جواب شکوہ

یہ خط ‘ ایک ساتھی لکھاری کے خط “تمہارے نام” کے جواب میں لکھا گیا ہے۔

ابھی کل ہی احمد ملنے آیا۔ بڑا ہو گیا ہے۔ بالکل میرا ناک نقشہ ہے۔ بس آنکھیں تمہاری ہیں۔ ثمینہ دفتر سے رات گئے لوٹتی ہے۔ وہ آیا تو گھر میں بس میں ہی تھا۔ اور تمہاری دو بُھوری آنکھیں۔ رات کھانے کے بعد ایک عجیب سوال پوچھنے لگا- ‘کیا آپ کو اب بھی امی سے محبت ہے؟’ میز پر سکوت طاری تھا۔ پھراس کا سوال ہمارے بیچ دلدلی مچھر کی طرح بھنبھنانے لگا۔

یاد ہے بچپن میں ٹائم مشین کے بارے میں بہت سوال کرتا تھا۔ کہنے لگا پاپا اگر آپ ٹائم مشین سے پچیس سال پیچھے لوٹ جائیں تو کیا اس بار خود کو بدل سکیں گے؟ مدتوں بعد اس کی زبان سے یوں ‘پاپا’ سننا مجھے بہت اچھا لگا۔ تم تو جانتی ہو رات کا کھانا سگریٹ کے بغیر میرے حلق سے نہیں اترتا۔ میں نے حسبِ عادت میز پر سگریٹ سُلگا کر ایک کش لگایا۔ نجانے ایک دم اسے کیا ہوا’ ایک جھٹکے سے اٹھا اور یہ کہتے ہوئے چلا گیا کہ پاپا آپ کبھی نہیں بدلیں گے۔ میں نے اسے روکا نہیں۔ تمہیں بھی نہیں روکا تھا۔

‘سوچتا ہوں شاید اس نے غور سے سگریٹ نہیں دیکھا ہوگا۔ مارون بہت مہنگا ہو گیا ہے’ اب ڈپلومیٹ پیتا ہوں

اپنا اور بچوں کا خیال رکھنا۔

On Norms, Freedom and Equality

The following essay will probe the nature of social norms, the problematic relationship between the perceived social norms and the ideals of freedom and equality, and finally, if and how the resolution of this problem is possible.

First, i will dissect the colloquial term of “social norm” in order for us to be able to understand it better. In the very term “norm”, there secretly hides this repulsive and scrupulously unsupported assertion that humans, in certain situations, are supposed to act in predefined ways, to the effect that all uniqueness is ultimately labelled aberrant, and individuality virtually curbed. Granted that there had to be some sort of generic code of action in order to protect people’s freedom from the remarkable uniqueness each one of us is bestowed with, why then did it have to go on and curb the very thing it set out to protect us from, as it happens with the social norms? Moreover, if there had to be such a thing as a norm after all, why then did it have to be defined by the society anyway? Because to me, it only seems to suggest, in simpler words, that everybody is the slave to everybody else, obeying unquestioningly the orders (or norms) without needing to understand the rationale behind them which, not to mention, is non-existent more often than not.

One often hears this complaint that genuineness no longer exists in our world and that artificiality has permeated the minds and hearts. You might first question how one defines genuineness. Even if one is not able to articulate it, one often has a clear idea that nature is genuine. Jean Jacques Rousseau, in his Discourse on the Arts & Sciences, employs the very same construct i.e. nature as that point of reference from where he projects criticisms on Enlightenment – the modernity of his era.

The problem of modernity is that, with all its virtues, it inevitably brings along inequality and takes away the freedom of the masses. Rousseau puts this blame on the two wheels of modernity: arts and sciences. Allow me to illustrate this more clearly by stating the reciprocal statement: Without arts & sciences, equality and freedom would prevail. The most visible of the signs of modernity at work is the birth of sophistication in mannerisms due to which certain more natural ways are qualified to be crude, and once the modernity is victorious, what was natural and hence rampant now exists in the periphery, and the concept of social norm is invented to safely label the crude (or natural) as deviant in order to eradicate it.

Is there a solution to this rapid artificialization of human race? For Rousseau, the answer to this question is a yes, but only if we return to Nature. Thinkers have launched blisteringly sarcastic criticisms on him for having tried to reverse modernity and push mankind back into the Middle Ages, but his solution makes a lot of sense to me. That is, when i recall that Hadith in which Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) implies that Nature is Islam. But i think i need to do a lot of thinking over it before proceeding any further.

