The thread of this week’s piece raised its head and continued to pester me all through the week until I surrendered myself to it. As I began punching my keyboard, it struck me that perhaps the idea of writing about ‘the Prophets of Doom’ was a psychological manifestation of the current state of despondency around us and the thing to do was to ‘lighten up’ the atmosphere.

I once had a close relative, who outclassed everyone in turning even the brightest of situations into one with ominous forebodings. Take for example the time, almost five decades ago, when right in the middle of a wedding, she walked up to my mother with concern written all over her face. “Meri gul ghor naal sun!” she began, “E lara alay dualay ortan nun dekh ke huss riya e. Meray khial ich e wiah neen chalna. Munda theek naeen” (Listen carefully. I just saw the bridegroom looking at women around him and smiling. I don’t think this union will last as he appears to be a rogue). My mother doubled up with mirth in trying to convince the old lady that the ‘women’ around the groom were sisters and cousins of the bride and the ceremony was the hilarious ‘joota chupai’. Needless to report that the couple are now close to celebrating the diamond jubilee of their wedding and none of their anniversaries is complete, without a narration of this story.

My family was blest by the presence of individuals (and their descendants), taken into my grandparents (and even my great grandparents’) households, as teenagers. These youngsters were given education in accordance with the standards of the time, a home and much respect. They reached ripe old ages and were never treated as servants. In return, they gave us unflinching loyalty, till their passing. I remember good old Ayub from the day I was old enough to remember. As a young man somewhere in the 1930s, he sought my paternal grandfather’s blessings to join the British Indian Army. Permission happily granted, he joined the Ordnance Corps and served in the Middle East during the Second World War. On demobilisation at the end of the conflict, he returned to Jhajjar (his birthplace) and then braved the hazards of the perilous trek to the newly created state of Pakistan in 1947. Days after his arrival in Lahore, he somehow traced my parents and was welcomed back into the fold. This interesting character had sterling qualities barring a single flaw – pessimism. If you asked him how he was feeling, he would sigh and say ‘I don’t know’ or if one happened to say that this was a beautiful morning, one was apt to hear that it was, but the evening was likely to be depressing. He was very fond of repeating a phrase many times during a perfectly ‘brightly happy’ day – “Mian, Chaar din ki Chandni hai phir Andheri Raat hai” (four days of moonlight are always followed by a dark night). The few times that I did him smile was when he was sipping heavily sweetened, strongly brewed cups of tea that our cook specially prepared for him.

Somewhere in the late 1950s, a routine celestial event sent a wave of panic through the Subcontinent. In Lahore, rumors spread that two stars were on a collision course and the impact would herald doomsday. The situation was aggravated, when the media (we did not have television then) joined in. I remember someone from our household staff pointing out two bright points of light in the night sky, citing them as the ones responsible for the impending catastrophe. Prayer circles began to be formed and believe it or not the local crime rate dropped. Then came the happy news that the danger had been averted and the stars had begun to distance themselves. Life returned to normal along with the crime rate. Nonetheless the Prophets of Doom had a field day, while others exploited human nature and turned the opportunity into a financial windfall.

These ‘Doomsday Prophets’ have reappeared in our times busy predicting nightmarish scenarios for Pakistan. We need to be aware that much of what is being said may have been fed and fueled by the enemy and therefore needs to be given a cool and mature ‘once over’. There is a need to be alert to danger, but with an unwavering faith that Pakistan was created to stay and prosper.