When the evening sets itself out against a dust-laden sky the colour of rust, it is as if the heavens are burdened with an immensity which is held up only by the breath of believers. A strange summer, this one, where many consequences appear on our horizons, the cause having been subsumed by thoughtlessness and the inebriation of power.
In Skardu, an avalanche wreaks havoc on the lives of the already crushed; in Thar, young and old ease the anguish of thirst with arsenic-laced water; in Karachi gangs and mafias hold the desperate hostage; in Peshawar a minister is accused of the abduction of a 16- year-old girl; in Quetta, fear consumes the gut of those on the wrong side of the ethnic divide; and in Lahore, the ground is dug for countless burials, the dead mourned by weeping widows and orphaned children.
What is it like, having your body ripped apart, your feet lifted off the ground, never to catch that bus home, never to return to your family, not even wrapped in a shroud, no grave to house you? What is it like to receive word that your father or your husband or your brother or son will never return? What is it like to pick up the pieces, to sort out identities, to wash the blood, to find the reason? What is it like to watch this devastation, marking the bodies, marking time before the next one, the fire next time? What is it like to leave your home, a meager meal wrapped in a rumaal, carrying some expectation that work will give you a living, knowing that you could be the next one, waiting for death at the edge of the uncertain life you lead?
How is it that a dream dreamt only six decades ago has morphed into a nightmare? What happened to the state which was to provide an opportunity for all its citizens to live with dignity? Are we, in this Land of the Pure, now facing the consequences of a continuum of injustice and ineptitude? Is the nation imploding while the state withers away, while renegades insert themselves in the fissures? Is militant insurgency our answer to the Maoist revolt in Naxalbari? Are people willing to give up their lives, taking the lives of innocent others only because they have nothing to live for except fear?
As the summer of our discontent burgeons forth into a season of turmoil, facile slogans emerge on the telephone poles of the Punjab, the beaming brothers lauding and applauding their atomic achievement of May 1998. As adolescent girls suffer the ignominy of assault and the pregnancies resulting from the violation of their bodies and their rights, young men protest the virtual offense of blasphemy by burning tires on already burning tarmac. As our prime minister campaigns for disgraced party ticket holders, party hooligans trash medical staff and trash hospitals where the poor seek the difference between life and an early death. And while our leaders spew platitudes about a system of governance which has yielded neither a system nor governance, criminals go about their business of stealing from the public exchequer.
There is no accountability for those who lie, cheat, steal, murder, rape and humiliate the citizenry of this beloved, blighted land. But there shall be, when democracy is no longer the fiefdom of criminals, when citizens are truly free to make an informed choice, when the sky is no longer the colour of grief.a
Published in the Express Tribune, June, 1st, 2010.