Whore

It’s fashionable to write about prostitutes these days. Men generally write because they want to be looked upon as compassionate beings, capable to view the misery of prostitutes above and beyond their own assaulting nature. Women write because they have a continuous need to be hailed as feminist warriors. Nothing else seems to catch as much public attention on the media. Clerics write fatwas, reporters about raids on brothels and all this drama interests an ordinary man very much.

Teenage writers are perpetually on the hunt for such hot topics to get noticed so I, once one, jumped the bandwagon and began a story with: Once upon a time, there was a whore.

I knew the opening line was good and the content could not be a problem as i knew reasonably enough about the prostitutes from Hollywood and hearsay. But then i found myself confronting the question if that would be honest to ascribe the character of glamorized fictional prostitutes to the genuine character that took birth in the opening line. Then i asked myself if i could state the facts. More importantly, if i knew the facts. Even more importantly, if i could put them down while not trying to tip-toe about the taboos. These rather unlikely questions brought me some insights that i felt i should share.

It’s really easy to create literature and make a seemingly intelligent drawing-room talk when maintaining contact with reality is not a constraint. One might even get some applause but not knowing the difference, one ends up turning a prostitute into a whore that way. At the end of the day, i don’t feel it’s a good bargain. A quintessential writer, you may disagree, creates all his characters from first-hand experience. The technical difficulty in creating a prostitute’s character, however, is that one, in our conservative society, most likely never has an experience with a prostitute and therefore all one’s ‘observations’ and details about one are actually only speculations based on hearsay, and hence lay invalid.

I read the opening line back and though hard it might be to trace them earlier, it was replete with insensitive inaccuracies. I realized there was no “once upon a time” because every conceivable story about a prostitute is already cliched. Secondly, there was no such thing as there was. The story ran in the present – in the very moment that ticked by. Thirdly, i was not sure if “whore” was the right word for a woman who left her bastards every night to be able to put food on their table but only managed to produce more of them in the struggle.

I backspaced and the words disappeared fast until i was left with a clean sheet staring back at me. I absently typed “whore” at the top again and flinched; old habits died hard. I backspaced once again and this time, not knowing why, I typed “human” instead. It felt better. Acknowledging the humanness of a downgraded human fellow always makes you feel better somehow.

Vagabond

The advertisement for Thai Airways has been making the Reader’s Digest back cover for quite some time now. The catchline always stirs something deep inside.

So many faces to see,                                                                                                                           too many places to be.

It’s perhaps an old desire to be a vagabond.

Ever since the onset of early adolescence, I have found myself away from home, living in boarding houses. At times, i had to rent cheap hotel rooms in urban sprawls that smelled of semen, cigarettes and shaving creams. I eventually grew to love that just like i loved how the morning sounded there amongst the delightful monikers hurling about distastefully painted corridors and the raspy swearing voices piercing paper-thin hotel walls. Even if it sounds dirty, life is an immaculate piece of clockwork there. Miss a minute and the dining hall is already closing down. The pandemonium dies after eight in the morning, only to return at eight at night. In between the two pandemonia, the hotel, devoid of the hubbub of the early morning hours, feels to have slipped into some kind of deep meditation. Later in the evening, with people teeming back in, dining hall gets to be the center of all activity. A scene out of it can get a jovial laugh out of you or a nasty vomit depending on your disposition. However, the best part about being a vagabond is not the crudeness of places you have to put up with; it’s experiencing the richness of souls you come across. Among the cheapest underclass, you meet the free-est of the spirits and the universal wisdom, if there is any thing such. It’s only beyond the point we have nothing more to lose do we reveal who we truly are and there in such hotels, i have taken a glimpse into what mankind truly is and capable of. 

Being a vagabond is more about removing the human filters around us and within than traveling far and wide. As long as these filters are in place, the world we move in is not the same as the world that God created. All his life, a bourgeois walks a bourgeois world, a jet set, a jet set world, and an underclass, an underclass. These insurmountable filters shatter the harmony of our world by dividing it into several parallel universes that never intersect, keeping us from experiencing its phenomenal beauty as an organic whole. Breaking free of them is an essential part of what would truly be an insightful transition from being an ordinary traveler to a true vagabond. Being able to admire a diverse cross-section of humanity, irrespective of the social strata they belong from, simply as people, is the first step in this spiritual journey – a journey that is sure to transform the one who undertakes it.

Godspeed.

Madness & Sanity

In the following essay, i will examine the terms madness and sanity, their evolutionary backgrounds, whether a harmonious equilibrium between the two is achievable, and the role played by each in our survival as a species.

