Do birds have it better?

Imtiaz Ahmed has compiled this selection of John Elijah’s essays published by Bahauddin Zakariya University.

Intezar Hussain February 11, 2011
John Elijah envies a sparrow’s life. Guess why? Because, he points out, sparrows do not read newspapers.

This far, I agree. Sparrows are really fortunate in that they do not read newspapers. But unfortunately they do not get to read John Elijah’s essays either where they are mentioned along with Plato, Aristotle, Avicenna, Alpharabius, Firdousi, Saadi and Hafiz.

I have had to read the essays and am not saying for now whether this counts for a boon or a bane.

Imtiaz Ahmed has compiled this selection of John Elijah’s essays published by Bahauddin Zakariya University’s Department of Urdu.

The Elijah that comes through in these essays is an unhappy soul. He is particularly resentful of the press. He writes,
“I wonder how the evil oppressor of men who invented the newspaper will be treated on the Judgement Day.”

Elijah was a Karachiite, about which distinction he writes:
“A failed man, I ponder at how everything around where I live has become very pricey except for a man’s blood which has ended up cheap. Violent death seems as inevitable as the harvest of a full ripened crop. What remains to be seen is who among us gets mowed down today, who must await his turn until tomorrow.”

There is, I believe, a clue here to why he hates newspapers. The newspapers routinely report the murders he has spoken of. But then he should probably hate the TV channels worse. The papers print the gory stories and get done for the day. The channels keep bringing it up all day.

To answer the who-is-a-Muslim question John Elijah has cited a tradition from the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) which says:
“A Muslim is one from whose hand and tongue [other] Muslims are secure.”

He goes on:
“Ask them o people whether or not Islam is an Arabic word, for it is certainly not a word from some ghost-speak. So what does it mean? Does it mean trouble? Does it mean rioting and bloodletting?”

Well, the questions Elijah asks are relevant. The difficulty is he is so full of sciences, particularly philosophy, every time he moves his pen it spills philosophy. Meanwhile the genre he has chosen to express himself in is light essay. Given his taste for philosophy on one hand and his predilection for demagogy on the other the essay is left groaning under the burden.

The Greek philosophers, particularly, are his pet friends. If he cannot share all their ideas with the reader, the least he wants to do is to mention them. So when he starts naming them he goes on. It is as if he would get into trouble with whoever he fails to mention.

When after a long list of Greek philosophers he came to ‘Pappu yaar tang na kar’ I felt relieved at the familiarity. But then he raised the question: “Who is this Pappu?”

John had asked this question of Mushfiq Khwaja. Khwaja however said Qazi Abdul Wadood was the person likely to have researched the subject. But Wadood lived in India and Elijah in Pakistan. The stars never came together and the mystery about Pappu remained.

John Elijah wrote somewhere that growing up he was as familiar with Venus and Jupiter as he was with his siblings. Let me just say he was as comfortable with philosophers, irrespective of whether they came from the oriental or the occidental tradition. Pappu, however, trumped them all. He is mentioned often in the essays and every time he raises his head the writer asks for an introduction.

*Translated from Urdu

Published in The Express Tribune.
Intezar Hussain An eminent Urdu fiction writer who writes short stories and novels, and also columns for newspapers in English.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


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