Work, life, and more

Identities are an interesting thing. They are so simple yet so complex. And so is their impact. I chose to say identities and not identity because none of us has a singular one. We are composed of so many complementary and contradictory identities. At one time, quoting a jealous friend, we are an unhappy grumpy uncle, and at another, quoting another jealous friend, a beautiful butterfly full of venom. These could either contradict or complement each other, depending on the situation and composition, and both of these operations lead to much interesting outcomes. To complement two identities creates a more colorful one, like adding bergamot oil to tea leaves. To contradict two identities creates a more convoluted one, like formeting discord between civility and flatulence. Both interesting to experience and behold.

Some of our identities are quite internal to us, and we feel and own and live and project them regularly. We feel at home in them. But, some are not internal. They are external identities. That we have for the outside world. I have known people who identify as introverts internally, but end up being overtly extroverted in their public engagements – that some of these people were evil hearted sociopathic vampiric insects is another matter. What is the matter, is that some of these people were very comfortable in having two very different identities at the same time, one internally for themselves and one external. If these folks were the types who take random personality quizzes, and one of them was, then they would find it very difficult to answer questions as they would be split down the middle on most of these questions. But in reality, we are all split down the middle. We are extroverted as well as introverted to share one sample, or the hedonistic monk to share another, or fake nice (as another jealous friend once mentioned).

In the world of yesterday, one might have called these personalities. But in the world of today these are identities. We are very self aware, very self assured, very self serving, and very self imposing. So we must make all of these – identities, not merely parts of our personality. That would be too benign a treatment for the twenty first century. Where after adding hyper before words to denote magnitude, we now add super, and soon we will need to find some other word to denote magnitude more than super. Because now, being hyper reactive is not enough, so we become super reactive, which is also losing its shine. But … let us come back to our earlier conversation after this digression.

I find that it is not that major of an issue that we are not necessarily aware of all of our identities. Most of our identities are known to us, because we live them internally and display them externally. But, many of us have hidden personalities, both internal and external that we are not aware of. That others see, and experience. On occasion they assume we already know these things about ourselves and on occasions they know that we dont know. But something we know that they know that they know that we dont know, even if we dont know that we dont know what it is to know (another identity could be that of the infuriatingly incomprehensible riddler). And on occasion, these identities are insidious, racist, evil, or insulting – in which case they become prejudices, and are usually not shared with the identity holder. Except in times of inebriation, stress, or general bitchiness.

In the time honored spousal responsibility of correcting each and every one of each other’s faults and errors, and minor transgressions – my wife told me that I seem to be having too many Identities. And that I choose the most politically opportune one for each situation. A charge to which I say I am fully guilty of this charge. And I am ok with bearing this guilt. None of the identities I project are fake or foreign to me, they are all me, and I am all of them. Hence, I am ok with bearing the guilt of picking and choosing the identities I project from time to time. As should you be.

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On rapidly learning children

As with all parents, there is always a desperate fear of the child not learning things at the right pace. Desperate fear. We are conditioned to think and fear the what ifs and the if thens of a child falling behind and not keeping pace with their peers; their competitors. Since we are taught that life is about competition and excelling beyond others. Hence we want the children to take part in and win the race. Just as we do. Just as everyone does. Because that is what we think is the case. Lots of people, lots of races. All the time. Everywhere.

What we haven’t actually learnt to learn, is – what if they end up learning things too quickly. Too rapidly. Then? Then what?

What if they end up learning to say “No!” before they are two years old, or they learn (mind you “learn”) that they can snatch toys from younger kids when you are not looking, or they learn that the remote is hidden under the newspapers but not at the bottom of the pile, so they learn. But it seems we are not ready for their learning all of this.

A constant daily struggle to ensure they learn, to see them learn and to be scared of what they have learnt. One ends up learning a bit or two about oneself.

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Breaking Horses

The merits of a true education are a complete departure from our basic selves. It is a veneer of polished aspects of our personalities; which are at odds with our wild inner selves. We cover up the rough edges, we fill the cracks and we tame our inner wildlings. This will enable us to depart from our pasts, our animal selves, and our disturbing nature and habits which hearken to a different age and time, when we were truly human, when we were truly disgustingly human. With our ancient habits, and our ancients desires and machinations. We have moved on, and we have learnt to hate our older selves. Despise. Change to something new. I will not comment on whether it is right or wrong, I will only comment on what I see happening. Judgement is not my or anyone else prerogative, understanding and acceptance is.

