“Life has vivid connotations of evolution and those nations which comprehend this process of progression indeed have a futuristic vision while those negating the divine law of motion are essentially immobile,” wrote noted journalist and scholar Prof. Waris Mir in one of his columns in 1987, while advocating intellectual advancement. “Let that be very clear that progressive thought, enlightenment and intellectualism are very closely linked. Only an enlightened mind can churn out progressive thoughts and ignite the flame of intellect,” he had explained.

Prof. Waris Mir belonged to that era of Pakistan’s history when speaking one’s mind was a punishable offense. This age was of the appalling martial law regime of General Ziaul Haq who used to treat progressive minds, scholastic writers and philosophic thinkers as blasphemers. Speaking out, that too at the behest of the people of Pakistan, with a mission in mind – ‘to write for the posterity, to speak as the people’s voice’ – was a task not many could take up in those oppressive days. Reverberating in those days as much as now is the voice of Waris Mir who had debated through writings the dire need we face as a nation for progressive thinking, the obligation we have to move forward and not just let elements of the rearward rot the country right from the core. Too late, cynics might scoff but to optimists like Waris Mir himself, it’s still better than never.

“The Muslim history is replete with examples of such environs from which great thinkers emerged, who challenged the totalitarian rulers of those times with their intellect. Even in those days, people who thought progressively bore the brunt of authoritarianism not just on their ponderings but also on the commitment to their cause,” Waris Mir wrote, recollecting those past heroes of brain power with hopes to find intellectual compatibility with them since his peers had failed him. Didactic as it may sound, Waris Mir wrote with a purpose in mind – awareness. “We have seen our crescendo as a nation when scientifically, philosophically, academically and potentially, the Muslims had rid themselves of political orthodoxy and their thought pattern ran wild on the lines of creativity instead of conservatism. A nation, like ours whose only concerns are limited to economy and poor polity, experiences a strain on its intellectual graph as well. Such people can never look ahead, they rather regress into the past,” writes the maestro.

When Mir spoke of progressive thinking and of amalgamating Koranic Laws with the present day demands of human life – of letting people choose their own political leaders, of democracy, of preventing Pakistan from becoming a backward theocratic country, considering women as individuals and not as no-man, he was actually encouraging people to have the right for freethinking. In his own words, “Those laws and regulations which restrict life from spreading out its wings, negate the thought process and do not quench the human thirst to propagate, move and progress, can never be called Divine.”

Waris Mir wrote endlessly exposing those people who used religion to benefit their own needs… the clerics who used religion for social status and General Zia who abused his faith to stay in power. “It’s not just Islam,” he wrote, “when we take a look at the West, even there the intellectual elite had once been enchained by the Church during the age of monarchy but in any part of the world it is impossible to stifle such a voice that is raised for the sake of the common people.” A writer’s pen belongs to the people, he used to say. He wasn’t writing for a certain generation, “I believe in putting together history for the posterity.”

Conjuring up words is a Divine art – God did it. However, celestial enough is the art of describing the Gospel text, relating it out to the reality that exists as the social fabric, unfolding the truth of human life. With the society up to the brim with pseudo intellectualism, a very miniscule number of voices, hardly a handful, keep echoing back from scholastic archives calendared decades ago. Waris Mir, a writer-journalist-academician, had one of those voices – he called such ‘dissident’ for they were few and distanced from each other.

“We need to gather the thinking minds of our country on one platform, congregate their voices for an effective impact for dispersed, the intellectuals have their words blown away in to the wind,” voices one of his columns. Now, more than twenty years after his sudden demise, the one thing about which one can’t agree with Waris Mir is that his words were blown away – they reside, they preside and they are pertinent. Of all other things, what uplifted his image as a writer was his intellectual proximity to philosophy – answering questions from a holistic sphere of information. He didn’t make up theories and write of paradigms that occurred to him suddenly - every single write up was thoroughly researched and carried references. His mind could run to and from, beyond and across, but all mental juices would be concentrated on one focal point – Pakistan.

