FOUR LESSONS IN THE FOG

 

fog

Despite the low visibility and traffic hazards, fog makes winters more enjoyable and somehow beautiful – adding a mysterious and mystical tinge to cold winter nights. Getting out of our homes or even on the balcony reveals an incredible natural wonder where all that was once visible is now lost in thick smog and even the most boring of imaginations may become home to creative movie scripts.

This overawing weather condition known as ‘fog’ is a bugle for Lahorites, and a few other cities, announcing the advent of winters. We enjoy it as a natural wonder and tackle it as an adversity, but there is more to it than just that. It isn’t just a cloud of smoke that comes every year, mystifies and then leaves shortly before the end of winters. There are lessons to be learnt from this fog, there are messages hidden inside this haze.

1. Set short term goals in life
While travelling in fog you are forced to determine your path with only the visible markings on the road as it facilitates staying on the right path. Similarly in life if you set short term goals, instead of long term, it would make your journey simpler and your path straighter with lesser chances of deviation.

2. Be prepared for, not worried about something that only ‘may’ be a reality
Fog keeps you from seeing obstacles in the distance and forces you to focus only on ones that are visible. In life we waste our time worrying, in anticipation, about problems that we only ‘may’ face in our future. In effect we lose precious moments of our life fretting about troubles that aren’t even in our lives yet, and there is only a possibility of having to face them. If we focus on the problems that already exist instead of wasting our energy and time on mere possibilities, our ability to tackle actual problems may be enhanced and solutions derived thereof may prove to be more effective. Consequently it may even reduce the probability actually having to face ‘probable’ problems.

3. Life is uncertain, avoid the illusion of certainty
When you travel in fog, no matter how familiar the road is or how frequently you tread on it, you never know what hides in the haze. In life too, no matter how experienced you may think you are you can never know what is waiting for you in the next moment. This awareness of the uncertain in turn strengthens your faith in God and allows you to leave the outcome to Him while all you have in your hands is the effort that you make. Life is all about these efforts and not their consequences, we will be judged for how hard we tried not for what we achieved.

4. The ability to see is useless if objects and surroundings are not visible
Fog does not in any way weaken our eyesight. If it was 6/6 before the fog, it most probably is the same in the fog. Yet when the fog hides all, even the best of eyes can’t see. This applies to life on so many levels. Often the truth hides in plain sight and our prejudices, bigotry, complexes, fears, phobias and our bias make it invisible. Being blessed with a sense of sight and sound does not automatically bestow the ability to actually see or hear. Often we are listening to others ‘speak’ but are unable to hear what they are ‘saying’ owing to the dense fog of preconceived notions, prejudice and chauvinism. And finally no matter how able you deem yourself to be, your abilities will always be dependent on external factors beyond your control.

‘Why would God do that…’

 

why would God

     On a sunny winter afternoon while travelling back from Kharian to Lahore our bus stopped at a traffic signal that was now a traffic jam owing to the impatience of our fellow commuters, who add hours to their travel time in the foolish attempt to save a couple of minutes. It was somewhere in the androon shehar (main city area) Lahore I saw a little girl around 5 or 6 years old. Dressed in rags covered in dust from head to toe she was walking towards a fruit vendor and I observed.

     On reaching the vendor’s bicycle carrying fruit, mostly kinu (oranges), she made a gesture that looked like she asked the price of one and from the expression that took her face after the vendor’s reply I could see that the little girl was a few rupees short. The vendor put an abrupt end to my momentary boost in self esteem, triggered by the thought of being better and more generous than him, when he handed the girl a kinu and shook his head when she offered the coins she held.

     The girl was exuberant. I could see her eyes carried more joy than mine did when my dad bought me my first car or my daughter’s when I imported a branded doll house for her. She held the kinu between her chest and chin while her little hands struggled to put the coins back in her pocket. She started to walk back to her spot in the sun where she sat down and started to peel the kinu.

     Expertise in kinu peeling is not necessarily acquired with age but with experience. Obviously the little girl hadn’t peeled many kinus in her life. Her tiny hands tactlessly peeled small pieces off the kinu and took even longer to shave off the white before a ripe, juicy orange emerged. She looked up with inquisitive eyes probably looking to see how far the vendor was and wondering if getting some salt was worth walking the distance. The vendor had moved on to another spot and neither the little girl nor I could spot him.

     In observing her I did not notice the commotion on the road where several beggars were running away. A sudden and, as usual temporary operation against beggars it was. Unfortunately, immersed in her kinu the little girl didn’t notice it either, not until it was too late and a policeman with a stick pulled up over his head was on top of the girl. He grabbed her hand, pulled her up and shooed her off and she ran…

     As my eyes came back to her spot there I saw the kinu on the ground covered in dust just like its previous and a very temporary owner.

     My heart sank, as would have anyone’s who has a heart. I wondered if this event would leave a deeper mark on my mind than it does on the girl’s. ‘Unfair’; the first word that came to my mind. Horrible, sad and curses to the policeman followed. And finally the one question that always helps all of us rid ourselves of any guilt and responsibility; ‘Why would God do that?’. It is God’s doing as he is the all mighty and in control. I am not to blame even if kinus and other fruits rot and go to waste in our homes, if God wanted He would have let the girl have her kinu.

     What if God did want the girl to have her kinu, what if He wants her to have a nice home and clothes and it is us – the haves who stand between the girl and a life she deserves. By way of our free will we deny the poor and their children the right to a quality life. God has bestowed upon the world abundant wealth and resources. It is us humans who have the tendency to acquire more and more even if at the cost of our fellow beings. If the wealth in our world is evenly distributed I am sure no child would have to suffer what this little angel and millions of other children with her suffer on a daily basis.

