The writer today combines the facts and fiction to portray the situation that prevailed here at different periods of history – the political turmoil, panic, closure of educational institutions, discrimination on the basis of language, imposition of alien system by the dictator, and also the distortion of history of the country carved out of Indian subcontinent.
Today’s lockdown note is partially fiction, and partially fact. But, I have artistically interwoven sentences, knotted words, and mingled imagery and reality in such a way that it would be difficult to mark what is true and what the artistic expression is. I am confident that you would think so and so paragraph is the fact, but it might be fiction or vice versa. So, here before your eyes, there is an amalgamated piece of writing.
In General Musharraf’s era, I received a call from my friend that when it is convenient I should see him. In the evening, I went to see him, he talked in detail on how Musharraf’s decision had made the majority illiterate or confused. I failed to understand what he was saying. He said there is a new order about the local government, and it has introduced new terms. He angrily said, now there are Nazims, District Coordination Officers, Naib-Nazims, and so on. He quoted, Paulo Freire, ‘know the word, know that world’. So, now onwards, we have to learn newly imposed terms and be able to understand what true meaning, legal implication, and political designs these terms contain. He emphasized that we should not forget that exploiters’ used terms, constructed sentences should be unpacked for knowing their real designs. I told him that my friend and I went to Bangladesh, after finishing the official tasks, one evening we went to visit Shaikh Mujeeb Rehman’s home, located at Dhan Mandi. We hired rickshaw puller. When we reached near the place, we saw all road marks and directions were in the Bengali language. We whispered that all are in Bengali, how we would know where we should go? The rickshaw puller stopped and addressed in Urdu-Bengali mix that these signs are for us, not for you. You visit us occasionally, but we live here. I remember I made laugh my friend. So, in Dhan Mandi we are illiterate.
Last week I found an old short story. I am not translating the whole story in English but translated some of its pieces in essay form. Its locale is Karachi, and it is written in the first form. It depicts the events of 1940-1948. Here goes its translation.
We were living in Leslie Wilson Muslim Hostel, Karachi (later it was called Jinnah Courts). There were confusions that India would be divided or not? Gandhi and Congress would accept the partition plan? Would Jinnah agree on less than the homeland for Muslims? There were rumors. May be yes, maybe no. The political flavored cheap newspapers and political groups’ pamphlets and booklets were creating little room of textbooks. However, till that time, we were not sure, there would be an examination or not? There might be riots. There would be a curfew. Should we return to our villages? Neither students were sure nor were teachers determined about the consequences. Although most of them were feared, none of them told us reasons.
Soon reality emerged, India was divided. Our colleges were closed. Our teachers restricted themselves to their homes. Karachi, the most vibrant city became dull and gloomy. Finally, schools and colleges were closed. In those days, one of our regular activities was evening visits to Sindhi politicians, and then protest before Jinnah’s residence with the demand that there should be a federal constitution, where constituting units should be sovereign.
Gradually, the city became unsafe- robberies, snatching and mob attacking became common. Our friends started leaving the city and heading to their villages. I also took my books; tin trunk and some clothes furled into bedsheet. I took the train from Cantonment Station. There was no rush on the platform. I entered the compartment, but seats were not full, although passengers were silent. None was speaking. Still, I recall that most of the boarders were in Muslim attires, but their faces were telling something different. My doubt was confirmed, when I saw that our mess in-charge was also there, and he had decoratively worn Sindhi turban. I looked at him, he avoided, again I stared, and he pointed me to sit beside him. I obliged and went. We never exchanged pleasantries. We just started the conversions. He said no one knows when the city would be normal. I responded, ‘God knows.’ Again, we became silent. Before, departing at Manjhand Railway Station, he said, ‘now villages are also not safe.’
The next day, I reached my village. The village air was mixed with fear and hope of good days. But, in general, village was mum. It looked as if the people had forgotten to speak. I got married. And in the same month, I got a telegram that college is opened. I was lucky that even in the joyful day of newly married couples and even village’s sorrow could not keep me away from my study. I was well prepared. I was appearing in the final examination of Masters. I went to Karachi, and appeared in the examination. I had covered a full course and solved old annual papers. So, there was a chance of sure success.
After, examination, I went to see a film show. I was shocked that there was no rush; none of the females was there. First time I saw Makrani Dadas were silent. Their faces were not cherished. I bought a ticket and watched the film. I have forgotten the film’s name. But I remember its heroine was Madhubala. In the recess of the show, I habitually turned my head to the family gallery – it was empty. Only blue zero bulb was dimly shining.
I came back to my friends’ room. We had dinner at the local Marwarri’s hotel. We finished dinner and headed to the hostel. I saw Azeem was coming from the hostel. He was one of our old friends, he always argued in favor of Pakistan, and was so emotional when the opponent was logical, and then he suddenly cried and wept. He told me that teaching positions are vacant in the college and assured me that with an appearance certificate one could be eligible to apply. I thanked him and invited him for a cup of tea. But he politely declined and went away.
Next day was Monday, I went to college. I got the information from the college office about what Azeem had told me the previous night. It was true. However, there was only one condition – a new appointee, who has been selected based on appearance certificate, would have to resign, if he failed, and would retain his job with a fresh status if he qualified again next year.
The office clerk told that interviews will continue till next week. Then and there, I applied for the position of reader/ junior lecturer. ‘So, on what date you would appear before the committee,’ the clerk spontaneously asked. I said, ‘on Thursday.’ He allotted me a morning time slot. He suggested that I should reach between 9:00 am to 10:00 am. I reached a bit early. I re-read the notices. Finally, I was called. I noted there were three persons, and the fourth one was our college’s administrative officer for administrative support. Among the three-person committee, I could only know Saeen Ghulam Haider Soomro, who had taught us philosophy. I sat before the committee – there was silence. Meanwhile, my certificates were checked. I thought the interview would be in Sindhi or English. But suddenly, I realized that the official medium of the selection committee is Urdu. One of the committee members asked me to introduce myself. I did. And the next question was ‘where Pakistan Resolution was passed?’ I responded ‘Lahore.’ I volunteered information, it existed in Punjab; it is one of the provinces of India. He noted as my answer was not received well.
Another member asked ‘which provincial assembly passed a resolution in support of Pakistan?’ Quickly, I responded, ‘Sindh assembly had passed the resolution tabled by G. M. Syed.’ At that time, the committee head interrupted, and asked, ‘Is it not enough that Sindh Assembly passed the resolution.’ My confidence was shattered. I felt that I had to struggle to utter words. Mr. Soomro came to my rescue and asked me, ‘What do you know about Quaid-e-Azam?’ I portrayed Quaid-e-Azam’s profile, and told the milestones of his life – ‘association with Congress, Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity and his marriage with Rattanbai.’ I was still conversing, but the committee head again interrupted and rudely asked, ‘Is it necessary to talk about Congress, Hindu-Muslim relationship, and Parsee connection?’
I felt insulted. I gathered courage, and said, ‘Sir, it is history.’ He struck his fist on the finely polished table, and dictated, ‘Forget history, now you are in Pakistan. I was confused, and still, after nearly six decades I am not sure how to align history and Pakistan. I forget to tell you about my result. It was announced on Friday and I was failed.
Friends, today’s lockdown ends here. But do not forget political decisions always add on or erase our existing knowledge. But remember, the present note was just a combination of ideas – fact, and fiction.
Zaffar Junejo is Ph.D. Scholar at Department of History, University of Malaya Kuala Lumpur – The areas of interest: Peasants’ Studies, Social History, Cultural History, Colonial and Post-Colonial Periods.
For author’s previous blog click on Sindh Courier