‘I Have Sinned’
If Sindh is to be saved, it won’t be via two-week dance-offs but twenty-year education emergencies, structured land reform, land redistribution and infrastructural development.
When Charles Napier, that most classic colonizer – hard, hook-nosed and great at killing brown people – was touring the land he conquered, he once asked, ‘Whose lands are these?’
‘Bhutto’s lands,’ came the driver’s reply. ‘Wake me up when we are off Bhutto’s lands,’ CN groused, and fell asleep. When he woke sometime later, he asked again, ‘Who owns this land?’ Again came the reply, ‘Bhutto.’
So recounted the late Benazir in her memoirs. To read those pages in her lilting voice is to be reminded again of the lady we lost. God bless her.
But to understand those words is to know a still-very-young lady, unabashedly proud of all that land she owned. ‘Our lands, like those of other landowners in Sindh, were measured in square miles, not acres,’ she wrote.
It was her father, Zulfikar, who told her about Charles Napier. And it was her father who was fond of the
ultimate Napier story: that when he conquered Sindh, he fired off a secret message to his superiors, ‘ Peccavi,’ – Latin for ‘I have sinned.’
It was positive, then, to see his grandson take up the other side’s war cry: Marvesoon marvesoon, par Sindh na desoo. ‘We will die, but won’t hand over Sindh,’ Hoshu Sheedi called out at the Battle of Dabbo, moments before being cut down by Napier’s men.
Though they’ve had more in common with the colonials of the past, Bhutto III was finally owning the right side of history…against both Crown and Emirate. Though he can’t speak Urdu to save his life, Bilawal Bhutto is not much interested in saving his life at all, condemning the Taliban again and again and again.
Compare this to Imran Khan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Or to the IJIslash-Nawaz League boys in the centre, with their not-quite-surewho-Talibs-are face. Or to Fazl or treasonous old Munawwar.
And ‘Sindh Fest’, a mega-bonanza celebrating all things Sindh, was marketed as some more of that: spitting in the one-eye of the joyless – the maniacs in the north that wish to chop hands and stone adulterers all the way to Caliphate Camelot.
It’s a great idea to be sure: to conserve our culture in the face of militant madness. The reality was gaudier: donkey derbies and kite fights. Shehzad Roy singing at Thatta. The Sindh government plugging the leaks with cash.
Let’s face it though, that’s splitting hairs. Much of the Sindh Fest critique was, in a word, petty. Some said it was un-Sindhi; with its Superman comic book logos and English rap songs and Punjabi Basant parties. But such celebrations needn’t be so sophisticated – the beauty of culture is synthesis; meeting and melding with other ways of life. A sum better than the parts.
But those that didn’t have a problem with un-Sindhiness, thought it too Sindhi. The Sindh Card all over again, they sneered. A sad reminder that where once ZAB swept ( West) Pakistan, BBZ’s only base was the Interior. And was it not ethnic chauvinism? Could Hamza Shahbaz, they asked, pull off a t-shirt that read ‘Punjabi’? Wasn’t all this dividing us?
Well, not really. Pakistanis tasted the grey curd of One-Unit, chewed it and spat it out. In nations as blessedly diverse as the Pakistani one, differences can, if represented the right way, bind us closer together.
And (the only reason Hamza Shahbaz won’t wear that t-shirt is because he doesn’t need to. When running Punjab means you run the rest of the country, you’re not all that threatened. That may change when you raise districts to provinces like any rational setup would…but that’s
Of Sindh Fest's many sound bytes, 'Marvesoon marvesoon, par Sindh na desoon,' resonates most deeply. The tragedy of Sindh is that the Bhuttos did exactly that, ruling and raping Sindh, and losing thier lives in the process.
a debate for another day.
So onto the pluses again: does a nation in wartime need to be reminded of what’s at stake? Yes. Has the PPP done that? Yes. Was it great for culture? Yes. Does our culture need constant caretaking? Yes.
But like most bright pictures, this one has a dark, dark negative. Because once the glitz disappears, and the stars and celebs pack up, we’re left with the fact again.
The fact of Sindh. Or at least the Sindh that carries the Bhuttos on its brittle shoulders year after year. And that Sindh is wretchedly poor. The food insecurity is appalling. Malnutrition is hitting the roof, forcing UNICEF to instruct mothers how best to breastfeed their children.
But does poverty mean we bang on about poverty, and let culture die? Isn’t the whole country poor? Yes it is, but not this poor. Part of the reason, of course, is the f-word, and it’s not (Muslim League) Functional. Whether our liberals like it or not, it is feudalism – an animal way of life that debases us all.
The symptoms are everywhere: in the anger of Sindh’s landless peasants. In the suffering of land-workers that earn 50 rupees a day. In the ‘streak of violence’ a twenty-something Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim was the first to see in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto when they practiced law together. In a Sindh frozen in time.
And if poverty is not your strong suit, the Sindh Assembly met midFebruary to ‘express concern’ over education standards nose-diving… this after pumping the education budget from 16 billion to 121 billion.
Some fast facts: ‘75 percent class-V students are unable to read class-II English sentences or do twodigit subtractions; 58 percent are unable to read Urdu language text… the learning indicators of students in Sindh are lower than their counterparts in FATA’.
If Sindh is to be saved, it won’t be via two-week dance-offs. Try twenty-year education emergencies, structured land reform, land redistribution, infrastructural development. The hard thing, the right thing, the unglamorous thing that won’t get retweets or Geo TV spots.
Of Sindh Fest’s many sound bytes, ‘Marvesoon marvesoon, par Sindh na desoon,’ resonates most deeply. The tragedy of Sindh is that the Bhuttos did exactly that, ruling and raping Sindh, and losing their lives in the process.
But while Hoshu Sheedi lies forgotten, many flock to Garhi Khuda Baksh to weep. Perhaps with the same fondness Zulfi Bhutto felt, for a general called Napier.