     But is it God’s doing? Does God stop me or you from adopting a family or a child and providing them the very basic necessities of life?

     If only we could all count all that is ‘extra’ in our lives and in our homes; the food that we waste, the clothes that we don’t wear, the money we spend on latest gadgets we do not really need. It’s not just the billionaires who are hogging the resources, it is everyone in his own capacity. We are all to blame for every child who doesn’t get to eat a kinu.

DEMOCRACY; DICTATORSHIP of the Many??

Published (edited) in the Express Tribune on 6th of January, 2014

 

democracy

Democracy is THE BEST REVENGE..”

This sentence has stuck to me ever since it was uttered – along with a loud and weird shriek – by an under construction leader by inheritance. It was said at a time when very recently this country had lost an actual leader; a rare breed indeed. A democratic process resulted in a democratic government taking over reins of this unfortunate country from a dictator. In the aftermath however, I wonder to this day as to who was at the receiving end of this revenge?

Based on the events and circumstances that followed it is only the common man, the masses who have suffered and still suffer the wrath of this revenge; democracy.

In writing on the flaws of democracy I am not necessarily writing in favor of dictatorship, although thanks to the severe polarization in our society this clarification is bound to fall on deaf ears.

What constitutes a democracy? What are the essentials of a democracy?

In my humble opinion the most significant characteristic has to be the excercise of will of the people; the masses or majority. Second; supremacy and sanctity of the Constitution. Then there are the notions of ‘rule of law’,  ‘equality before law’, ‘separation of powers’ between the pillars of the state and protection of fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, right to life, freedom of association etc.

Therefore I believe that a look into the prevalent status of these essentials may help to gauge the quality of our democracy.

Will of the people is ensured by the process of elections. Representatives of the people; MNAs and MPAs are elected to the legislative assemblies to represent public and popular will in these august houses. These representatives in turn elect leaders of their respective houses to represent their will in policy making.

So how far is will of the masses evident in policies of our democratically elected governments (2008 till date)? Do the masses want drones to continue to rip our sovereignty to shreds? Do the masses want that while they are continuously being asked to make sacrifices owing to economic contingencies, their representatives continue to be a burden on the national exchequer by way of huge foreign tour contingents, lavish residences and mammoth protocol convoys? Is it our will then that corrupt ministers and officials of the past governments be allowed to digest our tax money in peace?

The fact of the matter is that once elected our representatives do not cater to our will as much as they cater to the will of their leaders, which in effect results in exercise of the will of one instead of the will of majority. It is not a secret that in most main stream political parties decisions are taken by the leaders regardless of their members’ inclinations, which is more dictatorial than democratic.

An interesting fact is that in a multi party system like ours a party that eventually gets to form government does not necessarily bag majority votes but only the maximum votes. For instance in a National Assembly constituency if the returned candidate has bagged 80,000 votes, runner up has bagged 50,000 and the one in third place bagged 40,000 votes and around 20,000 were bagged by other candidates then it is obvious that a majority did not vote in favor of the returned candidate, but against him. Yet he will be the one representing the people of that area.

Then there is no constitutional system to check if a government still has the mandate to govern or if the representatives still command the confidence of the represented. In the previous government it was quite obvious that masses had lost faith in their government and realized their mistake of voting for a deceased leader. Nevertheless the government completed its 5 year tenure, to the detriment of the people.

One practice in particular – which makes a mockery of the so called popular will and puts a huge question mark on the democratic process of elections – is when election manifestos are devised and promises made by political parties during election campaigns, popular sentiment is given optimum adherence. Thus the mandate acquired in consequence of such campaign is by implication given to said manifesto. So as soon as a political party deviates from its promises it in effect loses the mandate, but there is no way to ensure that a political party abides by its manifesto.

Coming to the sanctity of the Constitution, the blatant violation – without consequence – of Article 140 A of the Constitution – mandatory establishment of local governments – throughout the tenure of the previous Federal and Provincial governments, and till date by three provinces, is a reflection on the sanctity of our Constitution.

Fundamental rights provided for in the supreme Constitution face prominent and frequent violations. Article 25 provides for the equality of all citizens yet obvious is the inequality prevalent in our society; although apparently similar, in practice our laws are quite different for the rich and the poor, for the haves and have nots. Where millions of have nots live exposed to threats to life and property with one police official to protect thousands, there are thousands of policemen protecting a few haves. Article 25 A makes it mandatory for the State to provide free and compulsory education to ALL children ages 5 to 16 yet there are millions deprived of said right.

Rule of, and equality before, law go hand in hand. In books and statutes our laws are the exact same for all citizens but in practice a thief who stole ten thousands would suffer the ultimate wrath of law but misappropriate billions and you are a free man. Pertinent to note – with a little disrespect to the Chief Justice – allegations against his person and the person of his son were not even deemed worthy of inquiring into when the same Chief Justice ensures intricate inquiry and trials of allegations against anyone from a peon to the Prime Minister.

‘Separation of powers’ has been reduced to being a mere notion. In practice all three pillars want in on the action and continuously try to establish their supremacy. The ever so active judiciary is continuously trying to run the affairs of the country justifying said activism by the ineptness of executive. Ministers to head executive departments are chosen from the legislature. Need more be said?

If a democracy is in effect the rule of several dictators then I would rather have just one. I may be inclined to believe that a bad democracy is better than a good dictatorship but that can only be true if the bad democracy is a democracy by any stretch of imagination and, more importantly, moving towards becoming a better, and eventually true democracy. The question is are we headed in the right direction?