So, when my three year old daughter likes to roar and jump to share her opinion and maybe also her anger, I educate her to lower her voice. Her voice has to be lowered so that the din of public noises is not drowned out by her. I teach her to conform and to not rise above the fray. Knowing full well, that at the same time, in the same instant, I would want her to be independent and to rise above the fray on each and every occasion. But, to me, in my limited capacity of knowledge and reason, I can only ask her to not rise above the fray. I don’t know if I should let her roar, or to silence her, both paths are right, but both of them are also wrong. How does one decide?

The extent to which education’s objective is to install in us qualities and habits that are a positive addition to our societies and communities is an important thought to ponder over. Hygiene is there to ensure that we do not inadvertently put other members of society in danger by spreading disease and that we mask our odours from others when we share close quarters with them. Etiquette is there to ensure that in our violent competitions to reach the top of the mountain do not lead us to destruction and force us into martial combat on every small occasion. Empathy is there to ensure that all temporarily weak members of society are provided for until they can come into their own.

But, the question remains, should I ask my daughter to not roar, which seems to be her inbuilt, animal, wild desire at that point in time. Or should I teach her to be quieter and not to imitate animals? Should I break the wild horse, or should I set it free.

On this one occasion I broke the wild horse, the alternative was too far from the norm to allow. But, how often, and based on what should we break the wild horses and when should we let them roam free?

And, will I ever learn the answer to this question.

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2011 or 2067 or 5771 or 1432

Breaths follow breaths, hours follow hours, sunsets follow sunsets, and time moves on. Absolute and unyielding. It is mindlessly incredible glory, time moves on in a cold calculated unswerving finality that humans just do not have the ability to understand or even begin to fathom. Except those humans who have had a long acquaintance with time. Yes, they know a bit, they warn us, but we can not understand. The only true teacher is time. The speed of our lives and events are in a way a complement to the teachings of time, but not nearly as much. Not nearly as much. Time moves on.

Our lives pass us by. Except for those of us who have the ability, and courage, and presence of mind to hold the beast by its horns and declare to the world that “I am alive” and I will live. But, it is so much more easier to say this than to do this. Isnt it. There are always conditions, and restrictions, and compromises that stop us from living our days. We can not take vacations because the kids are young. We can not study because your savings are not enough. We can not buy that because you got laid off. In this modern world of capitalist splendours we have forgotten that the best things in life are free. Possibly one of the greatest proofs of the existence of God, but you can go with Pascal’s wager despite its obvious glaring flaw. Food for the most part, is affordable to most people, and there is no comparison of the food cooked at home, be it in a poor household or a rich one. A walk on the grass does not cost anything other than time. The love of one’s family and friends is a continuous bounty even in loneliness. The sunrise does not require any effort other than sacrificing sleep.

We have gone too far in our lives with our absurdly grandiose demands for entertainment and happiness that we have rendered ourselves incapable of enjoying our lives. Our televisions and radio stations have rendered us incapable of enjoying a good book. Our cell phones and pagers have rendered us incapable of enjoying our time and privacy and flights of senseless thoughts. Science and Technology have given us a million great trinkets to play with to consumer all of our time with full brain usage activities. But with each of them we loose a bit of our humanity. We have become robots. Without senses, feelings or emotions. Drones that move about to the beat of our electrical gadgets.

But, must we end this? I will. I have decided to reduce the usage of my laptop and cell phone and television and try to spend more organic time. With people. With things. With thoughts. With sceneries. Maybe I will end up gaining a bit of my sanity and humanity back. Maybe I will realize that meditation can be better than brain overusage. Maybe. But I will try. The only way to learn about life is to experiment. No one ever learns from other people beyond a certain point. Neither will I. Neither can you. So, stop pretending. Make your mistakes, make your benign mistakes and learn. And hopefully, make your life better.

