It was twenty-seven years ago, when Pakistan's longest serving Head of State, a dictator, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq died. Not that I wish for any nation to have its 9/11, in terms of being able to precisely recall what one was doing at the time a news broke, August 17, 1988 was one of those days in my life. I was a fourth year medical student. In the sweltering monsoons of Lahore, I was apprehending the drive in rain to attend surgery evening rounds when we heard the news of Zia's plane crash. As I wanted to celebrate the death of a dictator, I remember the clichéd but compelling words my father used to hush the aspiring twenty three year old in me:

“Dushman maray tay khushi na kariyay, sjnaan vi mar jana”

[Rejoice not the demise of a foe, for the friend shall die too]

Needless to say, my father though a retired military officer himself, was a vocal opponent of dictatorship in any shape or form. All I remember seeing that day of him was a quiet man.

Few days ago, General Hameed Gul passed away. I am not writing an obituary of the general or about his legacy. Much has been written in this regard. Moreover, I am not a political analyst. But I do have a fairly reasonable understanding that he was an ex ISI chief, who shaped – like no one else could have done – the civil-military relationship in Pakistani politics. He is known for his loquacious single-mindedness with which he effectively advanced his agenda of supporting the jihadis. He was an excellent strategist, who believed in military’s role in politics, even if it meant destabilizing and toppling an elected, democratic government.  Unfortunately, the state of mind prevails and his legacy lives among his successors. And if I dare quote Martin Luther King Jr. for the three star General and spymaster: 

"Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal."

So on August 15 when Gen Gul's daughter announced that her father had a brain hemorrhage and died, I wanted to react. But how, was the question. I decided to stay silent. I did not want to forget that there was a man who died a natural death. I wanted to remember that no matter how rotten or how revered a life someone has led, they will tell you on their deathbed that they want to live one more day, breathe one more breath. So, I wanted to know and feel that day that I was alive.  

They say death is a great unifier.  It is a reminder that we die as a person, around people whom we once loved and who will now suffer the loss of our death. Losing a life is a tragic thing. So even if you cannot bring yourself to mourn, cheering a death is disrespectful. To me, if we can justify rejoicing over death of people, we go down the path to rationalize killing others with different convictions than ours.  If you feel like celebrating, wait for the day till you can celebrate death of an idea, because the idea was immoral; eulogize the demise of a system, because the system was corrupt or rejoice at the fall of a government, because the government was debauched. But lauding the death of a person is great injustice to the sanctity of life. Life is a special phenomenon. It has a sense of finite and infinite at the same time. We all, as individuals, live with a plan of doing something with our lives. So even if we go the wrong path, when we die, that is the extent of what we are going to do with our lives.  Death is never a day of dawning and realization for most of us, but a day that comes with a somber venerability. We set aside all our differences that day and respectfully return the departed to the Almighty.

So, the next time when someone you despise dies, even if you cannot restrain your vitriolic emotions for one day, consider postponing your anger. If anger is the only sentiment you have at that time, go in a dark room, drink an ice cold glass of water or the drink of your choice and sit back and say Om Shanti Om, or a prayer of your faith.  In this era of social media, let me add that please refrain from grabbing the keyboard to think out loud. Just bear in mind if you oppose a person's vile ideology, he left it behind. You will have a lifetime to battle it. If it was him personally whom you detested, then nature was on your side that day, so why squander your emotion. 

In the late general’s case, I am reminded of John Fowles fiction masterpiece, The Magus: 

"The human race is unimportant. It is the self that must not be betrayed."

"I suppose one could say that Hitler didn't betray his self."

"You are right. He did not. But millions of Germans did betray their selves. That was the tragedy. Not that one man had the courage to be evil. But that millions had not the courage to be good." 

That courage was needed yesterday, and will be required tomorrow.  Today needs you.