Pakistan, the illusions of a glorious past and kafan chor
Times don’t really change much over the centuries. Or so I felt after reading one of the aphorisms or ‘hikayaat’ of one of the medieval times poet and thinker, Sheikh Saadi. It goes like this…
Once upon a time, there used to be an evil, wretched man in a small town, who used to steal ‘kafan’ (white cloth used as a shroud to wrap the dead bodies) right after burial from the local graveyard. His means of income, therefore, involved opening up fresh graves, desecrating the dead for a meagre amount of money that he would get by selling the white cloth in the market several miles away in a bigger city.
Many people in his hometown suspected him of this crime. Some even tried to capture him red-handed but he never really left any trail or evidence. Days went by and one fine day, in his old age, while on his death bed, he called for his son.
To his son’s surprise the old thief was sobbing uncontrollably. The son asked,
“Baba what is it? Why are you crying like this?”
The thief replied,
“My son, all my life I stole from the dead, robbing them off their right to a dignified end and now that I am near death myself I can only imagine how people will remember me. To them, I would always be ‘a wretched soul’, an evil man who did not deserve any praise in life or after death.”
Upon hearing this, his son replied,
“Baba, don’t you worry! I give you my word that people will always remember you as a better person and praise you even after you are long gone.”
The old man could not believe his ears and as fate would have it, he died the same evening.
After his death, his son continued his ‘tradition’ of stealing from the dead but with a little ‘creative twist’ from his side. After looting the corpse, he would leave the bodies in an obscene posture, with a big stick shoved up their backsides. In the mornings, when town folks would discover these bodies in such a sorry state, they would cry out in despair.
“God, there is no shame left in this kafan chor… his father was a much better person. At least, he never did something so evil or barbaric with the dead.”
This, my friends, is our tragedy too as a nation. Each time we get (read ‘elect’) a new leader, very soon we find ourselves saying,
“Yaar iss say acha to pehle wala hi tha!”
(The previous one was better than this one!)
Recently, I realised something while sitting with a group of people who I did not know at one of the dinner parties. Let’s just say that this was perhaps the host’s idea of playing a social version of Russian roulette, where you place random strangers on one table with hopes for an interesting, intense and well, futile debate about the current situation of our beloved country.
While I was busy trying to pick the last samosa on the table in the most tactical way, someone declared quite decisively that Pakistan’s ‘best era’ was during President Ayub Khan’s regime. Maybe the trigger for this sudden feeling of nostalgia was the Indian movie Bhaag Milkha Bhaag or some old YouTube video.
Someone else dropped the shaami kabab on his plate, and said while looking visibly annoyed,
“How can you say that? Of course, it was in Bhutto’s time.”
Another guest with an unkempt beard and rolled up jeans at the ankles said,
“Lahaul wala quwat! Never in the history did we enjoy respect and admiration from America as in President Zia’s time.”
Ironically, I had a piece of mango in my mouth at that moment.
Someone included Benazir’s era as an example of Pakistan’s glorious time while another talked about Musharraf ‘giving back to international reporters’, in press conferences as ‘the highlight of the last half century’!
The imaginary spinning bottle pointed towards me while I was lost in thoughts (the fruit salad was delicious) when the host asked,
“What do you think? What period in time can be named as our nation’s ‘glorious era’?”
Aware of the fact that everyone was looking at me, I replied,
“The period in which Pakistan television gave us some of the greatest dramas and TV shows.”
Some people brushed this comment aside as a light joke and moved on.
In that moment, I realised that this dilemma of ‘previous hakim (ruler) was more sincere and efficient than the current one’ is typical of any and every nation where people are lazy, poor are corrupt, rich are insensitive, artists are brokers, preachers are sinners and leaders, well, leaders are ‘kafan chor’.