At the fag end of the present government’s tenure I am going through a rather personal tribulation which, I am now thinking, may also prove to be a ‘game-changer’ for me. It has forced me to look at my beloved country from the eyes of the millions of hapless citizens from whose perspective the picture is pretty much hopeless, to say the least.
Of course, there has always been that drawing room talk of how bad things have become; the quality of life, the electricity outages, the constant gloom and doom scenarios, the cost of living, etc. but to tell you the truth I, like many of the upper/upper middle class blessed people in the country, have never actually felt what it is like to be living on the other side of the Clifton bridge. Our beautiful bungalows, our haughty begum sahibas, our burger kids who speak Urdu like Benazir Bhutto used to, our latest model cars, our summer vacations abroad, our extravagant indulgences in many of the fineries of life, have falsely kept us insulated from the harsh realities of Pakistan. Somewhere in the back of our minds we feel that it has always been like this and things will be all right in the end. Why? Because, we know that things have improved for us over the years.
Have they for the multitude of my fellow denizens? Really??
Forget the macro picture I am talking deterioration at the micro level. What do you do when your young 26 year old wife gets electrocuted by a faulty washing machine? What do you do when you are a grossly underpaid security guard relying on Sailani for a good freebee meal? What do you do when you are forced to live with your infants in a tent infested with mosquitoes from one monsoon to another? What do you do when your young son or loving father is picked up by someone – read agencies, never to be seen alive again? And what do you do when you never had the opportunity to become literate? And then what do you do when your impressionable son, sensitive to the social inequities, become enamored with the extremist mindset?
What can you do? Not much!
Do you think that the latest carnage in Karachi’s garment factory taking away 289 ill fated lives was a random occurrence? No, it is that critical state in a pile of gross neglects on all our part where one additional grain of sand can trigger an avalanche of catastrophic proportions.
We had judicial activism, a new found judicial backbone, which rekindled the hope for a just and democratic society where all would be treated fairly and equally, wealth would eventually trickle down to the lowest level, and we would happily live ever after. The panacea of all ills, so we thought (some still do), was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I had once heard Justice (Retd.) Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim respond to a question in a talk show thus; “bhai, when you become a justice you cease to be an ordinary person”. And there it was, I thought, it is this transformed band of justices and judges who will safeguard the rights of the citizens and bring us that elusive fruit of democracy, the well being of the masses.
Welcome to the real land of the pure where no one is ashamed of corruption, fraud, and deceit. Together these traits are a means to acquire money which begets a status in society laying a patina of honesty and integrity. Wealth justifies our claim to justice and truth and we become indisputably honorable nobility, a role model of success to be emulated by the younger generation. Our succeeding generation is the loser but we never notice the degeneration.
I remember talking to Justice (Retd.) Sajjad Ali Shah a couple of years ago whom I had met seeking advice on a legal matter. While he sought time to think about our matter I asked him of his fee. In response, he narrated the story of Quaid-e-azam. Jinnah, the lawyer, had charged an advance sum of Rs. 35,000 for representing a client. Upon taking the case he worked late into the night preparing it when he realized that it could have been handled equally well by even a less qualified lawyer. The next day he met with the client and paid back Rs. 30,000 with the advice that he could save money by hiring an ordinary lawyer and didn’t need one of his stature. The Rs. 5,000 he kept back were the charges for the effort he had put into it the previous night. Along with the money he handed back he also gave his notes to him with a permission of its use by the lawyer who would be then be hired by the client. I had gotten my answer to my query, Justice Shah’s fees would be laudably fair. It is giants like these who are to be produced by the nation’s mothers. We cannot afford anything less for taking us through the stormy waters to the shores of greener pastures. Those mothers are now part of history or seemingly so.
Tell me, where do I bring some optimism from? I want to see the glass half full but I can’t find any evidence. Is it that Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy has been awarded an Oscar or the youngest Microsoft professional was a Pakistani girl or Dr. Salam shared a Nobel Prize in Physics? Statistically speaking these achievers and many more are merely random outliers in any population. But I still need hope and optimism for the young ones. Do I get it from Zardari et. al? Do I get it from Nawaz Sharif? Or is it the clean yet arrogant Khan? No, wait. From Kyani? Altaf bhai? Maulana? Or none of the above.
I could abandon ship as many of my peers are wont to do. Alternatively, I could choose to stay back and work on our children. There is no other way. I realize that it is I and only I who can be the epicenter of optimism. But first I need to get my values right. Values like personal courage to do the right thing – morally and legally; loyalty towards self, family, and country; hard work; integrity; obedience of the law; respect of others; plus; plus; and plus. Then I need to transfer them to my children and teach them that there are no shortcuts when you are doing the right thing in a society so poor of principles. Be brave for the long haul, I should tell them. I will plant the seeds for those following my generation to enjoy the fruit and that is my only hope.