Last night was New Years night. It is an arbitrary unit of time. One always feels the slow and steady movement of time. Each breath, moment, hour, day, period, semester and season is felt passing. But the longer the period of time it is, the greater is the feeling of loss at the end of it. But they are very arbitrary, such as the 31st of December. At the end of the day, I feel that the only natural and real unit of time in the way time plays in our daily lives. Every breath of three seconds, every musing and thought stream that lasts fifteen minutes, every duo of night and day, and the emotional and intellectual periods, and the seasons, and the major phases of life. The year is too long to notice. And hence when it does pass it seems like a big thing.

Every year ends with a sorrow of having lost time and with a new resolve to spend the next in even better a manner. Good for us. I for one will loose more weight and improve my health, give more love to friends and family, learn a new language, enjoy learning a new activity, be a friend of the world, and lastly enjoy wasting my time in the senseless musings and ideation of an empty mind.

Here is to a new year. May it make us better people.

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Vive la Liberte

Showing a candle to Lord Acton’s preeminent solar flares: power is jealous and absolute power is absolutely jealous. So it would seem that power does not only corrupt, power is also jealous and incredibly intelligent. This jealousy is revealed in different ways, the fast paced youth is stopped by the established order, the depressed class is kept at bay by the presence of the society and state, the competitor is challenged and removed at all costs. Power is jealous. And, the more the power the stronger the jealousy. History is witness to the fact that whenever power was being distributed anew, there was conflict. Be it between states, classes, communities, or people. Be it in any form or format.

Thinking of the motives of man, and then thinking about the onion like layers of abstraction of our motives. There is only one answer. Power. At the bottom of our conscious motives for all the action that we conduct in our lives lies the continuous, overriding and absolute need to gain power in all it’s forms. This power that we have gained up until now defines our position in the pecking order of our little universe of human society. Predation is a very prevalent trait in people and the more powerful will try to subjugate the less powerful who will according to needs kow tow to the more powerful.

Power shows itself in our social lives in many different ways. Being social animals our power and position in the pecking order is defined by our social standing based on wealth, contacts and personal charm and very minutely on physical power. Mankind has outgrown the period of our youth when only raw physical ability was the only factor of our power. Thank God. Now power is defined in multiple factors that form a different cocktail mixture in every individuals life. Money and other assets are power. Social standing and contacts are power. Personal ability and charm are power. And now, increasingly, knowledge is power.

Devolution of power from few hands into more hands and eventually all hands is democracy.

Devolution and dissemination of knowledge will democratize society and make all men a part of the global aristocracy of complete and creative men.

This is the process that has been going on for ages. The revolutions against kings and aristocracies, the definitions of law, the movements for equal rights are all a part of the great movement towards mankind’s sentience. Towards eventual understanding of the self. And hence forth towards achievement of ideals never before known to exist. There is a strong wind in the air or libertarian and anarchist ideals winning across the world. The tea party movement. Direct democracy. Across our planet, power is trickling down to the masses of people.

So, is it technology that will finally liberate us from ourselves? Is this the internet’s coming of age? Wikileaks?

And now to the most important question of our era: “Is this it?”

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The giants of our youth will always be bigger than us.

For most of us, the idols that we create in our age of naivety are, and will always, be bigger than us. As we gain consciousness of our surroundings from the earliest days of childhood we try to learn. To know more about what we see. And to know more about what we do not see. To learn the name of the flying object on the window sill; and to learn how that object flies. In short, that is the life story of man. To spend a lifetime in learning and finding out new things. Modern societies provide people with the ability to channel this energy in such fields as research and education. All others also have the same urges. We all want to know what was exactly said during the most recent fight in the house or apartment next to ours. We all want to know how the politicians of our respective geographic sphere are philandering money and abusing power. We all want to know the opinions that others have of us. We always want to know more. Of course, the fields that we choose are diverse and cause for much judgment and eye rolling.

