Towards the end of Hamlet, two gravediggers are engaged in an absurd discussion of whether Ophelia deserves a Christian burial or not, having committed suicide. However, they soon realise the futility of the conversation and move on to their job of digging the grave. One gravedigger asks, “What is he that builds stronger than either the mason, the shipwright or the carpenter?” The fellow gravedigger replies, “The gallow-maker, for that frame outlives a thousand tenants.” The first after some musing ends saying, “A grave-maker. The house that he makes last till doomsday”. The gravedigger is wrong in Model Town, Lahore; not all graves last till doomsday. Some are vandalised earlier. We, unlike the jester gravediggers, have not realised the futility of discussing the legitimacy of burials yet. We today are worse, we attack graves.
Token outrage has been expressed and perhaps some more will be expressed. However, are we really outraged? I don’t think so. Being outraged in this country is becoming too exhausting a job. However, it does lower the spirit that this happened in Model Town, Lahore. Not only because it literally, physically happened in the backyard of the Chief Minister of Punjab’s palatial residence/s. It is also disheartening because this is the Lahore of Madhu Lal Husain. The great Sufi poet Shah Husain and his Hindu friend Madhu Lal are buried together in one shrine. Such is the oneness that not only the shrine but Shah Husain himself is now commonly referred to as Madhu Lal Husain. Shah Husain would not have survived a week in today’s Lahore. This is the Punjab of Baba Guru Nanak, where his birth anniversary is still celebrated by devout Muslims. To this day, Baba Nanak remains a saint (as he should be) to many of the faithful. This is the land where the Kalam of one of the greatest ‘Muslim’ Sufi poet of all times, Baba Farid, has reached us only through ‘Guru Granth Saheb’. I am not sure, how many of those who go to Baba Faird’s urs at Pakpattan know that.
One can go on — however, not convincingly. This is not their land, not anymore. This is where mediocre bureaucrats decide to mutilate the tombstone of our first and only Nobel laureate from, “Abdus Salam, the First Muslim Nobel Laureate” to the ridiculous, factually incorrect, “Abdus Salam, the First Nobel Laureate.” What great service to Islam. We seem today to be living in a Garcia Marquez novel. This is where Hazrat Bulleh Shah wrote such verses, which today, I cannot reproduce here, for the fear of some faithful interpreting it too literally and acting on his “faith”. Lahore today does not need the Taliban to burn down schools (although they are always there to help); we do quite an admirable job ourselves, as displayed recently. This is where historic temples are razed with no commotion. This is where having the wrong sounding name will get you killed. This is the Punjab where the leaders of banned sectarian outfits openly proclaim that the ruling party in Punjab won the by-elections with their support.
Now, let us consider our response to these challenges. We decide to ban YouTube because of one substandard, idiotic video made thousands of miles away. If a fraction of anger displayed at that one video is devoted to the vandalism of the dead and the murder of the living, only if. The Military Intelligence (MI) has apparently decided to do what it does best. What else, to collect detailed information on journalists. Sure, obviously they pose the greatest threat to our ‘national security’. Once the MI has successfully completed the dangerous mission of gathering door-to-door information on journalists, I am sure it will direct its attention to lesser matters like militant organisations, terrorist groups, etc. This is closely followed by ‘immoral’ text messages sent and received by ‘late-night’ cellular phone packages, the transcripts of which are being discussed at the highest state level. Then their other matters of grave concern like should it be mandatory for female television anchors to cover their heads. Lest we forget that egregious assault on the moral fabric of our society, i.e., the Katrina Kaif advertisement. The message is clear: the Shias, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus should not be impatient. Once we have tackled the important issues stated above, we will be glad to attend to their continued murder and persecution.
While media oscillates between juvenile frolics of the PTA and Young Arsalan, it is open season on minorities and soon it will be for everyone. Ladies and Gentleman, this is how nations sink, this is how people die. Everybody has a stake in this quarrel. The Ahmadi graveyard vandalism and the Shia killing is everyone’s problem. I cannot propose a solution to all of this and am condemned to repeat clichés. Yet, this hate will get to everyone, to you and me, eventually it will.
‘Rest in peace’ will never mean quite the same thing in Lahore again. The attack on the graveyard in Lahore reminds me of some lines of Faiz Ahamd Faiz on death as a liberating experience, “Fikr-e-sood au ziyaan tau chhootay gi: Minnat-e-ee au aan tau chhootay gi. Khair dozakh mein mai milay na milay: Sheikh sahib se jaan tau chhootay gi.” (One will be rid of the anxiety of gain and loss, of seeking this and that. A drink in hell, there may not be, but one will be rid of sermon mongers). Not anymore, it seems.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 9th, 2012.