Sanity, in colloquial sense of the word, means to be in your right mind, conforming to the standards, being a part of the mob and going with the flow. Madness, on the other hand, is being socially aberrant. Wear a suit in mosque, sherwani in x-country and shorts for an interview and you’re already up for the title. To understand this painfully immense pressure one feels about conforming to certain standards of the society, and hence called sane, we will have to delve deep into the secret vaults of history from the point of view of evolution.

Millions of years of evolution have hammered in us human beings, instincts that have helped us fight off extinction. Programmed to protect us in potentially hostile primitive environments, our instincts have managed to steer us clear of the lethal grip of natural selection and ensured our survival as a species. However, the civilized world today has rendered most of these instincts much less useful, if not exhausting. Remember the last time, you walked up the ramp for a performance and you looked pale as ghost. It just so happens that every time your brain detects a fear signal, it draws in all your blood from the skin so as to minimize the blood loss in case of injury. There is no way you can tell your fear instinct that the stage fright is technically different from the fright of a pouncing jaguar; that you are not likely to bleed therefore it should probably stop drawing further blood from your face which is reducing you to a nervous stuttering wreck on the stage. Adhering to the community, just like that, might once have been important for our ancestors to survive. Hunting together, bringing up children and securing a safe habitat were all legitimate needs and community living provided for them well enough and hence embedded itself successfully as a compelling instinct in our nervous systems. After we moved on to cities with governments and sophistiated procedures in place so as to protect us from possible harm, leaving little, if any, job for the instincts to do for our survival, the real conflict started to emerge. There were people who still wanted to pursue the same homosapien-ic life except in a more sophisticated fashion, wearing a bow-tie, cologne and all. There were people, on the other hand, who though appreciated the role community instinct had played thus so far, now wanted to break free of it to allow the current of evolution push them further on. Those who stayed put, they believed, would be those who drowned. The people who upheld this radical idea acquired the title of madmen.

Contrary to the popular belief, true madness is not the absence of sanity. It’s just the triumph over it. You can be a madman if your madness defeats your sanity and is served by it all the same. Once you pull off this balance, evolution will make sure that your children don’t wipe out from Earth as the dinosaurs and mammoths did millions of years ago.

P.S.: I’ll hopefully elucidate the role of love and madness in evolution in a series of posts. I understand that the essay needs more explanation. Please let me know if you find anything that does not make sense to you.

Mysticism and Contemporary Mainstream Islam

One of the prominent teachings of Islamic mysticism is that everyone is entitled to their own personal quest for God. An enticing implication of this idea is that one has infinite freedom in making choice of The Path, and nonconformity is not just welcome but highly looked upon, which perhaps is why Islamic mysticism caught on right from its early years. Delivering a serious blow to the contemporary monolithic understanding of religion of the time, it made greater space for spirituality which had almost died when religion began to be commonly equated with the do’s and don’ts of Shari’ah.

The general acceptance of un-orthodoxy slowly altered the way people understood vice and virtue. Being socially deviant did no longer equate with being a sinner. With that came a greater appreciation for all the ways in which people pursued their Creator and lesser scrutiny of how they dressed, behaved and looked. Uniformity was no longer called for. The complex cultural milieu that took birth was rather celebrated. In fact the whole enterprise of judging people from their Zahir (outlook) came crashing down.
Logically so, the Eeman acquired the status of a variable that could not be, or rather, needed not be, physically measured in inches (i.e. how high one’s pants from one’s ankles were, how long one’s beard was etc.) and returned to its original definition of piety.

However, today, more than we want to acknowledge, binary logic runs in the veins of contemporary Dar-ul-Uloom thought, which is sadly the sole representative of religion, rivaled by none. Since the beginning of time, binary logic is known to have made distinctions and bifurcations between different schools of thought instead of bringing about a unification which is the obvious need of time. The result is a highly confused and debated upon system of mainstream Islam. If ever humanity could take a break from that, it was in the period of mystics who made fundamental reformation in the way people saw the religion and taught them its real essence i.e. love, which threads the universe, connecting and molding every fragmented reality into The One.

Rumi makes exactly the same point when he states in his Masnawi Al Maanawi with an authority only he is entitled to:

I have lifted the marrow from the Quran and have left the empty bones for the dogs to quarrel upon.

By bones, he meant endless, trivial debates on Ilm-ul-Kalam that scholars of the time engaged in, leaving out the matters of consequence that demanded greater and immediate attention i.e. spiritual well-being, referred to as “marrow” here. More or less the same thing was said by Jesus as quoted in Matthew [23:23,24].

You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

P.S.: I’d like to expand on this post. Ideas, questions and critiques are welcome.