FATIMA ZUBAIR

2am: Amid the monotony of the whirring fan, I sit on my sofarevisiting some of my old literature notes. My eye catches the sight of a thing pulsating on the paper. Thoughts. Thoughts that breathe. Their content pertains perfectly to present day Pakistan. I feel a desperate need to get the word out. The poem is Hollow Men by T.S Eliot.

“Mistah Kurtz—he dead.

A penny for the Old Guy”

“We are the hollow men

We are the stuffed men

Leaning together

Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

Our dried voices, when

We whisper together

Are quiet and meaningless

As wind in dry grass

Or rats’ feet over broken glass

In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,

Paralysed force, gesture without motion…”

Last night was epiphany!

The above verses made my mind leap; in a forward and backwards motion. It made me think about all the hollowness one comes across in day to day dealings. And I realised that Pakistan is home to the most narcissistic, callous and inane people that inhabit the planet.

This degeneration of social integrity is a consistent feature of our moral fabric. In all sections of society, an inexorable culture of saving one’s own skin in a selfish pursuit of the temporary is prevalent. Words such as compassion, empathy and selflessness are alien to us.

The above poem incredibly enough, even after so many years after it was written has not lost its message. It is equally in fact more applicable to the modern world, especially this part of the world where we live.

The world is devoid of devout and the good conscious. Modern man is a waste of the actual human quintessence which hinges on love for humanity, kindness and compassion. We see murders of religious personalities, ambassadors of peace and merciless abduction of children in broad daylight- all done for monetary ends.

In the world of socialisation, humans no longer meet humans, money does.The poet, in the above verse tries to emphasize the point that all men are devoid of all essence, and this is particularly applicable to the modern man. The modern man - more than a human - has transformed into a machine; therefore, all that it does is deprived of the human element. A product of industrialization he is- a frigid by product with no self value!

The effects of industrialisation have turned human beings from an organic whole into scattered pieces of a jigsaw. Such pieces hold no significance without unity. And hence us.

All sense of human association has been lost. People operate individually and have become solitary in most of their activities. Thus, the void of human interaction has rendered men hollow from inside, despite their improved appearances, ways, and debonair dispositions.

We are being told that this hollow man can think of nothing beyond appearance, and Reality is totally denied in all spheres of life. Although, the definition of Reality in the mind of the poet may differ from that of the reader, he warns us that a denial of this Reality will lead human beings to the depths of irredeemable ruin.

In the epigraph, Kurtz is an allegorical figure that symbolises the darkness in the hearts of these men. These “stuffed” yet “hollow” people own darkness as their inherent characteristic. This shows how shallow, callous, and selfish are the lives they lead. Thus, it is the most sinister and vile aspect of their personages.

Stuffed they are with pride, vanity, false perception of themselves andhuge hollow claims coming to nothing. The more they dwell in this valley of darkness, the more acquainted they are with their innermost ambitions, reflected in the structure of the poem, in which each verse is as a more terrible circle of hell.

Nevertheless, their lot is the negation of the concept of the real human self that they have miserably failed to acquire.

The short and long lines being used by the poet show the inherent confusion and disorder in the minds of these people. They live in a state of turmoil, unable to make any prudent decisions in life or to live meaningfully. Their existence is a complete hole, and therefore, as any hollow thing will, they easily collapse in all purposeful endeavours.

“Leaning together

Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!”

These people live indecisive, passive lives, which is why they are portrayed in varying sizes of the lines. Uncertainty and lack of faith will lead them to suffer in the afterlife. These people will neither be granted paradise nor hell, but a state of abeyance and inexorable suspension. Limbo (or “Purgatory” in Dante’s Divina Commedia) shall be their abode, where they will neither rest nor be afflicted physically, while their minds will remain a subject of infinite turmoil. How did the author manage to speak such truth in advance? World has truly turned into a residence of hollow men.

Eternal disorder due to their faithless lives in this world will similarly mark their treatment in the life hereafter. They will never find success, for they never aimed for it. They aimed, if at all, to live inconsequential and indolent lives that would eventually lead to a limbo. Their sin shall be those of inaction and misjudgment of the true purpose of their lives. Thus, the author’s idea of inaction is not just an ordeal in this world, but also eternal damnation in the hereafter.

When the Prophet Ezekiel said, “Your image will be broken,” he tried to elucidate the true nature of the hereafter. He was actually stressing the need to realise that this world is transitory and there is a more worthy and long-lasting life that awaits us. Hence, there is a need to “act” to attain success in both the worlds.

The people that Eliot refers to are those whose lives are no better, who try to evade the impending reckoning by disguising themselves in masks of insensitivity and callousness.

Materialism has made such a waste of modern man that it did not fall short of instilling in him vileness and evil to the core. The darkness rises to his heart and overpowers his entire existence. This leads to the creation of the hollow man, who destroys his self and all the good things resulting therefrom. Conclusion of his life would likewise be indecisive, in a limbo. Thus, they will never quite get to know the final verdict passed for them, and this will remain a mystifying subject.

While the accounts of all shall be settled, theirs will hang in the balance for eternity. This way, God will judge their affair most relentlessly and culminate the infliction on their souls.

The above is a portent comment on those living in Pakistan. Those who have lost all sense of direction and purpose in the brutal scourge of materialism and worldliness. This ruthless race for riches has blindfolded people to the greater realities on the - ground - like poverty, homelessness, the soaring crime rate reflective of social discontent, political ineptitude and yet higher ideals of nation building, collective psychological development, etc. In short, we have become too individualistic to think as a community anymore.

Last night was epiphany!

–Contributed