‘The problem is that at a young age none takes life seriously. It is the formative phase, when there is vigor, will, and energy. Neither academic institution nor family teaches us how to nurture life. Therefore, in our society dream to contribute, vision to transform, fear of reality/challenge and sorrows are banned topics’
By Zaffar Junejo
Today, I received a call from my friend. Nowadays, he works with a pharmaceutical company, although he is a medical doctor. In these, lockdown days he is at his native village. I recall, we became friends in the 1980s, when Sindh’s student politics was in its peak days. In those days, I always found him in extreme vigor and total dedication to his political ideas. A straight talk was his dominant personality trait. Today, he called and conversed about the coronavirus, but had no spirit in his conversation. I asked him why there are non-committal words and no zeal in his conversation. There was a bit long pause, I heard a sigh, and then he told ‘Nothing, Dear.’ I immediately asked, ‘so what is nothing?’ He giggled, and then asked, ‘Do you have time to listen?’ I said yes, please go on. He spoke continuously, what he told I wrote down, with his permission. I have omitted the individuals’ names and places. However, the narration may resemble the generation of the 1960s, who were active in student politics of the 1980s.
‘In the 1980s I was not afraid of death. I never thought about it. The thought of death never occurred to me. I always thought that death is for others, even my elder brother died, but it didn’t change my perception about death, another relative died, but I was not moved. At that time I was 29 years old. I was grossed in trivialities, and such business continued for twenty years. On my 40th birthday, my wife remarked, ‘now think about your children’ and ‘we are living in a rented house.’ These sentences affected dramatically, and I felt that I slipped from the top of Himalaya. The first time, I felt tiredness, guilt, and it became suddenly clear like a huge billboard with words: ‘What Life You Have Lived, it was Absurd.”
“I forced myself to become a new person, and focused on securing social security and status. I bought the house, car and got status showing the club’s membership. This phase continued for twelve years.”
I was silently listening. In between, he checked my attentiveness with a brief question, ‘Are you there?’ My reply was ‘Yes. I am.’ And he continued.
He resumed, ‘My elder son is a doctor, and last year my daughter has joined the girls’ college as a lecturer. They have their own lives. My wife has adopted her lifestyle – she loves religious rituality – and she has her circle of like-minded friends. My office colleagues’ regular topics are the firm’s internal politics, annual bonus, commentary on co-female workers, and Umrah and Hajj, and weekend dinner to outpost hotels.’
‘So, you are living full scheduled life.’ I asked.
He responded, ‘You may say so, but it is not productive. Honestly, I am living a life of guilt; it has damaged my vigor and will power. I am moving non-entity. I am not happy.’
‘But at what stage you realized that you have ruined your life, and harvested the guilt and bitterness,’ I enquired.
‘These thoughts came into my mind in these lockdown days.’ He told me just as a matter of fact.
Jokingly I said, ‘be thankful to lockdown days, the situation pushed you to look at life, retrospectively.’
‘Yes, but it seems, I have betrayed dreams.’ And there was silence.
I called back, but his cell phone was off.
I felt disturbed. I called his son, he asked me to hold on, and told me that ‘everything is fine.’ He continued, ‘Nowadays, Baba, feels isolated,’ and ended the call.
My friend’s conversation shocked me. I couldn’t figure out, what should be the remedy.
An instant thought came into my mind that it is a case of psychology. I contacted my psychiatrist friend and narrated him the situation. Being student activist of the 1980s, he picked up the story quickly. What he told. I noted it down. Now, I am reproducing the same.
‘The problem is that at a young age none takes life seriously. However, it is the formative phase, when there is vigor, will, and energy. Neither academic institution nor family teaches us how to nurture life. Therefore, in our society dream to contribute, vision to transform, fear of reality/challenge and sorrows are banned topics. In your friend’s case, he has been indulged in falsified activities, and these activities have emptied him.’
Abruptly, I said, ‘Yes, it is so.’ I was in a rush to get the remedy for my friend.
‘Your friend, due to various pressures, has indulged himself in trifles and spends his time eating, shopping, and distractions. Suddenly, he has realized that he is living a time-short-life. Sometimes, he lets it go. Now, these lockdown days, he has remembered his old dream, suppressed. But he is shocked that there is no one to encourage and appreciate his courageous struggle of student days. Suddenly, in the hurry, he has concluded that he has been cheated, and his struggle and dedication was a fraud, and the main culprit was he, himself.’
I interrupted him and asked, ‘what is the remedy?’
He told it is a positive sign that your friend on his own has realized. So, one thing is that he must understand that death is real, the matter has to decay. Also suggest your friend to connect himself with bigger action or movement, it might be tree plantation drive or things like that, and start reading. He may even overhaul himself by watching ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’ movie. The movie will help him overcome his physical as well as emotional hurdles. But, remind your friend, the movie may act as a push, and it is not remedy. He has to recharge himself through contribution and appreciation.
I realized hurry in his tone. So, I asked what else he must do. ‘Nothing, just he has to be with Nature.’
P.S. The suggested film is based on the book. The full name of the book is ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death’. Isa Daudpota introduced me that book in the 1990s.
(Zaffar Junejo, Ph.D. Scholar, 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