During our early youth we also develop a sense of judging people. We can sense how we relate to these people, and we can make deep rooted feelings about these people. These feelings cover the complete range of human relationships that we will experience for the rest of our lives. As we grow old we learn to abstract; we learn that sparrow is a type of bird which in turn is a type of animal which in turn is a type of living thing. And we learn that there are people and they can be divided into different kinds and subsets. We always have desires and aspirations, sometimes to fly, sometimes to swim like a fish, sometimes to become a robotic car capable of destructive feats of prowess. Over a period of time, and this is not a short period of time, our aspirations become known to us; we understand and acknowledge our aspirations. In the initial period of youth, and its linked exuberance, we still have the same aspirations, but they start getting a more real face. We start dreaming of traveling the world in hot air balloons, if not of flying. And finally, with the dying embers of youth our aspirations become completely practical and devoid of excitement and dreams. Not all that unfortunate an occurrence, just one that has to take place.

Somewhere during this period of time from when we have psychologically covert aspirations to the point where we recognize and shape our aspirations; we learn to associate people with them. We learn to realize that there are people who have actually achieved our aspirations. To us, these aspirations seem completely unattainable at the time. Though we try. But, we see people, we hear of people, we know of people, who have actually achieved what we so dearly aspire to do so. And we start building idols in our minds. There are the real idols, initially parents, then other people in our circles of society who are older and hence more accomplished, and then even our peers who excel in the presence of all others. We start making idols. And we should, because, in retrospect, they are people who stand out. They are not individual idols, they are collective idols to a lot of people. Some are idolized for their dancing. Some are idolized because they have a PhD in Evolutionary Biology. Some are idolized because they are incredibly rich.

But, being human, our construction of giants is anything but realistic. We over do it. Our giants are larger than expected. They have traveled much further on the paths that we place them on. Our parents are eventually great people who have gone through amazing feats to be the man and woman that they are. Our teachers know everything to the extent that there is not any possible thing that they do not know. Our saints are completely cleaned of all evil and all wrongdoing and they can not possible do anything wrong. Our captains of industry are able to manipulate and organize any situation in a manner that would maximize the profits of the company. Our political leaders are able to use their power and authority in the most transparent yet proper manner to ensure all ills are removed from society, and power is not abused.

And it is not that we do not see the idols fall. Our parents, and teachers, and saints, and captains of industry and political leaders all fail from time to time. And we are shown this on many occasions. On some occasions we refuse to accept the failure. Our development of the idols over a period of years upon years and thoughts upon thoughts and the immense investment will not allow us to see the glaring truth that a failure has occurred. And in that day or minute the idol will get larger, as it fails to do anything wrong, even at that time. On some occasions we generate an excuse or come up with some reason why the failure occurred. On some occasions we accept the failure but contrast it with the absence of a graver failure, the idol does not grow larger during this time, but it does maintain its size. And finally, on some occasions, the idol crashes and falls to the ground and is ground to dust, and we take away even the legitimate greatness. Again, the only reason for our blindness is that we are not ready to let the idol fail. It represents our aspirations as much as its own reality.

How can we let something we cherish so much fail? Can we allow our minds to go down that road? No.

That there are giants, I will not deny. That there should be giants, I will not deny. What I do ask is that should we develop our giants into larger versions to such an extent that they become otherworldly. That they become larger than life. That they become unattainable? My answer is no, but everyone will and should have their own answer. Should we use our giants to live and embody our aspirations? No, we should not. We should keep our giants real. We should accept that someone who has great skill in chess is a great chess master, but only human after all, and not so unattainable after all. Having said that, that we should try to keep the giants real and within reach, can we? So the question posed earlier was not that important, since most will eventually agree that we should free our psyche from our giants but will we ever be able to put that into effect? Will we be able to outgrow our giants. Very very very difficult; and not possible in most cases present in our lives.

Looking at history we see that even the greatest of kings aspired to be their fathers or grandfathers who in retrospect were not greater rulers. Poets and writers and other artists, despite the arrogance that goes with the job, will always quote earlier greats and giants whose dirt they are not worthy of treading on. And every generation of people will decry the greater virtue and social personalities of their parents and the earlier generations from the golden ages. The giants refuse to go away. We are forever doomed to live in the shadow of giants.

Would that we were able to stand on the shoulders of true giants rather than cower in the shadows of false ones.

To dream. To expect. To desire and to want. To aspire to be free from the shadows of previous aspirations. To break free from the shackles of ancient aspirations and develop new ones. To grow and develop to the maximum of our ability.

To live. And to be human.

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Millat ka Janaza hay zara shaan say niklay.

