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My salutations to thy sacred streets, O beloved nation!

Where a tradition has been invented

– that none shall walk with his head held high

If at all one takes a walk, a pilgrimage

One must walk, eyes lowered, the body crouched in pretense and stealth

– Faiz Ahmed Faiz

“I said it was crude,” said Dumbledore, who sounded disdainful, even disappointed, as though Voldemort had fallen short of higher standards Dumbledore expected. “The idea, as I am sure you will have gathered, is that your enemy must weaken him – or herself to enter. Once again, Lord Voldemort fails to grasp that there are much more terrible things than physical injury.”

– Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

At the height of the ongoing no-confidence drama, when the government accused the dissidents of accepting inducements worth 20 crores or 200 million rupees a colleague asked me what I made of all this crisis. I told her that politics had never attracted me as a career and I had never even thought of running for public office but all this talk of this much free money was so tempting that it was forcing me to reconsider my position. Mistaking my cruel, acerbic joke for a statement of fact she asked me if the thought of financial gains could ever motivate me to run for public office. I looked into her eyes and barked: almost exclusively. Before we move forward a disclaimer: if you are faint of heart, this piece is not meant for you.

I said a cruel joke because that is exactly what it is. Every person makes promises to ownself at the start of his/her career. I made four. One, never become a willing part of financial corruption. Two, always respect people’s boundaries and never exploit their weaknesses for personal gratification. This includes always honouring our so-called family and professional values. Three, help everyone that you can. Four, anything for the country. It may sound surreal but so far I think I have done a decent job of honouring these four pacts. So it is a cruel joke. Cruel on me, actually.

But what to make of all this din? What do you make of all those pundits who spent the past four years recounting the evils of what they called a hybrid civil-military combine as a threat to democracy and now are content in seeing the civilian side go down with the satisfaction that the two are not on the same page? I make nothing of it. There is a reason why this country is where it is. Mind you I cannot crow about my foresight either. This is what I wrote in this space two weeks before the last elections:

“We will have to address the issues pertaining to the civil-military divide someday. But I am convinced this is not the right time. Let us first conclusively defeat the spectre of terrorism. Also having observed our political masters for the last decade and knowing how little they have done to bridge the civil-military divide, I am looking to find and vote for a leader who can be trusted by both sides, especially our soldiers.” – From “Scars of a patriot” by the author, July 12, 2018.

Mind you on terrorism my views were not very different a week before the 2013 elections when I wrote in this space:

“However, as we gingerly approach the polling day, fear mounts that our counterterrorism agenda may come in direct conflict with the democratic process, as our two major political parties have time and again shown aversion to the war… But the lives of 40,000 martyrs cannot just amount to nothing. Battle-scarred as we are, we cannot afford to become a prisoner of the Stockholm syndrome and end up bonding with our own assailants. War fatigue is one thing but not to notice the existential threat posed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is downright criminal.” – From “A farewell to arms” by the author, dated May 3, 2013.

A journalist must avoid becoming a part of the story. But in the past nine years, especially the past four my resolve to push back against terrorism was severely tested. I found my voice being lost at crucial junctures. I was severely punished whenever I was proven right. Losing jobs, platforms, perks, occasionally basic rights, and as pointed out earlier even voice. After all this, I should have been proudly able to say that my struggle amounts to something. But it doesn’t. That I stand vindicated. But I don’t. There is something about the South Asian soil that refuses to change. Authors from Mustansar Hussain Tarar to Qurratulain Hyder have extensively written on this. Perhaps that is what motivated me to write pieces titled “A case of ‘unevolving’ monkeys” in this space on April 26, 2013 and “The mad who drink their own blood” on December 22, 2011.

Since I didn’t try to keep it a secret many of you must already know that on the 2nd of this month I survived a massive cardiac episode and a part of my heart literally died. As I was lying on the operation table undergoing angioplasty, as is customary, my entire life flashed before my eyes. Did my life amount to anything? Answer: No. Will it amount to anything? Probably not. What becomes of my two daughters? You know what? Since I was blessed with them I have gone out of the way to advocate for women’s rights, in the hope that today I speak out for other people’s daughters tomorrow somebody will for mine too. But do I hope? No.

I feel particularly gratified today because this time I voted with a view to winning the trust of a valiant segment of our society. And now I am told that the reason why this government will go is because of the dissatisfaction of the very same segment. And that happens when we build peace with the terrorists that hunted us for 20 years. Sure. But who will answer for the four years long purity and loyalty tests that we had to go through?

There is a lesson here somewhere dear reader. That if you are in a domain with political or public exposure and you are in it for anything other than the money you are wasting your time. Your life will also be entirely pointless. So, I may soon quit journalism and run for public office. With absolutely correct and realistic motivation. There are those who appreciate love, devotion, and dedication. Others who only see the money. This society belongs to the latter category. Until then I leave you with the following random quotes:

“For 22 years, I’ve lived here. Every morning l take a walk, down this street. Every morning, the street asks me my name… Who are you? Where are you from? Why are you here? Do l have a reply? After half a lifetime spent here… this land still remains alien to me, and l to it.” – Opening lines of an Indian movie.

“We can’t even think as to where we want to go

We’re moving forward without a path

We don’t know what we’re searching for

Our hearts are weaving dreams all the time

Time has done such great injustice

You’re no longer you and I’m no longer me” – An Indian song, I am sure you have guessed it.

What? Too much sentimental drama? Tell me you don’t deserve it?

Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2022.

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