Fathers and sons

I don’t think literary criticism should be limitless. But if you can raise slogans of ‘chor chor‘ in public, then I suppose poets, novelists, playwrights, and even us columnists must be prepared to have irate readers follow them around shouting, ‘Bad! Bad!’

But even in this brave new world to which we have been introduced, perhaps the kidnapping of poet Ahmad Farhad by men in a pick-up is taking it too far. I know it probably happened because of his support for the protesters in Kashmir, who didn’t like the electricity bills, but why am I irresistibly reminded of Shakespeare?

There’s a scene in Julius Caesar, just after the great man has been assassinated and Mark Anthony has made his famous “Friends Rpmans countrymen’ speech, when a crowd of plebians comes upon Cinna, and is about to fall upon him. He shouts that he is Cinna the poet, not Cinna the conspirator. One member of the mob shouts, “Kill him for his bad verses!” The scene ends with the mob of plebians carrying off Cinna. We don’t know if he lives or dies.

So Cinna becomes a precursor of enforced disappearances. Field Marshal Wavell, who was first Commander-in-Chief and then Viceroy during World War II, used to carry around a well-thumbed copy of Robert Browning’s poetry, but I don’t remember any incident of his taking such an active attitude towards literary criticism. There is no mention of his having supported or discouraged the Taraqqi Pasanad Musannifeen, which was the main literary movement of the time.

They were pressing for freedom, though none disappeared. I wonder what the Slovak PM, Robert Fico. was pressing for when he was shot. The man who shot him was a poet, the author of three collections. Talk about pushback. Remind me to take poets very seriously from now on. Mr Fico may have disrespected him on some forgotten occasion, I don’t know. But if you hear of a poet whipping out a Kalashnikov and mowing down those attending a poetic symposium (mushaira), understand that they haven’t been generous enough with their wah! wahs!

One set of people who weren’t going wah! wah! were the mothers of Gaza. Mother’s Day was marked last Sunday, and someone remembered the mothers of Gaza. 63 women killed daily, of whom 37 are mothers. For every mother killed, there’s at least one orphan. There have also been 35,000 Gazans killed, all of them some mother’s child, even those of them who are themselves mothers. And as Gazan mothers have reminded us time and again, there is nothing like the pain of losing a child. True, Israeli mothers felt that pain on October 7. But how many Palestinian mothers must feel that pain before Israeli mothers are assuaged?

The slaughter has been affecting Americans. An officer in the Defence Intelligence Agency resigned. That follows a sergeant in the USAF and three people in the State Department. However, there’ve been no Israeli resignations so far. It seems they’re OK with killing babies.

Though there was so much stress on Gazan mothers, over here the emphasis was on fathers and sons. Defence Minister Kh Asif brought up Field Marshal Ayub Khan in order to attack his grandson Umar Ayub Khan, now the Leader of the Opposition. Umar Aub quoted his own father in the Field Marshal’s defence. As Gohar Ayub said while Speaker of the National Assembly,”Ayub Khan is now part of history.”

But then, Gohar Ayub didn’t mention Kh Asif’s father, the redoubtable Kh Safdar, who was Leader of the Opposition in the West Pakistan Assembly throughout Ayub’s Presidency. And the exchange occurred while the House was debating its vote of thanks to President Asif Zardari for deigning to address it. And the speech the House was hearing was of his son, Bilawal.

Asif has been President before, and Bilawal an MNA, but this is the first time Bilawal has spoken about his father.

It’s one of those occasions borrowed by the British, who have the monarch’s speech from the Throne. The speech is in the House of Lords, and the Commons are summoned. When the Commons are called, the show some reluctance, in commemoration of the refusal by the Commons to hear Charles I. JUst to show there are no hard feelings, the Commons then passes a motion of thanks for the monarch’s kindness and graciousness in delivering the address. It is one of the two occasions of the parliamentary year, the other being the Budget, when members can speak on any subject under the sun. Bilawal chose agriculture rather than his father’s flashing smile, which unfortunately he has not inherited.


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