Do we ever wonder what it is that keeps us where we are, which incidentally is down? It’s us. God forbid that anyone of us should try and get ahead of the rest, the herd will grab you by the legs and pull you back down. We are all so busy making sure that the other guy doesn’t make it that we ensure no one makes it. And God help you if you manage to sneak out while the rest aren’t looking and sprint ahead and do something even remotely meaningful. Remember you do so at your own peril and it may well be the last remotely meaningful thing you do. An entire nation out there committed to ensure that nobody makes it, it’s been very effective so far, imagine what it could do if we used our energy to achieve the opposite.
This really came home to me when, a few years ago, I was in Bangladesh and was travelling with friends by train to tea country and on the way we passed a countryside of rice fields. One of the people in the compartment asked where I was from and when I said Pakistan, he said, ‘the home of Bangladeshi hero Akhtar Hameed Khan, the man who gave us Irri rice and three harvests a year so we can feed this huge population’. Needless to say Dr Khan’s contribution to what became Bangladesh resulted in an exceptionally cordial atmosphere in our compartment as news spread and others came to chat and share their experiences and lunch with us. The warmth and appreciation for the man made me wonder. Wasn’t this the man we had reviled in Pakistan, the man we hauled up on charges of blasphemy, not once but twice. This was the man who we made pay dearly for his liberal views and self-help initiatives. So much so we did all we could to deny him a final resting place.
Rather than celebrate our heroes we go about bashing them and in the process we bash all things good and creative, kill all initiative and make sure we stay at the bottom of the pile. It matters not which field you are in, what your achievements are you can be assured of one thing — your peers will be the last to acknowledge them.
Many people have said to me that all these articles they read in the papers everyday about Pakistan and its problems are wonderful and yes we need to fix things but how, where do we start, what should we do? I suggest that first we transcend ourselves and recognise the contribution and worth of others. The individual cannot fix the problem the collective can. I asked a friend of mine to explain how the Indian fashion industry had such international recognition he said it’s simple, it’s all about marketing brand India and they know that to do it they need to, at the very least, appear united. The brand flourishes and so do they. There is so much that is great about this country – an 8,000-year-old heritage, the snow leopard, our passion for sports especially cricket, a varied music industry, the mountains, fashion which has made international headlines, television, art which is being sold abroad for millions, tennis, philanthropy and most importantly our people. And dare I say it, a new and tenuous democracy and an independent judiciary.
If we start by putting ourselves and all our prejudices aside and look at things objectively you will see something useful in every person, each one of us has a characteristic, skill, use and can contribute in different ways. We just need to acknowledge the contribution and utilize it to the benefit of all. Akhtar Hameed Khan is not just a Bangladeshi hero he is a hero in Pakistan and when we are big enough to acknowledge that then the Orangi Pilot Project will truly be a pilot project. In the meanwhile if we are labelled a nation of mediocrities we only have ourselves to thank.
PS: Don’t knock roaches either, it seems they have their uses, scientists have found an antibiotic in their brains that may become the panacea to many of our problems.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 10th, 2010.
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