“We believed once Pakistan would come into being, the Muslims of this country could get such an environment where they could rid themselves of orthodoxy and backwardness for good and look ahead towards a future laden with intellectual communication, enlightened discussions and freethinking,” Waris Mir writes dejectedly. “Tragically, as soon as this country came into being, the political and administrative setup fell into chaos due to internal fissures in the system and thus as a result, fundamentalist forces paved their way up to the throne of the state.”

Strikingly, the most grasping facet of Mir’s writings is that they have an ‘audible’ quality. One doesn’t read the text; one seems to be hearing it. He questions, lays down the case, explains with numerous examples, reaches out to every member of the society and argues like a seasoned advocate whose advocacy can never be rendered obsolete. The reader absorbs, agrees and registers like a student on the bench. Sadly to say, Pakistan needs Mir’s progressive thought now as much as it did during the Zia regime. It is pertinent to mention here though, that matchless is the courage he showed in those days when a rogue dictator was holding the reigns of power – “A nation that is alive and kicking shows its strength via its writers who would despite enormous pressure and suppressing restraints let out an expression against such monstrosity.” He wasn’t just writing to satisfy himself by doing his ‘part’, he believed the future of the people depended upon the flow of his pen.

Prof Waris Mir was a strong proponent of freedom of thought and expression. Of course, a scholar who would think of tomorrow and how the future of an entire nation should be planned, would need breathing space to express his ideas. That breathing space was not something a conservative military dictator could allow. Yet, Waris Mir was not one of those people who would ask permission to think, express and write. He wrote his heart out. His words would become even more pinching, even more stinging when the dictator of the time would try to freak him out or put a price on his commitment. “Freedom of press means being able to have your say and freedom of thought means having the liberty of thinking originally and individually,” he wrote in one of his columns while negating the frustratingly remote regulations of Ziaul Haq’s autocratic rule and encouraging his readers to think on their own instead of relying on the pseudo clerics.

Prof Waris Mir was discouraged by the Zia regime in many heinous ways from speaking his mind. But he kept encouraging the masses to think progressively. His only source of expression was the print media – “When a country’s media would honestly and truthfully give its people the access to real information (and not disinformation) the society would itself reflect values of honesty and truthfulness. If the media is given freedom of expression then the political system of a country would always be held accountable and thus just like volcanic lava, the impurities of the political system could be excreted out bit by bit. That sounds easier and manageable when compared to a huge explosion that could destroy the people, the system and the country.”

A day before his death, Waris Mir had dictated his last column to one of his sons. That column, titled, (Is Progressive Thinking water logging and fungus?) was written as a rebuttal to General Zia’s speech in which the dictator had labeled progressive thinkers as water logging and fungus. This last piece of writing can easily be named as the culmination of the great writer’s skill of penning most complex ideas into the simplest words. It is also the epitome of his expression of progressive thought. Excerpts read as: “When Zia talks about the enemies of Pakistan, he actually refers to those intellectuals who plead progression and whose desire is to see Pakistan emerge on the globe as a country that houses enlightened citizens. These thinkers want their people to grow intellectually and potentially so that they can themselves fight off poverty, illiteracy and orthodoxy. They want to see such political and economic systems in Pakistan which are not dependant on cosmetic reliance and these systems allow the citizens to boost their creative abilities and shape up their cultural norms in an appropriate way so that majority of the nation as well as the minorities can live a respectable life. Let that be clear, that only such progressive thinkers are the real friends of Pakistan. While on the other hand, the administrators of the present system of governance (dictatorship) are not concerned about Pakistan as much as they are about securing their own power. They can digest or ignore any anti-Pakistan rhetoric but lose their minds once they listen to anything criticizing their self-formulated systems.”

While many hearts would have been warmed and many brains churned up by all those ideas Professor Waris Mir had expressed in his numerous writings, the didactical writer himself had to pay a price for freethinking and free expression. But it was a price too dire, too tragic and too painful. Waris Mir saddened many around him on July 9, 1987 as he breathed his last at the young age of 48 due to cardiac arrest. Yet, he continues to live through his words.

Prof Waris Mir’s death anniversary falls on July 9.