- Wailings of a tormented soul
Raza Rabbani is a known name to those who matter in this country. He has achieved what most people can only dream about. He is a successful politician as he has served as a federal minister as well as Chairman of the Senate. He has also made a mark as a scholar of constitutional law having authored two books on this subject. In addition, he is a decorated citizen having won several prestigious awards for rendering valuable services for the cause of human rights. While his own life is a success story, the collection of short stories that he has written in his maiden work of fiction entitled “Invisible people” takes into account the lives of people who have failed in their lives for no fault of their own but because of the oppressive and exploitative system prevalent here.
There are two symbolic photographs in the book: one at the beginning showing a poor old man sleeping on gravel with a sack as his pillow and a stick in his hand. The sack contains his worldly wealth, the stick is his only source of protection and the earth strewn with sand and stones is his home. The photo at the end is of a poor ragged young woman entangled in a barbed wire sitting by the pavement of a road and staring into nothingness.
Barbed wire is a sign of pain and suppression and quite a few short stories highlight these aspects of women’s lives. Although all the characters of these stories are unreal; they speak the language of reality. A young girl, who wants to build her life, finds it at a standstill and in frustration states: “My life is stalled because I am not allowed to go to school, I can’t play with the children of the upper class, I am not permitted to work because there is nobody to sponsor me. I am even told that to ask about these things is blasphemy.” Sometimes, girls are offered in ‘paitlikehi’ marriages. What is stunning is that the ‘paitlikehi’ girls are those, who are promised in marriage before they are actually born. Moreover, there is a male character, who proudly admits that he has slit the throat of his sister in the name of honour because he knows “I will not be convicted because of Qisas. My father will pardon me, this was an act of honour killing.” Furthermore, there is a father who barters his pretty young daughter for a piece of real estate without realising that “her suitor was elderly, ugly and nearly toothless.” In addition, there are women who work as maids for 12 to 14 hours to secure one meal a day for their families and thank God when they return to the safety of their homes without any untoward incident because the culture at their workplace permits both physical and sexual abuse. Even the offices in urban areas are not without sexual harassment as women encounter one ‘predator’ after the other, “each incident more chilling than the last.” The unfortunate ones have no means of protection and are forced into prostitution, which makes one of the characters to ask herself: “Despite my longing for education and my effort to lead an honest life, I have been thrown to the wolves. Am I doomed to sell my body? Is it the only thing of value that I possess? Can I not look towards a future of dignity and self-respect?” In another story, prostitution is explained as “a strange world, where the prey is compelled to come before the hunter. It neither flees nor puts up a fight, yet the hunter persists. When he puts his teeth to the meat, it is dead meat, but his lust drives him on.”
Although the author himself belongs to the privileged class; he is frustrated and tormented by the inequalities and injustices that envelop the daily life of what he calls the “real Pakistan”
Next, there is a set of stories that expose the poverty of law and justice in our society. A beggar girl is bundled into a police van and the outcome is an unwanted pregnancy. A fruit vendor, who is the sole breadwinner of a family, is shoved in the lock up because he refuses to give free fruit to the policemen and nothing comes out of the wailings of his helpless mother because the law is captive of the powerful. For her, the only court of justice is the court of God.
In “A dead man walks,” the main character is a poor private security guard who supports a family of eight. When his master’s pampered hot tempered teenage son shoots another teenager at a rowdy party of the rich youth, his master saves his son by naming the guard as the culprit. When the police take him away, the guard wonders how the helpless become the victim of the state and the elite. The depiction of jail is equally harrowing. There is a marked difference in the treatment of the poor and the powerful prisoners by the jail staff. While the poor prisoners have to eat ‘Diesel’—a mixture of boiled water with some spices and a few grains of lentil; the influential can get anything they want. What the rich and powerful prisoners do inside the jail is revealed by the character of a smuggler named Dawood Sab: “He runs his business in the outside world through mobile phones and meetings in the Superintendent’s office. In the prison, his people supply drugs and drinks. The jailers are in his pay but he also does his good deeds each day by paying the fines of prisoners and looking after some of their families.” Through ironic situations, the nauseating hypocrisy of the society is exposed. Just because a prisoner is poor, he is not admitted to the jail hospital even when he is seriously ill while a ticker running on the TV in the doctor’s room informs that “a person accused of activities against the Constitution has been allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment.” The author sums up the moral bankruptcy of the society by quoting Khalil Gibran, who said:
“… Pity the nation that punishes its weak and poor
But is shy of bringing its high and mighty to book.
Pity the nation that clamours for equality before law
But has selective justice close to its heart…”
The author widens the canvas with more stories about social inequality and injustice. Street children are forced into labour, prostitution and criminal activities. Public hospitals shut doors on poor patients. Those who manage to force their way inside, die daily because of inadequate care in these “factories of death.” The plight of public schools in comparison with private ones is equally pathetic. Workers are beaten at the behest of factory owners. Political workers are incarcerated on such flimsy charges as giving shelter to someone who has stolen a chicken of the village zamindar. While a poor farmer is jailed for failing to pay his instalment of a small loan to the bank due to crop failure owing to poor rains; hundreds of plunderers of the ‘privileged class’ go scot-free despite not paying millions of their loans. These inequalities point towards the growing class conflict which is reflected in the monologue of a character: “Am I not a citizen of this state, do the constitutional rights of ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his work’ not apply to me?” Such thinking gives rise among the wretched of these stories the idea of ‘inqilab’ (revolution) without realising what it might entail except that there is some hope of change for the better.
Although the author himself belongs to the privileged class; he is frustrated and tormented by the inequalities and injustices that envelop the daily life of what he calls the “real Pakistan.” Hardly anybody of his class would bother to think about the insulted and humiliated of our society, therefore, to him, this work tantamount to an act of rebellion against his own class, reminding one of Habib Jalib’s couplets:
Aur sub bhool gaye harf-e-sadaqat likhna,
Reh gaya kam hamara he baghawat likhna
(And then all of them forgot to pen the words of truth,
I am the only one writing about rebellion)