Being in the company of the erudite Salman Rashid is always a pleasure, whether it is in the wilds of southern Punjab, trailing a car with the logo: ‘It’s all my Mother Prayer’ emblazoned in jagged plastic letters on the back window, or over a cup of Lord Earl Gray’s fragrant brew served with home-made classic bread-and-butter pudding, rich already with currants and apricots from the valleys of the Karakoram, and made richer with generous sprinklings of crushed cinnamon and grated nutmeg. Listening to him describe his adventures, the intentional and incremental product of his wanderlust, is indeed a treat for sore ears, made sorer still by the din and ruckus of people swarming every possible space in the blessed homeland. Reading his many books, written in language more delicious than a freshly-baked strawberry tart served a la mode, and feasting one’s eyes on the spectacular photographs and maps carefully composed within is a balm for a soul tortured by a mainstream culture predicated on elbowing one’s way through the crowd, spitting with abandon, absent-mindedly assuring oneself that the family jewels are indeed still in the same place they were in the morning when the day began with a loud burst of coughing intended to displace phlegm from the deep recess of a usually overinflated chest.
So when Salman asks the question: “What is the matter with us?” (April 29), one is suddenly jolted into realising that this man of great reading and greater travelling and greatest wit, is also subject to the every day vicissitudes which plague us the moment one leaves the safe space of home. Tracing one of his journeys on the Apricot Road to Yarkand gives one the false illusion that one can actually get away from the unholy mess that our cities have become and the unruly mass that our people have become. That Salman finds our landscape pillaged, our historic sites looted and public facilities trashed, somehow validates the growing sense of alienation that creeps up every time I stop the traffic to rescue an injured animal, or to attend to the needs of a man collapsed on the side of the road, passersby uncaring, oblivious of this stranger’s plight.
That human kindness and decency is something which seems to have been measured in a small cup and distributed amongst the few is a fact which I do not want to accept. But what about common sense? Is that, too, an endangered species in this Land of the Purely Moronic consisting of people who choose to cut off their noses to spite their faces? Who choose to light up their cigarettes right beneath a no-smoking sign and then who argue when you point out the irony to them? Who push their suitcase-laden trolleys onto your feet in an effort to be the first in line on a flight which is six hours delayed? Who blacken the face of a woman who chooses to marry of her own accord, but whose immediate family did not have an issue with that? Who mourn the birth of a girl child and then spend their life’s earnings on getting her married? Who celebrate the birth of their sons and then proceed to emasculate them, smothering them with a mother’s misplaced love? Who insist that women must bear many children and then who bury that woman when she can’t bear it anymore?
But these are just the foibles of ordinary people. What of the Babus of Bureaucracy who decide the fate of the humble populace? Of course there are many babus who deserve nothing but praise but what about the gentleman whom I met recently to discuss the fact that the pool of water at the temple complex of Katas Raj, considered by orthodox Hindus to be Ram’s tears, is drying up due to the fact that several tube wells have been installed on the source of water which fed it? Other than refusing to accept any responsibility for the blatant disregard of environmental and conservation concerns, this gentleman proudly puffed up his chest and declared that he was a geologist and therefore was also an archaeologist, since both professions concerned themselves with things “below the surface of the earth”! That he was bumptious, rude, and ignorant is bad enough, but what about the t-shirt he wore to work, the logo “Disco Queen” embroidered in red thread above his pocket? What indeed is the matter with us? Plenty, with all our mother prayer!
Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2012.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