The collapse of our civilization and the abject slide of our culture and society towards the dung heap of history can be assessed by looking closely at a bevy of different metrices. To each their own. There is a marked deterioration in educational standards and the number of Pakistanis who can compete at the global level deceases, thought the average national level of education increases with time. There is a general breakdown of law and order in the country with the control of government and the rule of law being eroded over the past decades to an extent that most laws are flouted openly and without fear or remorse by Pakistanis on a regular basis. There is a marked increase of intolerance and extremism and the desire to resort to violence to force your own agenda on others. How many other examples can I come up with, everyone has their own metric that they can use to show that Pakistan is in fact circling ever so slowly around the sink.

One metric that occurred to me recently is that we, as a nation , do not have any decent news channel any more. There used to be one channel, Dawn, that upheld some semblance of sanity and seriousness. But, to survive in the competitive environment they had to add the regular staples of Pakistani media, cheap humour, ill bred commentry, dishonourable accents and tones for taunting people and the brain numbingly ill thought out cartoons and gimmicks shown regularly on these news channels.

It is a shame that a nation of 170 million people is unable to provide a large enough economic market to make one decent news channel feasible. Shame on us. And it would have been forgivable if the Pakistani market was large enough for only five channels, there are more than twenty news channels in Pakistan and yet a decent channel can not hold enough clout to manage its share of the market. Shame on us, shame on us. This is what the nation has come down to, we would prefer the likes of such disgusting abominations on the face of society as Geo and any other Pakistani news channel then to watch a decent news channel long enough for a nation of 170 million to boast that they have at least one decent news channel.

If you do not agree with me and say that our channels are bastions of well behaved decency, then you will do good to ask around and see what is the opinion of people on a channel that will continuously have a breaking news item for months on end and the news item will end with at least 8 exclamation marks. What is that? I mean seriously what is that.

There used to be a thing like Journalism and Newscasting on our planet. We know about their existence, because we have seen them coming out of many different countries and states. Unfortunately our media industry is bent upon diving head first to the lowest common denominator, and I do not think that they are far away from this goal.

Being forced to watch Pakistani news channels for the past couple of days has made me realize that a nation that shows this quality and content of material as national television can only be doomed and nothing else.

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Ignominious entry

As some of you know, I have recently undertaken a mindnumblingly shocking act of utter imbecility. In short, leaving my job cold turkey and shifting to Dubai and looking for greener pastures. The reason would be that my wife lives and works in Dubai so there is some reason behind thigs act of apparent madness. My trip to Dubai started 48 hours ago.

To say that the transition has gone well, would be to lie thorugh my teeth. The barrage of losses, injuries and insults started the minute I left for Karachi airport. To start off with there was a lot of political and communal violence in Karachi during my drive to the airport and I had to confirm with my family that they have indeed managed to reach home safely.

I always sit on the wtindow seat. I am an extremely nervous and jittery flyer, the situation has gotten a lot worst over time. I requested for a window seat, I got it. To my great joy and excitement the flight was an hour late. And as can only be expected, someone else was in my seat. When I asked him to move because “I think that is my seat”, he asked me “What is your seat number”, uhhhh dumbo, there are just two seats, so if you are obviously seat B, then I would be seat A. But, against my own better judgment, I decided to be friendly and civil, I informed him that my seat was A. To this he replied that “How do you that one isnt A”, because idiot, A comes after B so they would not have B with the window and A in the aisle. At first I could not even imagine how to reply to this. You see unfortunately in my brain, I think that telling someone an incredibly obvious thing would be considered insulting. Long story short, I just said, ok, and I sat in the aisle. Hating the abject level of ill breeding and jahalat about one foot from my left elbow.

Once at the Dubai airport the abject level of ill breeding and jahalt started jumping up and down so I had to get out of my seat to give him breathing space. And then, once I had landed, and since minor infraction are just not oh-so-disconcerting, on of my pieces of luggage got lost. Oh Joy. So another hour of desperately hoping that the next piece is mine.

Once home I decided that the comedy of errors should have come to an end. But it didnt.

My wife left for work early, the other key of the house could not be found anywhere. So I was imprisoned in my flat for about one whole day. Wonderful. Of course, I thought that the final injury was when my wife flogged me because the food that I had cooked probably had one extra dash of salt and the water was at 12 degrees rather than the instructed 10 degrees. Of course it was my fault.

