What the moon saw | Pakistan Today

What the moon saw

  • A look beyond the pandemic

“Tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Malcolm X

“Unless we see the new moon through these, our lowly eyes, neither the joys of Eid nor the mourning of Muharram can proceed.” Mullah in What the Moon Saw.

In 1967 Ghulam Abbas wrote a short story called Dhanak, one of the most remarkably prescient stories ever written. It is translated and included in a selection of Modern Urdu short stories by Amina Azfar. In the English version this story is called What the Moon Saw. In this tale Abbas talks about mullahs becoming increasingly bold in Pakistan, until they view any action by the government as interference in religion. The legitimate government finally becomes unable to move, even to do what was right, and eventually the mullahs take the reins of government into their own hands. Section 144 is imposed, and there is a crisis in the country. Many professions come to an end, and thousands lose their livelihood.

What was shown as likely to happen is eerily similar to what is now happening, a government too afraid to do what it thinks is right, if it has thought at all.

The situation is not good, and the government is facing an uphill task. Its fears are legitimate. But just as doctors and nurses all over the world have rolled up their sleeves and carried on working even without proper safeguards, the authorities need to stand up to the hurdles it faces and do what is right, which is what they were elected to do.

You wonder what, at the end of this worldwide tragedy called COVID-19, the moon will see when it looks down upon this shattered earth. Will it see some people with blood on their hands, among them those who insisted on gatherings and congregations even when quarantine was the need of the hour?

Will the moon see people picking themselves up as if after a battle, dazed, surrounded by shells of homes and stubs of tree?. Will it see raiding gangs and ravenous mobs devouring whatever comes their way, something like the Chinese people whom we see fit to blame for this event? Perhaps the Chinese too learnt to eat anything and everything after exactly such a calamity, and it is said that that is very possibly the reason.

As for the people, they are now and will be even more so later too caught up in a frenetic cycle of making ends meet and trying to survive, much too caught up to look for ways and means out of the situation.

Will the moon see a massive and inevitable rise in violence and robberies, the only recourse for a desperate people for whom help was announced with much fanfare but when it came to the point it was too complicated to work?

Even if people were to search for a way out, how would they know what there is out there? Would they be able to think of anything other than a roof to sleep under, bread, water and – these days mobile phones? Lacking education and even literacy, they do not possess the advantage provided by books, those extendable poles which look beyond immediate surroundings. The vision books provide might give them something to work towards. Is this why little effort has been made to bring the two together?

If people come together with books they might read in the same anthology Manto’s Jhooti Kahani, all about an ‘association of rogues and criminals,’ fighting for their rights, a satire on the workings of public office.

And these are only a handful of our own stories. Others can be found on the faces of those who have lost their livelihoods, and now have nothing to eat.

Future generations need us in the present to pave the way for them to understand the challenges they face. We do not need another generation of ‘institutional decay, social anarchy, intellectual degeneration and urban decline.’

When all this is over people need food, yes, and jobs, yes, and the means to survive. But most of all they need to be able to think for themselves. They must no longer be led by the nose to drink at troughs in which the water has been laced with brain-numbing drugs.

The situation is not good, and the government is facing an uphill task. Its fears are legitimate. But just as doctors and nurses all over the world have rolled up their sleeves and carried on working even without proper safeguards, the authorities need to stand up to the hurdles it faces and do what is right, which is what they were elected to do.

Rabia Ahmed

The writer is a freelance columnist. Read more by her at http://rabia-ahmed.blogspot.com/



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