Almost a year ago, I went to Government College Lahore. As an old Ravian, paying regular visits to Government College is a kind of ritual. That day I happened to have sat at the famed Debating Society of Government College, next to a rather quiet boy. From his appearance he did not look quite well off. He did not sound well off either. He was fat, dark, tall and confused. His overused uniform with short sleeves, hardly buttoned up, was neat but I did not care to talk much.

Time began to pass and somehow a discussion started on Government College itself. Maybe, it is the ambiance of Debating Society of Government College that one cannot resist speaking up. The discussion soon became a debate. My criticism of my beloved college in particular and what we are doing to education in this country did not go in vain and sooner than later majority of the members present in the room were vehemently supporting me.

As the matter settled down and twilight of our inconsequential discussion-cum-debate arrived, we shared some light memories of our college days.

I noticed that every now and then during the discussion, the quiet boy tried to speak but refrained. He did this for couple of times but remained conspicuously curious throughout. Those who were arguing passionately had now become friendly. The quiet boy now said something in a low voice. He said something like he agreed with what I was saying. We began to chat.

To my utter surprise, the boy told me that he was a poet. Poet! What is poet? I was surprisingly euphoric, as if I had found something rare. Questions poured forth. What does a poet do? How does he write a verse? Does he think before writing? Is it intuitive? I asked him if he could recite a few verses of his for me. He did.

He opened his diary, a cheap notebook, that did not compliment his hand writing which was absolutely exquisite, like calligraphy. Impressed by his abilities I offered him compliments, calling him the legacy of the greats that had studied at our alma mater. And, then he began to share with me his heart. He was a poor boy who had fallen for an expensive profession in a poor society and was looking forward to a poor future. He sounded hopeless. He was the physical personification of hopelessness.

What made his case interesting was the kind of life he wanted to passionately go for but could not. Does it not destroy every meaning of progress that we often find politicians chanting about if a mind cannot think to chase what the heart screams him to?

I am a poet. Who cares? If he became a poet, who would contribute to his family’s wellbeing? Engineers struggle to find jobs here. Is he doomed to die like a worthless being, sunken in the depth of anonymity? His prospects of success were further darkened with him being an Urdu poet. He could not speak English and this is a setback in our country. Are there people who would go out and spend money to buy the Urdu poetry collection of a young poet? A bigger ‘no’ echoed in my mind when my focus shifted to my generation. I could not think of a single person who would buy an Urdu poetry book. Urdu and poetry! Who has the time? More precisely, who understands?

Rewind few minutes and I was the very person chanting policies for the oldest institution of this country. Fast forward, I am struggling to even give hope to this talented young man. I was speechless, and it is hard to be speechless with my running tongue.

The reason I have shared this story is to explain the helplessness of many young bright minds. Academia has become an industry and bright minds fly to foreign lands, even if they have to do so illegally. As a nation, we need to reprioritise. There is a huge problem with the kind of teachers that we have. The poet also shared it. Apart from very few, my teachers have not been exceptional visionaries. When I was about to pursue International Relations as a subject, my teachers discouraged my choice. Perhaps, what they were looking at was job prospects. Exactly what I had thought about when I head my new friend was a poet. But, is there anything called the enlightenment of mind or development of conscience? Who cares? Teachers themselves have grown up in a society where only doctors and engineers are appreciated. My strange reaction at meeting a young poet is what this society has imprinted on me.

Arts and literature are the soul of any society. Intellectuals are the conscience. We discourage arts and literature. We shun intellectuals. We neither have soul nor conscience. Our Prime Minister enters the assembly and pompously provides guarantees to the nation of his family’s millions of dollars and dozens of industries. Does he have a solution for this poor poet?