Writing as catharsis

It is counterproductive and ironic to ask people to do that which their crusade is exactly against


Mohammad Zia Adnan February 20, 2015
The writer is based in Princeton, New Jersey. He tweets @mziaadnan

It is perhaps counter-intuitive, maybe even counterproductive, to suggest on the opinion pages of a newspaper that writing is no longer a cathartic process. We are all, in our own ways, trying to heal as we continue to grieve for those who have lost their lives around the world during the past few months. In Pakistan, two months on, we’re grieving over the loss of the children who were massacred in Peshawar. In Copenhagen, Chapel Hill and Paris, people are still grieving too.



Maybe it’s the magnitude of our grief, or the intensity of our anger and sorrow that is preventing us from reconciling ourselves with our emotions. In the past, in the years that we have confined to dusty old VHS tapes and grainy technicolour, poets would often pen ballads and elegies, ghazals and couplets during times of grief. Poets began revolutions, incited passion, and highlighted oppression and cruelty. In the past 68 years, though, there always seemed to be a silver lining.

Whether it was autocrats in the mask of democrats, or autocrats boldly validating and accepting the trappings of dictatorship, no force was strong enough when faced with the resilience of the Pakistani people. After the gut-wrenching events that have taken place in the past few months, I find resilience being tested. And, although the healing process may no longer involve putting pen to paper and finding ourselves liberated at the end of it all, writing could have been a valuable catharsis for those who have perpetrated the recent tragedies. British writer Philip Pullman once said that writing is by nature autocratic, for it is the writer who has absolute control. Perhaps, if they had picked up a pen and not a gun, imposed their beliefs on paper rather than bloodied their hands with the lives of children and those who pushed the envelope a tad too far but didn’t deserve to die, things would be different. But again, it is counterproductive and ironic to ask people to do that which their crusade is exactly against.

Writing history, too, is catharsis in a way. Historians have a unique position, for it is they who create the portrait of an era that becomes seared into our brains when we reminisce about yesteryear. It’s hard to say what the iconic, definitive image of Pakistan will be when we look at the current situation and the political climate in a historical context. For Ayub Khan, it was riding in motorcades with Jackie Kennedy and the Queen. For Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, it might’ve been his staccato gesticulations while addressing thousands at a rally.

For Nawaz Sharif, it might be deferential handshakes with the prime minister next door, calls for revolution by his favourite cricketer, or the absolutely horrific murder of hundreds at the hands of armed extremists. It could even be an untimely departure a la 1993 — I’ve imagined it on a number of occasions: the deposed prime minister, waistcoat and all, would be led out of the prime minister’s residence in handcuffs. No “Auld Lang Syne”, no farewell salutes, but Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” would be the soundtrack to the footage of his long march into exile. And then, out of character, the balding Mr Sharif would turn to the cameras and say, in complete Schwarzenegger style, “I’ll be back.”

Outrageous, maybe, but I suppose that’s the writer in me, trying to find catharsis in dire times.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st,  2015.

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COMMENTS (20)

Junaid | 6 years ago | Reply In the last paragraph, Zia should also be mentioned. I wonder what his cathirsis was. Ah yes. It was the whip he used on the bare backs of Pakistani's.
Mirza | 6 years ago | Reply Creatively subtle enough but the meat of it was there.
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