In Pakistan, the children of the twenty first century are caught in an unfortunate fold of history. Born to a generation that suffers from a distinct and noticeable dearth of role models – in terms of literature, poetry, intellect, politics, and achievement – our youth finds itself at sea, with no visible beacons guiding it to the shore, in pursuit of high purpose.

Too harsh? Let me explain…

There was a time, we are told, during the age of a generation that came before our fathers, when ours was a land of poetry and passion. It was a place of philosophers and heretics. Of demystification and dissent. Lahore, for example, boasted places such as the Pak Tea House, where young and impressionable minds could interact with, and learn from, the murmurs of Faiz and Jalib. The canvass of our domestic literature incorporated the footprints of giants, such as Saadat Hasan Manto and Quratulain Hyder. The colorful stroke of our brush extended to the fullest reach of Sadequain’s imagination, and to the intricate mysticism of Ismail Gulgee’s calligraphy.

Pakistan was a much simpler place back then. It had softer people, and stronger character. In a time when the mullahs had not yet split our religion on the axis of different colored paghris. When Islam was the last bastion of peace and stillness, for all those who yearned to be free from the veils of this world. When kashf, as opposed to shahadat, was the desire of the believers. When Quran, as opposed to Kalashnikov, was the instrument of tableegh. When Shias and Sunnis shared a common bond, as opposed to mutual suspicion. When Data Darbar and Shahbaz Qalandar were places of worship and festivity, where the musk of lavendar, as opposed to the beep of a metal detector, greeted each visitor.

Despite the nascent stages of institution building, and the inevitable faux pas that every nation must suffer, and then surmount, Pakistan was still a place where Mumtaz Qadris were not hailed as heroes. It was a country where Hafiz Saeed was not a messiah. Where unrequited love of young men had not found its way to barrels of acid, and young women, barely free, had not yet been disfigured forever.

While that Pakistan had its share of troubles with savior Generals, each lash delivered by their unforgiving brand of justice extracted a verse of dissent from Jalib. Each night, in solitary confinement, spent in the embrace of darkness, found expression, in the stars, from Faiz.

Bolo keh shor-e-Hashr ki ejaad

kuch to ho

Bolo keh roz-e-Adl ki bunyaad

kuch to ho

Speak! So the noise of Armageddon can find some inception

Speak! So the Day of Justice can

find some basis

And this story, this timeless tussle between truth and power, and its share of Davids and Goliaths, scripted inspirational tales for all those who suffered the pain and pleasure of witnessing it.

The demise of this generation, however, also marked the death of inspiration in our land. These heroes, and their tales of folklore, were interred with them, into the muddy earth. And a new people, who had grown up in the shadow of these giants but did not learn much from their deeds, came to occupy centre stage in our national drama. And almost overnight, the feisty rhetoric of the past, the insuppressible spirit of history, and the indomitable creed of our people, was surrendered at the altar of mediocrity.

Suddenly, dissent became a figment of the imagination. The old Pak Tea House was sealed, and the intellectual progeny of Faiz Sb. was no more. Instead, silence became the language of success. To not speak, to not protest, to not stand for anything, to not believe in miracles, became the seal of triumph.

Mediocrity became the currency of power. A bureaucrat who did not speak up against illegal orders, was promoted before his peers. A judge, who was willing to condone constitutional aberrations, and stifle fundamental rights, found his place on the seat of supreme justice. A politician who swore allegiance to his leader, instead of the crescent and star, was rewarded with coveted posts. In a triumph of the middling, and rebuke to the exemplary, deference became virtue. Surrender became bravery.

This generation, had its share of charlatans and demagogues. Each time, the battle of a Naya Pakistan was hailed, we discovered that it was accompanied by the same old (compromised) personalities and ideologies. Each time that we were told that ‘Rayasat ho gi Maa’a ke jaisi’, it was followed by defending the escapades of prodigal son. Each time that dissent found its way to our media waves, it was followed by contempt orders. Elevation to thrones of justice, were done, behind closed doors, on the basis of personal preferences. Positions at the head of national agencies and regulatory bodies, were done as a financial transaction. Books were banned, and education was censored. A religious and cultural apartheid was sanctified under the legitimacy of law. Blasphemy was used as an instrument of terror. Women, were shackled to jirgas of honor. And children, with feeder in hand, were dragged through citadels of justice.

In all this, and more, for a young Pakistani growing up in the throws of turmoil today, it is impossible to find expressions of inspiration.

But as impossible as it might seem, it is important to remember that we are the children of Quaid. That we share the legacy of our forefathers. That we dip our pens in the same ink, as did Iqbal. That the canvass of our life includes all the colors of Sadequain. That ours is the pain of Faiz, and the belligerence of Jalib. That ours is the dance of Bulleh Shah and the flight of Shahbaz Qalandar.

If only, we would muster the courage to spread our wings…

Duniya mein, Qateel, uss sa

munafiq nahi koi

Jo zulm to sehta hai, baghawat

nahi karta

The world has no greater

hypocrite than him

who bears injustice, but

does not mount rebellion

 The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.

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