Monday, September 6, 2010

Cricket, A Metaphor For Pak

Cricket, A Metaphor For Pak
Saeed Naqvi

It is not a matter of four, eleven or all Pakistani cricketers failing the morality test. It reflects on a nation where the inner fibre is ruptured, a rudderless people, a system in putrid decay, an inner collapse being monitored closely from above, as if from a geostationary flying station, call it the Rawalpindi GHQ.

In geological time, when man reflects on the region so fertile in cricketing genius and so much else, there will be a footnote on the Army: it lost East Pakistan and then, in cussed pursuit of perpetuating itself, liquidated all that remained. The rot set in real deep during Gen. Zia ul Haq days.

When the first Pakistan cricket team under skipper Abdul Hafiz Kardar visited India in the 50s, my autograph hunting years, a test match was allotted to Lucknow. The team stayed at the Royal hotel, now some kind of an office block. In those days Lucknow had three very Anglaise hotels – Carlton, Royal and Burlington.

In the middle of a large, open lounge at the Royal, was a semicircular bar, occupied by some of the Pak cricketers. A constable or two (for that was all the law and order machinery required those days) kept at bay a motley crowd of students, mostly from the nearby Islamia college, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of Hanif Mohammad a 16 year old batting sensation, and others like Fazal Mahmood and Maqsood Ahmad.

Some of the boys, one Habib among them, an off break bowler at Lucknow’s famous Morning Star Club, found their way to the bar through a cavernous route from the pantry. Habib buttonhold Maqsood even as Maxi (as he was called) tried to balance his beer mug, froth spilling over.

“Aap ko sharm nahin aati, Musalman hote hue sharab peetey hain?” (You should be ashamed of yourself – drinking even though you are Muslim.)

This was not fundamentalism versus enlightenment. It was more of a class thing. Here was a cricketer from North India’s most cosmopolitan hub, Lahore, facing a provincial hick from Lucknow, in decay since 1857. They were both Muslims representing distinct social evolutions, conditioned by acceptance or aversion to Western education. Government college Lahore accepted it; Islamia college Lucknow didn’t.

These distinctions have remained in Pakistani society to this day. Maqsood was always in a minority in Pakistan as in most Muslim societies. But it was this minority which determined the social tempo in Lahore, Islamabad even Karachi despite Karachi’s socially variegated spread.

Maqsood (poor fellow had to admit to Habib) was not averse to Namaz or Ramadan. In this he was rather better than Ghalib who, when asked by the Magistrate to state his religion, replied: “I am half a Muslim; I drink but don’t eat pork”.

Waris Ali Shah, the Pir of Dewa Sharif, the splendid Sufi shrine outside Lucknow, had a remarkable reason for not saying his Namaz. “There is no space to go down in supplication” he said, “He is in me”.

There was space in Pakistan for open discourse upto the Zia period. It is from Zia’s Pakistan that poets like Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Ahmad Faraz began to leave for other countries. From London, Farigh Bukhari wailed:
“ Ab to yun lagta hai Farigh, ki ayaz an billah,
Jaise Islam Yazidon ke liye aaya ho!”
(God, forgive me: these days it seems that Islam was only for tyrants and murderers like Yazid)

The faith Farigh laments was foisted on Pakistan by Zia partly to atone for Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s murder, but much more to consolidate the Idea of Pakistan, as he saw it, a confirmation of the two-nation theory, that Pakistan was created because the sub continent’s Muslims could not live with them, the “Kafirs”. “We are because we cannot live with them.”

The theory was punctured, if not exactly buried, within 24 years of the nation’s founding.

The Punjab dominated army came down so hard on the East Bengalis for having won the election of 1970, that India’s intervention was sought to help create Bangladesh in 1971.

Now, relative to the terrain it had to look after, the Army became disproportionately larger. An army so huge for what purpose? To sustain the two-nation theory, ofcourse, now with greater vigour, to justify itself.

Bangladesh was just one blow to the two-nation theory. The bigger one was the survival of the world’s second largest Muslim population in India.

The great cultural commerce on the sub continent which has embellished both Islamic and Hindu cultures with shared motifs had, in Zia’s framework, to be terminated by a policy of a “perpetual” war with India. Pakistan has to dress itself in a West Asian, Saudi, double distilled Islam. Towards this end Maqsood, Ghalib, Waris Ali Shah, Faiz, Faraz, Farigh Bukhari, all had to be repudiated.

So now we have, in Ahmad Rashid’s words, “the mother of all insurgencies in seven tribal agencies”. Gunmen slaughtered 100 Ahamdias. Hundreds of Shia are killed in mosques routinely. Some days ago devotees of the Wahabi school blew themselves to kill dozens, wound 100s in a Shia religious procession. Ethnic political and sectarian violence takes the toll of a 100 in Karachi, the entry port for supplies to US troops in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Mister ten percent, Asif Zardari will not budge. Politicians and their minions are making money like there will be no tomorrow. Sensible Pakistanis, who I believe are still in a majority, watch the country sink and queue up outside western embassies for visas, never to return. In cricket, a home series is played in England.

A sense of doom prevails and tragically, one of the great finds of swing bowling, Mohammad Aamer, sings his swan song at 18.

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