Today’s foggy morning came with the promise of a new beginning, one where I will be my own man, one where I will be able to live a life of dignity and respect that is the right of all men and citizens of the world. But alas, somehow the cellphone service has been able to bill me 160 dirhams during the day when I havent really used the phone that much.

What is in store for me tomorrow. Shudder, shudder, shudder. I have to go now. My wife is nearly home and I havent been able to find any fresh dinosaur eggs for her requested dish of the day: Dinosaur Omelette with Maritan Spices and a Solar Flare.

PS – For the sake of truth, I must say that the comments pertaining to my wife may even be a tad bit exaggerated.

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Eight and a quarter shudders

It would seem that my life has been changing in more than one dimension.

One very important dimension would be the slow and creeping introduction of Bollywood in my life. This would mean that from the average interface of about one bollywood movie (read non art cinema) per year I am now indulging my cheaper instincts with one movie every three months. Shudder, shudder and shiver till you drop.

It all started when my sisters and cousins and all and sundry decided that we all needed to go watch a movie, as it would be oh so family building. I was informed that the name of the movie is “I hate love stories”. Of course, I, not knowing my adversary (read Bollywood) well, decided that it would be a bad romantic comedy with Sandra Bullock and Keavu Reeves. I was correctly immediately upon seeing the poster of the movie after the tickets had been purchased in copious quantities. Where art thou Sun Tzu when you are needed!

Last night, I was forced to enjoy another Bollywood creation. The movie was of course not worthy of a moments reflection, but what scared me, yes, scared, was the fact that I was actually going through an emotional experience during the movie. Yes. Shudder. Shudder. But, in my defense, I must declare that the emotional experience was not due to the contents of the movie, it was despite that. It was due to my actually being present in a cinema watching a Bollywood flick.

That I wanted to die for most of the two and a half hours would be stating the obvious. That I did not find anything of the least bit interest in the movie would also be stating the obvious. That I did not learn anything in the movie except that maybe there is a restaurant (caught as a backdrop) called Dickens Inn in London that might be a good haunt is also stating the obvious. That I imagined a pair of chopsticks and used them as weapons to end my pain would also be stating the obvious. That I cried a little at the depth of my predicament would not be stating the obvious, rather it would be a lie, as it did not happen.

I have always been very strongly effected by my environment. And I have also always been very critical of things. Kaboom. I realized that there was something wrong with modern cinemas. I realized that the one thing missing in modern cinemas. Vomit chutes. For the likes of me, to properly show our level of love and affection for the disgusting spectacles in front of us.

Mirza Ghalib in a poem had said that since Farhad needed a weapon to kill himself on finding out about the demise of Shireen his desire could not have been complete, and I for one am ashamed to look at myself in the basking glow of Ghalib’s keen perception of humanity. It would seem that my hatred for Bollywood and the experience that I underwent is corrupt and diluted. It is neither perfect, nor complete. Shudder, shudder, shudder, and a bit more of shuddering.

Worrying about this particular state of affairs I have since last night descended into a state of illness which includes an upset digestive system, shivering, and pain all over my body. I think this small token of forgiveness to the Gods of Aesthetics will help me recover my strength and perchance a bit of dignity. Perchance to dream.

PS – The fact that I have realized that I may be the fattest, most out of shape and most ugliest man in Dubai as of this moment could be one of the reasons for the extreme acridity of this report.

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Paris is a treasure chest for the historian, and for the artist, and for the gourmand, and for the aesthete, and even for the person ready to accept that they will appreciate beauty if they see it. The boulevards, the stony streets, the street lamps, the facades and windows of buildings, and the gardening across the city are a testimony to the immense beauty that has been created. Yes, has been created. It is not by accident, it is not a random result of things, it is the result of people creating something based on different reasons ranging from commercial gain, to political prestige, to artistic entrenchment, to many other sum totals of personal reasons. I have not travelled that far or wide, but it is by the far the most beautiful place that I have been to and it is a product of human effort and discipline.

