From The News:
A legacy of nothingness
Something I learnt from Aunty Sonnu Rehman – something that hopefully many other people learnt because she is Aunt to so many, was to spend as much time as possible with the young. She has done so for many long years and the result is a sparkling personality, a cheerful outlook on life and a spirit of never say die. Happily into her 80s she has the energy, the verve and the sunny disposition that puts to shame those of us who moan, groan and sulk about everything under the sun. Not that she has had easy sailing – far from it but she has somehow had the inner resolve to see the worst times through and sail on.
Without being condescending in the least bit in all honesty, I feel very bad for the many young men and women that I meet, the thinking type that is – many at the advertising agency and many more at the Studio where my son Mekaal works and which is almost always full of the famous, the not so famous and simply all the young people who gravitate towards the Studio, music being something most youngsters instinctively turn to. Often asked probing questions about what was Lahore like when we were young, what indeed was Pakistan like in those long-fled days and nights, I explain and watch their faces. From all intents I am talking about an alien planet, so bewildered are they. ‘You mean there were bars? And dancing? Ballroom dancing? Sunday morning Jam sessions? Rock’n Roll? Discotheques? Restaurants full of people talking nineteen to the dozen, fiercely arguing about books, poetry, the latest plays, the musicals? Uncle, they say, honestly you are kidding us. You mean there were drama festivals? What did you say it was called? GCDC? Shoaib Hashmi, Basit Haqqani, Tina Thomas, Jojo? These characters were on stage doing plays in English? Arsenic and Old Lace? Naw – you are making it up. Ava Gardner was in Lahore shooting a film? And Marlon Brando holed up in Flashman’s Hotel in Rawalpindi planning a movie? And you guys were dating chicks on bicycles and scooters? Are you sure?’ The more details you share the more the questions, almost all bordering on the incredulous.
The fact is that today’s youngsters are simply unable to absorb that this indeed was one very liberal society and blessed with a value system that made a clear distinction between those who were worth knowing and those who were not. None of us was ever aware of what we were in terms of religious leanings. There were Shias and Sunnis, Hindus and Christians, Parsis and Ahmedis but no one gave two hoots about who was what. It simply did not matter. I remember being stopped by a cop jumping a red light and getting a raised eyebrow when in answer to what my ‘zaat’ (caste) was, replied ‘Muslim.’ The cop thought for a while and laboured on with his stubby pencil, which he licked at periodical intervals. I was in First Year and at college. We were the proverbial ‘first year fools.’ I do not speak for all of Pakistani society such as it was then but at least those of us who came from middle class families and were reading at college and later working as teachers, junior executives, government servants or in the armed forces, were quite clear that we were what we were. There was little social climbing – not the intense thing it is now and those who were making money in shady ways were out rightly shunned by civil society, unlike now when the distinction between good money and ill gotten money has been permanently erased leaving the moral fibre of our society in tatters.
While many of us freely saw parts of Pakistan often with our parents or older siblings, today’s youngsters simply have no access to those far-flung areas that make up this still unique country. In any case, most places are out of bounds or dangerous in the extreme, so how many from here have seen Baluchistan, the great North, the deserts of the south or indeed the coast line of Gwadar. Not many!
The sad truth is that decency has completely deserted this society. There is absolutely no distinction between evil and good, between right and wrong and between honesty and dishonesty. The barriers have been broken down and anything goes. Maybe the Taliban are at the gates but long before their curse falls on this unlucky country, the moorings of a social order have long been uprooted by a new code of life for which there is no need to give examples. A cursory look at the newspapers on any given day – just the front pages will do, simply demonstrates what depravity and degradation we have sunk to. It is surrounded by all this evil, the lies, the profanity in the name of God, the hypocrisy that holds us in a deathlike vice, the complete abandonment of all the things that allow us to call ourselves the best of the living species – all this and much more is now the hallmark of our lives and it is the youngsters who are growing up in this nightmare of an existence that is so tragic. For they have come into flower in a country where nothing of value survives.
It is easy to be wise and cynical when you are past fifty but the early years are that great period of idealism, of wanting to do something special, to change the world, to leave a mark, to be somebody special – all that we have successfully wrested from the grasping fingers of our young. Instead they have nothing to hold on to except some feeble residues of long last values which are getting outdated by the minute. There is almost a constant refrain about leaving this country. They are in their twenties and they are already disillusioned. This is our great gift to the next generation.
The result is anger, frustration, contempt and disillusionment. What we have done is to rob them of the great dreams, the ultimate romantic notions and the impossible ideals and instead left them a legacy that stinks to high heavens. The young are jaded, introverted and angry, driven by a lack of purpose to anything they do. They find refuge in small ‘pockets of civilisation’ as my son reminds me and if they get there find that an older generation is also hanging in there, their dreams long gone. This is the great legacy we all – at least those of us who are older and above half a century in age, have given to the new Pakistan.
The young think this whole country is rotten to the core – from one end to the other and that only the wily, the deceitful, the charlatans, the crooks, the morally depraved are the ones who are winning. Not surprisingly there is widespread unhappiness and soon enough the soothing opiates find their way in – drink, drugs, pills, syringes and one night stands. The next steps are but a natural conclusion. Those who are hungry and poor and uneducated – their cocktail is even more deadly. Some tie bombs to their bodies, others take to a life of crime. Still others succumb to any thing that comes along, anything to break off the shackles of a life where nothing works and there are no breaks in sight. Not without reason did our beloved president say – perhaps while listening to his favourite piece of music on his Bang & Olufssen connoisseur’s only system, that if the price of ‘Dal’ (lentils) was beyond the poor, they should opt for chicken.
On the national scene, the charade goes on. It is comical except that it breaks your heart. This is not the country we dreamt of. This is a nightmare.
The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org