Where do we stop?

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Asha'ar Rehman

TOO deep a probe may take you to un­wanted ar­eas and throw up 'facts' - var­i­ous sets of them at times - that you may not be pre­pared to ab­sorb. Too much in­for­ma­tion can 'spoil' your own views about a sub­ject. Too much of it can ruin your writ­ing. Ev­ery­one is talk­ing about the lit­er­ary fes­ti­val held, against so many odds, in La­hore last week. Ev­ery­one took away their own bits from the venue. Some thought it was a badly cur­tailed or an elit­ist af­fair and then went on to find souls on whom it could be blamed. Some brought home with them greater scep­ti­cism which was not a huge sur­prise given that lit­er­a­ture is meant to make peo­ple think and think a bit more.

At one of the fes­ti­val's ses­sions, one pos­si­ble ap­proach to Mir Taqi Mir - the grand 18th-cen­tury poet, the first one in the great trio that was later com­pleted by Ghalib and Iqbal - was sug­gested. It was an ap­proach that did not en­cour­age read­ing too much into the per­son who pro­duced the po­etry; in­stead, it ad­vised con­cen­trat­ing on his verse. What was asked for was at least a delink­ing of the two to be pur­sued in­de­pen­dently. Im­pos­si­ble, some in the au­di­ence must have mut­tered, but the dis­cus­sion for the mil­lionth time raised the ques­tion of how much we should know or claim to and when.

Among all those con­sid­ered in need of such a de­fence, the po­ets are eas­ily given to idio­syn­cra­sies and flights and dips of mood. Con­se­quently, they have fre­quently been sub­jected to th­ese at­tempts aimed at sep­a­rat­ing their per­son from the craft that has earned them their name. Quite of­ten, this sep­a­ra­tion is de­sired by pro­tec­tive, knowl­edge­able and well-placed ad­mir­ers who must now act as a guide for oth­ers em­bark­ing on the same path. Th­ese guides dis­cour­age an un­nec­es­sary peep in­side the per­son of the poet, per­haps fear­ing that this could lead to the un­sus­pect­ing and un­ripe reader nurs­ing un­wanted if not al­to­gether false no­tions about the poet they want to pro­mote - mi­nus his per­son, if it comes to that, and risk­ing protests by those who might con­sider it to be un­nec­es­sary cen­sor­ship.

But then there are al­ways those who want to willingly vi­o­late this cur­few. At an­other ses­sion of the lit­er­ary fes­ti­val in La­hore, a speaker blessed with con­sid­er­able pow­ers to de­bate and ar­gue his way through vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing was all pre­pared to break the myth about the Su­fis. He adopted a line that brought out the dan­gers - and the sheer fu­til­ity - of in­vest­ing in the Su­fis to com­bat the 'brand' of Is­lam be­ing pro­moted by the madres­sahs.

It so hap­pened that some of the most vo­cal pro­po­nents of the in­dige­nous spir­i­tual tra­di­tion had cho­sen to give the lit­er­ary event a miss be­cause of the al­leged ill treat­ment of lo­cal cul­ture and lan­guages by the or­gan­is­ers. Or the gen­tle­man who sought to so bru­tally snatch away from the peo­ple their Sufi se­cu­rity would have risked ex­pos­ing him­self to a se­ri­ous at­tack then and there.

Amongst those who had cho­sen to join the elite gath­er­ing, the ques­tion was clear: was this some kind of a dis­clo­sure or did we - some of us - al­ready know about this re­al­ity, about how the so-called Sufi an­swer to the prudes lacked in ra­tio­nal­ity to be ef­fec­tive? The lameness of the Sufi chal­lenge, or at least its lim­i­ta­tions, pre­sum­ably has been known all along. For all prac­ti­cal rea­sons, Sufi soft­ness and Sufi weak­nesses, it seems, have been glossed over to com­pen­sate for the ab­sence of any other op­tion. The ' truth' does not un­chain: as our pri­or­i­ties stand, one might from time to time be told to stay away from in­quir­ing too deeply into the phe­nom­e­non for greater per­sonal and pub­lic good.

In the more or­di­nary world out­side the fes­ti­val, the call to re­strict the search for greater in­for­ma­tion is reg­u­larly sounded more promi­nently from the religious fo­rums that are out to en­sure the con­tin­u­a­tion of the be­lief es­tab­lish­ment. The at­ti­tude is then passed on to other shapers of so­ci­ety's ethos.

The pir would be aghast if a fol­lower of his as much as asked what was in­side the amulet which he is to so rev­er­ently carry on his per­son. The doc­tor, who has sci­ence by his side, would tell the pa­tient that the an­ti­dote he was be­ing in­jected would lose its po­tency the mo­ment the for­mula was made pub­lic.

The doc­tor down the street does oc­ca­sion­ally qual­ify for the rep­ri­mand re­served for those who must con­ceal - apart from the lit­tle they are will­ing to be ac­count­able for. The tougher part is when the peo­ple you know for their frank­ness deem that the 're­al­ity', or a part of it, is too sen­si­tive to be placed in the pub­lic do­main. Not ev­ery­one can read­ily rec­on­cile when we have some of the most out­spo­ken amongst us call­ing for curbs on de­bate in the name of mean­ing­ful move­ment to­wards some grand ob­jec­tive - like Kash­mir, which we are of­ten qui­etly told th­ese days may not be brought up in the in­ter­est of busi­ness and last­ing peace in this re­gion. It is such a grand, not-to-be-missed desti­na­tion and which some of us had so far thought could only be ar­rived at via Kash­mir.

Kash­mir is an ex­am­ple - one out of many - of how frus­tra­tion at our in­abil­ity to move via talks can lead to a de­sire for quick and not-thought-out so­lu­tions. Some other ready ex­am­ples of haste borne out of des­per­a­tion can be found with not too much trou­ble.

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