While crossing the Pont des Arts with my wife during my honeymoon, when I reached the middle of the Seine I was overcome by a feeling of awe. Unbelievably strong. In front of me was the Institute de France, I was always in awe of the concept and the meaning of this collection of great minds; behind me was the Louvre, in addition to the absolutely breathtaking architecture it is now a repository of products of human genius from across time and space; and upriver I could see the Notre Dame, a building that represents the influence of religion on society and my first recognizable Parisian facade. To even grasp the magnitude of being in such a place was not possible. Later on I came upon the Wikipedia entry for the Pont des Arts, I came across an incredibly beautiful thing, Kenneth Clark wrote the following in his book Civilisation from 1969,    “I am standing on the Pont des Arts in Paris. On the one side of the Seine is the harmonious, reasonable facade of the Institute of France, built as a college in about 1670. On the other bank is the Louvre, built continuously from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century: classical architecture at its most splendid and assured. Just visible upstream is the Cathedral of Notre Dame –not perhaps the most lovable of cathedrals, but the most rigorously intellectual façade in the whole of Gothic art. […]    What is civilisation? I do not know. I can’t define it in abstract terms –yet. But I think I can recognise it when I see it: and I am looking at it now.”

All I wanted to do was to sit on the wooden bridge and soak in the aura of the worship of knowledge and education and learning at that spot. It was an incredibly humbling experience. And this was only because I had been at a focal point of what can only be called civilization.

So the question comes to mind about the effect on civilization and culture on a society? Going through a period of critical assessment of my relation with Pakistan I realized that I can divorce each and each bond except the one that I have with the high culture of Pakistan. I could not divorce  Faiz and Faraz and Farida Khanum and Mehdi Hassan and Manto and Qasmi, I could not. So, even after we loose hope and trust and end our bonds and ties, all that is left is our bond to civilization, both our local version and the general human civilization. So, where did we go wrong? Where did we get derailed from our own jump towards the stars? When did we eventually start going in the wrong direction?

I was once harassed at an international political chat room on why Pakistanis do not take to the streets on issues such as democracy, corruption, terrorism, or other issues of social importance. At that time I had said that we just did not, it was not how be behaved. Thinking about it again, I realized that I was wrong. In reality it just did not matter enough for people to take to the streets. Because that is where we have gone wrong. Nothing is worthwhile for us. Nothing is important to us. Nothing is sacred to us. To us, the social or communal good and welfare and commonwealth are not important. It is only the self and the family group. In terms of sociologists, we have a hunter-gatherer tribal mentality, whilst we live in the post industrial age.

As Ahmed Ijaz said to me recently, it is all about symbols. The French symbols are Liberte, Egalite, and Fraternite. Not just officially but all French men and women believe in and ascribe to these symbols of the state. The French are fiercely democratic and secular and along with the extremely important ingredient of a nation, the spirit of revolution, the have the most important one as well, the spirit of evolution. The Jazba e Tameer that Tahira Syed used to sing about. Add to this a penchant for struggling for perfection where people will iteratively increase their knowledge about obscure fields of education ad infinitum and you have a nation that is headed in the right direction based on both the right notions in their heads and the right passions in their hearts.

As opposed to this, our national motto is, Yaqeen e Muhkam, Ettihad, Tanzeem (Faith, Unity, Discipline). A great motto and a great direction for the nation indeed. Bhutto commission a monument of three swords at a major intersection. The choice of swords is itself questionable, but more on that later on. Each sword had Unity, Faith and Discipline respectively written on it. Each sword now has a multitude of Islamic messages and words and prayers written on it in Arabic. Since for years no one has deemed it fit to remove these, it can be safe to assume that as a nation we have accepted the new material as our national motto. Or even if we have not, we have pretty much ceased to accept the earlier motto.

So what is our motto? Ask any Pakistani, even with PhDs and liberal credentials, their opinion on the fact that our Constitution does not allow a non Muslim to be President. They will vociferously agree with this and say that this should not be the case. I am sorry, but to any neutral and sane person, this is bigotry and inequality and a completely lack of fairness in the way this state is operated. So, equality or fairness or unity or brotherhood are not our ideals because even most of the people reading this will not agree with my assertion that a non Muslim should theoretically be allowed to become president.

