The vultures and us

Our story has thousands of vultures who together are scratching the flesh of 22 million people of Pakistan

Aftab Ahmed Khanzada January 10, 2023
The writer is a senior analyst based in Hyderabad

Shortly before his death, Franz Kafka wrote a letter with a pencil to his close friend Max Brod, which he received after his death.

“Dear Max, this is my last request to you that in my cupboards, drawers, rooms, office or wherever you find any of my writing, diaries, letters, drafts or in any other form, whether it is complete or incomplete, whether you have it or you have received it form others, burn it unread. Those who refuse to return my letters take promise from them to return as soon as possible. Yours Franz.”

Max Brod respectfully disobeyed his friend’s last wish, doing a favour to world literature. Whatever Kafka’s writings he found, he published them all. Let’s read a short story of him named The Vulture.

“A vulture was hacking at my feet. It had already torn my boots and stockings to shreds, now it was hacking at the feet themselves. Again and again it struck at them, then circled several times restlessly round me, then returned to continue its work. A gentleman passed by, looked on for a while and then asked me why I suffered the vulture.

‘I’m helpless,’ I said. ‘When it came and began to attack me, I of course tried to drive it away, even to strangle it, but these animals are very strong. It was about to spring at my face, but I preferred to sacrifice my feet. Now they are almost torn to bits.’

‘Fancy letting yourself be tortured like this!’ said the gentleman. ‘One shot and that’s the end of the vulture.’

‘Really?’ I said. ‘And would you do that?’

‘With pleasure,’ said the gentleman, ‘I’ve only got to go home and get my gun. Could you wait another half hour?’

‘I’m not sure about that,’ said I, and stood for a moment rigid with pain. Then I said, ‘Do try it in any case, please.’

‘Very well,’ said the gentleman, ‘I’ll be as quick as I can.’

During this conversation the vulture had been calmly listening, letting its eye rove between me and the gentleman. Now I realized that it had understood everything; it took wing, leaned far back to gain impetus, and then, like a javelin thrower, thrust its beak through my mouth, deep into me. Falling back, I was relieved to feel him drowning irretrievably in my blood, which was filling every depth, flooding every shore.”

After reading this story, it seems that it is not just a story, but a whole truth of ours, which the 22 million people of Pakistan are describing together. The only difference is that Kafka’s story has one vulture, while our story has thousands of vultures who together are scratching the flesh of 22 million people of Pakistan, but these vultures are wearing someone else’s mask. Someone is wearing the mask of a corrupt politician, someone of a feudal lord, someone of a religious extremist, etc. But every vulture is doing its real job very well and we have allowed the vultures to do their work freely. We are killed every day and then resurrected every day.

In Greek mythology, the punishment of Prometheus as a consequence of the theft of fire and giving it to humans, is a popular subject of both ancient and modern culture. Zeus, King of the Olympian gods, sentenced Prometheus to eternal torment for his transgression. Prometheus was bound to a rock, and an eagle — the emblem of Zeus — was sent to eat his liver (in ancient Greece, the liver was thought to be the seat of human emotions). His liver would then grow back overnight, only to be eaten again the next day in an ongoing cycle. Our and Prometheus situations and events are almost the same. He was being punished innocently and we are also being punished innocently.

American Author Andy Warhol said: “They say time changes things but actually you have to change them yourself.” Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. It involves a range of problems with thinking, behaviour and emotions. We all seem the affiliated with schizophrenia. Otherwise, we would have stood up against all the vultures.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 10th, 2023.

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