It took a long time in coming, this season of storms. Across a horizon the colour of bleached bones we could have seen it coming, beyond the unlined clouds, beyond our fantasies and the fantastic figures conjured up by spin-doctors in the service of their lords. We could have seen it in the pallor of the faces of the children who dug deep into the soil of what had been a river for traces of water, sludge coloured, murky, but precious nevertheless. We could have seen it in the fragility of a woman’s life which ebbs out of her veins as she gives birth to yet another child. underweight, already malnourished, a future as uncertain as the rains which eluded our people for so long. We should have seen it in the despair of the hari who mourned the loss of his donkey, starving too, unable to defend itself from the equally hungry dogs of the villages where the lives of our people are lived out in total subjection and despair.
We should have, but we did not. We did not care to look beyond the lies and confabulation told to us by each successive regime about the path of progress our country was taking. We did not resist the night of tyranny which descended upon us while we slept. We did not protest the injustice and inequity of a system which gleans a harvest from the blood of the men and women who work their fingers to the bone just in order to survive, enabling the rest of us, a miserable, overfed, decadent percentile of the population to sleep through the day and play all night long. We went along our business, our daily chores, our routine of meaninglessness, pretending that all was well, that this is how it was meant to be, finding justification in the pedantic declarations of all those who deemed the ugliness a divine design.
And now, as flood waters recede in our beloved, blighted country, the soil reveals what had been etched onto it with the desperate scrawl of a bleeding nation. Now it is all there for us to see, clearly, veils of obfuscation torn asunder, masks of benevolence stripped aside to reveal the malevolence which bred beneath layers of gentility. For centuries the people of this land have worked the land which never belonged to them, and now that land and the river that flowed across it have challenged those who claimed it, owning vast tracts of harvests which barely kept the tiller alive, ruling fiefdoms with iron hands, shackling the hari who dared to defy the order of subservience.
How could we have missed this, the most obvious of truths that so much injustice cannot be acceptable to any system predicated on the most minimum considerations of justice? How did our liberal intelligentsia get swayed by the argument that democracy is the best revenge, when surely vengeance is in the hands of the people who have never had a choice but to bring to parliament those who virtually own them, threatening them and their women with ignominy for daring to defy? How could we have recited Faiz and Iqbal and still have missed the point? Have we been blind to the reality of the Hari of Sindh who has always lived on the edge, now living amongst the dead of Makli, long-gone warriors and women of nobility honoured by sculpted sandstone? Why is it such a shock for us to learn that the people of Zulfiqar and Benazir Bhutto’s beloved land are chronically malnourished, that the string cot, a few utensils and the odd chicken is really all that they possess? That it is not the flood which has impoverished us, but that it is the flood which has washed away the last layers of propriety masquerading as social justice.
In 1948 the maverick civil servant Masud Khadarposh wrote the Note of Dissent to the Hari Report. It was a refused publication by the government. If only we had had the courage to hear Masud Sahib’s words and wisdom. If only we had seen that the colour of the horizon was changing, that the river which surges is overflowing with rage.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 7th, 2010.
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