So what is our motto? Ask any Pakistani, what will you do when you are stopped by a policeman for breaking a traffic light. They will unanimously say that they will pay the man off. This is the way things are done in this part of the world and there is nothing wrong with that. I am sorry, but to any neutral and sane person, this is bribery, lack of civic sense and a complete disrespect for the rule of law. So, lawfulness or discipline or honesty or integrity are not our ideals because even most of the people reading this will not agree with my assertion that I should get a ticket and not resort to bribery.

So what is our motto? Ask any Pakistani, what their opinion is about the time they lived abroad and about Europeans and Americans in particular. They will unanimously say that Pakistan is a much better place to belong to and that Europeans and Americans are bigoted towards Muslims and Pakistanis. This is the opinion despite the fact that Pakistanis are elected to political offices there, are given cabinet positions and enjoy a much higher level of respect than the same communities get in Pakistan. I am sorry, but to any neutral and sane person, this is disrespectful, disloyal, bigoted and hypocritical. So, loyalty, respect, and honour are not our ideals because even most of the people reading this will have a negative opinion of the west despite the way they have accepted millions of Pakistanis into their fold.

So what is our motto? Ask any Pakistani, what would they do if they were stopped by police asking to search their car and they had a friend who was the son of a senior police officer in the car. They will say that as a matter of fact the son of the policeman will use his authority in this situation to stop the car from being checked. This is how things are done in Pakistan. I am sorry, but to any neutral and sane person, who knows about the security situation in Pakistan, this is gross abuse of power conducted in a public place. The same is true of the dealings of all government officials and politicians who will abuse the power granted to them in broad daylight and no one else will consider it wrong because it is the way our society operates. So, trust or integrity or fairness or heroism are not our ideals because even most of the people reading this will abuse any form of power given to them.

So what is our motto? Ask any Pakistani, what would they do if their brother, who is an amazing painter, asks which field to stuffy further. They will say that he should become an engineer or a doctor or do an MBA, but not continue with art; it should be a hobby not a profession. How will be support himself in real life? I am sorry, but to any neutral and sane person, this is the murder of excellence and ambition. So, excellence, perfection, non monetary forms of personal development are not our ideals because even most the of the people reading this will only accept monetary gain as personal development to the detriment of ability, aptitude and education.

We are a tribal society. We are not secular in our ideals and the religion / beliefs of the majority are forced upon the rest because that is our best approximation of a perfect society. We are not honest in our dealings because we feel that the personal is much more superior to that of the group. We are not tolerant of differences both within and without because our lack of education and acceptance of excellence. We are very prone to abuse of power because of our historical association with adventurers and thieves who we idolize because they used raw power for personal gains. We are completely devoid of any interest in education and excellence and give importance to personal development solely as a means of financial gain.

So what is our motto? What are our ideals? What are our symbols? When asked to write five words, how will we describe our civilization? Can we, at the very least start to accept the concepts of tolerance, pluralism, equality, justice, fairplay, the rule of law, education, and excellence. Should we? Are these such good concepts? Should there be others?

Being Pakistanis we take great pride in our competition with India. And the Indians do the same. But we must compare ourselves with India in all honesty now. They have their share of problems which are similar to those of Pakistan: communal conflict, corruption, inefficiency, abuse of power, poverty and illiteracy. But what are their ideals? What direction did they strive towards. We, being tribals, could focus only on machismo, and power, and fighting, and winning in wars, bought tanks, they made schools. I am only talking about comparatives between the two here. Qudratullah Shahab in his Shahbnama writes that during one very viciously fought out allocation of cabinet seats the seat of the Education Ministry was forgotten till someone realized this during the oath taking ceremony. India has a direction towards secularism, there is communal conflict but somewhere down the line, maybe a century from now, they will achieve their goal, our goal is a state where non muslims can not become President, they might as well run away now and save themselves from what we might do to them next. India has a direction towards democracy, we, as we are all aware, are contemplating another military dictatorship because either we as a nation or our politicians are absolutely incapable of sailing a democratic ship.

Again, what is our direction. Our current direction is towards religious intervention in politics and laws which will continue to divide society into majority and minority, communal divisions based on beliefs and geography because the state will not acknowledge ground realities, mass illiteracy and jahalat because no importance is given to education and training.

And what should it be?

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