This 29th of February turned out to be quite a manic Monday for Pakistanis everywhere with even the mildest interest in the currents that shape their country. These currents are many, varied, and not a little unpredictable- as was made clear to all of us who woke up groggy and sleepy-eyed to find social media and the news exploding left right and centre.
One, Mumtaz Qadri had been executed. And two, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy had won her second Oscar. While completely separate, both these events have highlighted a vast disconnect- a polarisation if I may say- in the general Pakistani reaction. And as such are both worth addressing in a single article.
I do not wish to fuel the fire- there’s plenty of that out there. Neither do I wish to condemn and crucify one camp or the other who may be acting full blown against public interest but in their own minds are utterly convinced they are heroic saviours of the nation. No matter what you believe, if you think you are a heroic saviour of the nation, give yourself a dip in cold water.
It’s this polarisation we need to talk about. How did we get to this point where you are either celebrating death, or are out on the streets in thousands mourning a ‘martyr’? And how did we get to this point where you only have hate to spew at one another and not one of you has yet picked up the phone to call that friend or that family member or that colleague to ask- without judgement or malice- why? Why do you think the way you do? Why do you FEEL the way you do? Why do you consult the sources you do (if any)? Why are you rejoicing? Why are you protesting? Why are you not hearing what I have to say? Why am I not hearing what you have to say? Why are not WE being able to identify a single yard of common ground where we can sit together and begin to unravel the madness that this is?
Because there is always common ground- if it is nothing more than the fact that you have a beating heart and a thinking brain and so does your fellow countryman- that is as good a starting point as any. Listen. Share your questions. Ask them together. Answer them together. And most of all, be willing to admit that your opinion can only ever be based on the verified facts that you DO have, which will forever be only a tiny percentage of all the facts in existence. You do not know the whole picture. Make it a mantra- repeat it to yourself ten times a day- I do not know the whole picture. And then be willing to piece together whatever pieces do float your way. And that means listening, hearing, finding solutions together. Don’t make solutions a personal success or failure. They simply are. Don’t make sending everyone you’ve ever met to heaven or hell a personal power trip- and be honest with yourself if you are. That’s not your jurisdiction. For all your lofty beliefs, if the people around you are not safe from your judgement, you have gained nothing.
And so, a man was executed. May he find what he was looking for, and so may you.
About the Oscar. Quite simply put, it is the task of a documentary-maker to find a problem and highlight it so that it may be solved. If the right people have not been compelled to sufficiently FEEL about an issue, they will do nothing to change it. A documentary is a tool. A documentary-maker is an artist. They are observing the world around them and expressing what they see, or what they think they see. The story may be poetically enhanced, or it may not be. The artist may be thirsty for recognition, or they may not be. I couldn’t care less. But if we truly believe issues can be weighed for ‘worth’ and ‘value’ against each other, like pots of gold, then it is time for some real introspection. You do not measure your industrial warehouse of compassion between the dog dying of thirst on the road, the women suffering domestic abuse, and the villages being razed to the ground by drones. Sorry, I’ve only got one sack left. This house is closed for business.
Second, this whole talk of image. Friends and skeptics- what is an image?!
It is a glamour or an illusion, or one of those selfies you take every day. If you’re really good, you can get the perfect angle and lighting and the image is nothing like reality in the flesh- but it’s a good image. It’s also paper thin, subject to memory card dysfunction and easily burnable if you print it out. It has zero substance.
If you plant a whole and healthy seed, and grow a whole and healthy fruit tree- you can spend your time nourishing the tree and bringing it to a point where it is so dazzling in its beauty and its wholesomeness that passersby will automatically stop and sit down to paint its image, in hopes that they can capture one iota of its vibrancy on paper. And obviously, they will fail miserably. OR, you can cut back some energy from the care of the tree and capture some pictures yourself and force them down people’s throats. I assure you that will be considerably irritating but at least the damn image will hold true on closer examination.
But if you don’t want to nourish your blessed tree and by some miracle of artistry capture some good angles- and scream bloody murder any time any of the ugly angles are brought to light- well. Ask yourself if you care about the picture or about the tree, because the fruit you and your children live on comes from the tree, not the paper likeness. And if there is a rotten branch you didn’t see and some sneaky cameraman went round and got evidence of it for you- don’t yell at him for not capturing the other rotten branches or the healthy branches (seriously?!). Thank him nicely and go trim the branch before the sickness spreads, kills all your apples and, ultimately, you. You may not even qualify as a martyr.