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It Takes Three Bouquets to Touch a Soul

By Mehboob Qadir

November 16, 2011            

It seems that in our country the passion for murder and blood is beginning to match that of the Hun hordes and bloodthirsty Tartars

Our Eid was preceded by Hindu Diwali and Christian All Souls’ Day. It was a very pleasant thing indeed to see our Hindu fellow citizens celebrating their Diwali in all its colours, happiness and abandon at the 600-year-old Gorakhnath Temple in Peshawar. Imagine a thing like that in the capital city of the Pakistani Taliban and all those maniac killers that keep them company in their homicides and bombings. There was a telling picture of Christian families in Karachi praying for their departed dear ones without the fear of a mad militant spraying them with bullets, or maybe in spite of that deadly possibility.

These two frames sound and look so unusual and extraordinary because we, as a state and society both, have outsourced our moral and constitutional responsibilities to provide guarantee of freedom of faith and practice for our religious minorities to the murderous militant mullahs. These odious men do not tolerate even a slight difference of view among themselves, let alone other religions. The fact and what is expected of a civilised state is that such occasions and freedom to practice one’s faith should have been the rule and not an exception. It is educative to reflect how systematically our society in Pakistan has been regressing in all manners, particularly where religious freedom or rather tolerance is concerned. The only Nobel Prize winner in the history of Pakistan has been disowned because his community was declared non-Muslims. Notwithstanding that he is a citizen of this country, which cannot be renounced, but we seem to have indefensibly erased him from that scroll too.

But wait, there is much more that we need to talk about. Just see how our wonderfully adjusted society was viciously torn apart and rearranged into ugly sectarian, communal and militant sub-patterns by the very men who have taken upon themselves to monopolise the practice and direction of our faith. And more than that how first through apathy and then under brazen coercion we gave up our right to believe what we want to and not what they dictate to us. No Muslim society, other than possibly Afghanistan and Somalia, may have shown such callous disregard to its rights and duties, particularly towards religious minorities as we have. The irony is that there seems to be little official or public remorse, resentment or a sense of loss visible anywhere. Conversely, there are completely inconceivable public rallies to support coldblooded unrepentant killers like Mumtaz Qadri and Malik Ishaq. Where on earth do people ever take out support rallies to glorify killers except in our country? How do you explain or condone this sub-human public behaviour and on what religious, ethical or legal grounds? Will any faqih (expert in Islamic jurisprudence), any mufti — the keepers of our public morality — please speak up? And then why should we expect to be respected as sane, responsible people? This is psychopathic insanity and not any sublime religious obligation. It seems that in our country the passion for murder and blood is beginning to match that of the Hun hordes and bloodthirsty Tartars.

It was the early 60s when in Gujranwala many girls used to ride on bikes to their schools and colleges and nobody had any issue with it. There was a Lady Health Visitor who would drive a scooter to her office and back, and nobody’s piety felt threatened. As late as the 70s we used to host Shia processions in Muharram days and serve water to the mourners as they passed before our homes. Mughalpura, Dharampura and Sant Nagar in Lahore city, Lal-Kurti and RA Bazar in the Cantonment used to be full of local Christians and those adorably well adjusted Anglo Indians who would file into their churches on Sundays and other festivals in their thousands; just like the Muslims on Fridays and Eid days. There were no heavy police contingents to guard them nor did anyone ever snipe at them. There was no question of any ridicule, threat or foul-mouthing from any mosque pulpit or any public address system. Care for common sentiments and courtesy towards others were paramount in those days. It would be befitting to say that these pockets of Christian communities in Pakistan’s major cities were and remain the main repositories of music and other forms of fine arts in our society. However, this is for the erudite and the sensible to acknowledge and not the crazed, masked marauders of the variety that populates most of our seminaries. The mass destruction of Christian localities like what happened in Gojra and a massacre of praying minority like in Model Town and Garhi Shahu, Lahore, were not only utterly unimaginable but also unheard of.

Since centuries our women have observed a kind of detached and respectable distance from the routines of the crowd and bazaar by devising various ways of comfortably covering themselves. While in the Frontier (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), it is traditional dotted cotton chador in the rural areas and a decent white long shawl in the urban areas, in Punjab it varied from place to place as it did in Sindh and Balochistan. Then descended a particularly nasty locust of foreign-indoctrinated mullahs who began to enforce an obnoxious variety of shroud that makes them look more like the robotic black ninjas rather than the sensibly, gracefully attired women that our elders were. Whoever says that virtue for woman lies only in the thickness and length of the veil? What about the family background, grooming, education, ability and nobility of her thought and action? What about the lechery, lust and licentiousness of men? Under what great wisdom and brilliance of research these loathsome men demolished our excellent age-old practice and what splendid lifesaving change for the benefit of humanity do they claim to have brought about? None, except the perverted glee of having imposed their archaic and therefore divisive dogma just like they did in other matters of faith. Ask and be astonished at their paranoid and socially irresponsible answers.

I have received occasional Diwali and Christmas greetings, including felicitations on Eids from friends far and wide and have always felt immensely glad to thank them on their kindness. This time on Eid I was in for a different and a very pleasant surprise and an invaluable lesson in thoughtfulness which was beyond any religion or creed. My little grandson’s Christian maid accompanied him from Lahore to our house in Rawalpindi; a very dutiful teenager who brought three bouquets of roses from her uncle. Her uncle’s instructions were that she was going to her employer’s parents’ home on Eid; therefore the bouquets were his way of sharing our happiness. Absolutely great nobility of thought and most remarkable thoughtfulness from a man of otherwise little education and poor station in society but full of tremendous humanity. One has hardly ever come across this kind of refined sense of occasion and grace in many very high-bred people, let alone common men. Long ago we gave up courtesy, thankfulness and feeling sorry for a wrong done. Look at the language of highly verbose greeting messages that have floated around in our electronic space in millions this Eid — soulless, commercial and awfully short on personal feelings. And here is one person who beat them all hands down by three bouquets of flowers without saying a word. Genuine feelings need no embellishments; they have a powerful chemistry of their own.

My faith is intact. Belief not threatened but strengthened as thoughtfulness does not belong to any religion. I am most grateful to Samuel for teaching me a lesson in how to be a better human being. It just takes three bouquets to touch a soul. I wish some of our super-slick televangelists and fire-spewing Maulanas could take a page from this wonderful man’s handbook of care and regard for others. What a magnificent soul, may God bless him.

(Samuel retired recently as a sweeper from a military unit in Lahore.)

The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army.

Source: The Daily Times, Lahore