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‘Listen to me babu jee’


July 20, 2018

“All is well.” How well sounded these three words of the supporters of Ayub Khan’s administration (October 1958-March 1969)! But, by the close of the period called the “decade of development”, there was social and economic unrest, and the masses lost their temper over a 25 to 50 paisa per kilo rise in sugar price.

General Yahya Khan took over power. And, after the 1970 general election, the new government, which came into being in 1972, was toppled by General Zia-ul-Haq in July 1977 -- and the people’s elected prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was ‘sentenced to death’ -- and so forth, and so on.

Today, the government ‘lovers’ whisper privately “all is not well!” Why? Is it ‘atta’, along with sugar, whose unexpected rise in price and fall in quality seem to distance the common man from the once popular government? Such phenomenon has never been uncommon in the twin cities -- and nor is it now! The common man, out of disgust, prays to God to heal the economic wound soon. But, at the same moment, beseeches God to punish the feudal lords and capitalists who are flouting the Islamic teachings and looting the needy.

“Listen to me, babu jee! I’m not a beggar!” One was shocked. A grey haired and honourably-bearded old man, delivered the speechless message through his eyes. His worn-out white ‘shalwar’ and ‘kameez’ didn’t come in the way of interaction between the retired section officer of the Ayubi era and the 21st century wandering scribe. Both shared the Quaid’s vision of Pakistan at Aabpara where the jobless old and young man and some women come across each other, saying cheerfully “long live the Quaid’s dream!”

“Listen to me babu jee! I’m not a bootlicker!” The old man had no wrinkles while taking this scribe by hand away from the crowded meat and vegetable area of the market. The purpose was to inject into the listener’s mind how to survive with dignity and honour in unforeseen days of socio-economic and political ill-treatment and disappearance of human values.

That, in fact, turned out a meeting of minds in search of freedom from tension caused by high cost of living in the twin cities and depression created by inharmonious approach of the politicians to solving the problems of the citizens.

The evening gossips in the rural and urban localities suggest the mass of people aren’t afraid of any extremist or a fanatic interpreter of religion. To them the most progressive religion of the world is Islam. They are against exploitation of the poor by the rich, they want implementation of the socio-economic system of Islam in an atmosphere of brotherhood, equality and liberty -- in other words cheap but fine ‘roti’ to all, justice without delay to all, free health and education of quality to all, and security of life and property to all by the state.

That’s what a scribe with an empty bag stuck to his waist can collect from an old man.

“Listen to me, babu jee! I’m not a sermoniser.” The man in his 60s looking overtaken by poverty had on his finger-tips the latest per kilo retail rates of kitchen items, which have hit the backbone of every family of five to six members. Despite some retreat by the sky-rocketing food prices flower cabbage, green Shimla chilli, tomato and brinjal, lady finger and melon, rice and pulses are beyond a common man’s reach.

According to an Asian Development Bank report, 74 per cent of the Pakistani population, including Rawalpindi and Islamabad , are living with an income of two dollars a day. A five-member family is not in position to afford two meals a day in the wake of 22 per cent rise in prices of kitchen items. Half a million persons are said to have been rendered jobless on account of load-shedding in the country and the twin cities have their share of the suffering.

“Listen to me baba jee! I too not a beggar, I’ve this pen, this is my sword, to fight the poverty inflicted upon me, I’m a wandering scribe.”

-- [email protected]

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