvious that the stage for this unbearable tragedy was set by the very government of which Shahbaz Bhatti was an honourable member as the federal minister for minority affairs.

When members of the National Assembly rose from their seats to observe two minutes of silence in memory of the slain minister, they had some time to think about the tragedy. What would have flickered on the screens of their minds during that brief pause? Was their conscience, at least of the ones who are in the government, ruffled by a shadow of guilt and remorse? We will never know. Ah, what we know is that three members of a religious party did not even rise to join the silent prayer. They kept sitting.

Hence, we need to mourn not just for Shahbaz Bhatti or Salmaan Taseer. We must grieve for the loss of sanity and moral fibre on the part of the ruling establishment. It is the Pakistan People’s Party, in particular, that bears the responsibility of not confronting the recent surge in fanaticism and intolerance. After all, its own prominent leaders have become victims of this rising tide of religious extremism.

What happened after the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, also in broad daylight in Islamabad on January 4, was a betrayal of the very ideals that the party has pretended to profess. Their abject appeasement of the militant mullahs has, to some extent, paved the way for the brutal killing of Shahbaz Bhatti. Now, of course, there are some stirrings of concern and there was that possibly inspired report that the prime minister was so shaken by the murder that he offered to resign. We would need a Ghalib or a Shakespeare to describe the ambiguities of such behaviour.

When Salmaan Taseer was murdered, there were suggestions that he had incurred it upon himself by making certain statements. Now, a similar insinuation has emerged in the case of Shahbaz Bhatti. Senior officials responsible for security are pointing out that he was travelling without his official security escort even though he was a known target of the militants.

Rehman Malik has offered to resign if it is proved that there was a security lapse. Funny, isn’t it? First, you have to remember that Salmaan Taseer was killed by one of his own security guards. Then, if Shahbaz Bhatti’s life was more under threat than possibly any other minister, why did he not have a bullet-proof car and a residence in the more protected ministers’ enclave? In addition, the fact that gunmen could freely roam about in Islamabad and take their time in committing a murder without being checked or apprehended is in itself a lapse in security.

Also interesting is the beefing up of the security of other ministers because their lives may also be at risk. Come to think of it, we need security for our citizens, for our localities and for the entire society. There was a suicide attack in Hangu the same day when Shahbaz Bhatti was killed. Again, on Friday, when the slain minister was buried, there was a bomb blast in a Nowshera shrine.

Coming back to Faiz, it is apparent that though the poet’s centennial has attracted a lot of attention, the survival of his poetry in this society is as threatened as the lives of those who are at odds with the radical Islamists. It is not just that the Taliban would not read poetry; the overall social drift tends to undermine the growth of art and literature. Essentially, we are so deprived of education, particularly of the liberal persuasion, that the art of being human is being denied to our people. Consider this as another violation of human rights and social justice.

I have pleaded my inability to express my sense of outrage and my helplessness and rage in any controlled and orderly fashion. Last month, I wrote a column on the impulse of remaining silent in these times. But a poor scribe has to earn his living. It is in this situation that the poet comes to your rescue. It is in poetry that you find an expression of your sorrow, your longings and your hopes. A poet will teach us to grieve and to “find strength in what remains behind”.

Incidentally, young poet Ali Akbar Natiq is scheduled to present a lecture on ‘Faiz ki jamaliat’ – the aesthetics of Faiz – at the Faiz Ghar in Lahore this evening. This reminds me of the onslaught of ugliness and evil and cruelty in our lives by way of a determined negation of what is beautiful and virtuous and spiritually inspiring. Things are deteriorating at such a pace that we don’t have a Jalib to give vent to popular feelings in a political context. Yeats: “The wrong of unshapely things is a wrong too great to be told”.

It was an unexpected discovery for me to find a glowing tribute to poetry, Urdu poetry in fact, in Aravind Adiga’s novel ‘The White Tiger’. The narrator, a lowly driver and barely literate, is fascinated by old books sold on a pavement in Delhi. He is anxious to know what is in those books and the “Muslim uncle” reads him some poems and “he explained the true history of poetry, which is a kind of secret, a magic known only to wise men”.

And there is a scene when the narrator takes his little nephew to the zoo and shows him the beauty of the colourful birds. Let me quote: “Iqbal, that great poet, was so right. The moment you recognise what is beautiful in this world, you stop being a slave”.

The writer is a staff member


No comments:

Post a Comment