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28 Sep 05,, 21:25
Wednesday, September 28, 2005 E-Mail this article to a friend Printer Friendly Version

THE WAY IT WAS: Of cakes, bread and pilau —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

Whenever Booba was invited by the local Chaudhry to run errands or perform some menial tasks at his son’s or daughter’s wedding, Booba always took one of his sons along — he couldn’t risk taking a daughter along — could he?

Should not all children set off in the race for life from the same starting line? I have heard people say that all citizens cannot be equal. There will always be some more equal than others. That may be so, but here we are talking of children who have to commence their life and not about adults some of whom might have excelled or criminally manoeuvred ahead of others. All children must be treated fairly. You can’t give one a flying start while others are kept waiting at the starting line.

Is it fair that the children of the rich should benefit from expensive private schools and then proceed to universities abroad, while poor children’s childhood withers away as they toil to support their wretched families. Good luck to those who have the privilege of access to opportunities to improve at home and abroad. Hopefully many of them will return and help improve the homeland that gave them this unequal advantage. But what a waste it is to have millions of children deprived of the most basic human asset — education.

Everyone agrees that education and health are two essential needs of ‘developing’ societies. And yet these are the very needs for which adequate funds are not allocated. Actually there is no money for anything that is even remotely related to the welfare of the people. Demanding employment, education, health, cheap housing, efficient urban transport, justice and protection from dacoits and criminals — not to speak of social equality and respect for individual faith, personal dignity, the rights of minorities, women, the federating units and the right to elect our government — is considered a cliché.

It is surprising how much has gone unnoticed for so long. To this can be added the lack of sanitation and how our natural environment (rivers, forests, water resources, habitats of birds and animals) is being destroyed. While the poor don’t even have graveyards to bury their dead, housing colonies are being carved out from premier agricultural land bought for a pittance and sold in lots for millions. It is scandalous that officials should pressure simple farmers into surrendering their ancestral holdings for petty cash and forsake their way of life for a fistful of glitter. Sad that people should be coerced into abandoning the graves of their ancestors and forced to renounce their structured life for an uncertain future.

Intellectuals deluged with cynicism have answers oozing out of their ears. What do they say? They express amazement at this sentimental rubbish. The old must give way to the new. That is the price of progress. What progress? And progress for whom? Mankind doesn’t have to plunge ahead leaving its soul behind, shivering in the cold.

Has not the world stood still for centuries for a vast majority of the people?

Everyone’s American dream must have been irreparably tarnished on hearing what Barbara Bush, the ‘Queen Mother’, remarked after her visit to Houston Astrodome — where we are told 20,000 refugees from New Orleans have been located. She believed the underprivileged Black Americans were better off living there than in their own homes back in New Orleans.

“This is working very well for them,” she said. You see from the point of view of the rich even natural catastrophes are harbingers of better fortune for the poor — lucky bastards. I believe Bill O’Reilly, a great chamcha of her son, could not resist commenting, “Madame with all due respect, you’ve been wealthy far too long.”

I am reminded of the French Revolution when the famished Parisians marched to Versailles pleading for bread. Peering out of a palace window, Queen Mary Antoinette innocently asked, “Why don’t they eat cake if they don’t have bread?” Wasn’t that sweet? It breaks my heart that the lady was later guillotined for no crime of her own. She was so thoroughly bred in riches and royalty that she had probably never experienced hunger or cold or needed to want anything.

To allow anyone to be born in poverty is the biggest crime a society can commit against itself. Allow me to end this narrative with a short episode.

Once upon a time there was a household that was always short of cash to buy essentials. They wore mended clothes, ate out of clean but dented plates and battered bowls, and cooked in the few utensils they kept polished with a daily scrub of sand and ash. They lived in a single dwelling with a rough thatched roof that stood by them in sun, rain and storms. They lived on bread, crushed onions and herbs, a lintels soup fortified with a cautious use of butter and whatever milk there was to spare.

Booba and his wife Mattan made a good pair. They attended to their respective chores without having to know what the other was doing. They didn’t talk much to each other but discreetly produced four sons and two daughters, whom they loved dearly in their own rough poor peasant way. Whenever Booba was invited by the local Chaudhry to run errands or perform some menial tasks at his son’s or daughter’s wedding, Booba always took one of his sons along — he couldn’t risk taking a daughter along — could he?

On one such occasion, my friend Sardar Aseff Ahmed Ali and I were attending a wedding at Burj Jeevay Khan village in Okara district, where while waiting for the barat Aseff caught sight of a young lad, who appeared to be no more than 10, peering at the guests from a cautious distance.

Since we had nothing better to do, as we were tired and bored by the long wait, Aseff patronisingly summoned the young lad, “O mundia (lad), listen to me,” “Keeh aye (what is it?).”

Aseff embarked on a long purposeless but amiable conversation, querying him about who he was, where he was from and what he was doing at the wedding. The innocent young fellow told us that whenever possible his father would bring one of his brothers along to a wedding. It was his turn this time to eat the pilau. “Son how many times have you eaten the pilau before?” asked Aseff for the record. “Jee (sir) this is the first time I am going to have it,” he answered with eager expectation on his face.

Prof Ijaz Ul Hassan is a painter, author and political activist. He can be reached at http://www.ijazulhassan.com

What's up?

Children are but boons given by the Almghty.

So let the boon be made prolific by men and children eat fresh air and have ricketts! ;)

A bountiful way to exist.