Saturday June 10, 2023

Waris Mir died with his boots on

By Amir Mir
July 09, 2020

For some time now, there is a rising trend of tagging those writers and intellectuals as traitors in Pakistan who dare to think and write differently.

In the words of American journalist Henry Anatole Grunwald, “Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air.” When Grunwald calls the absence of silence the greatest fault of journalism; he directs cognitive minds towards the predicament of censorship and pressures which lead to self-censorship.

The falsehood of labeling Waris Mir would hardly be new to the man who, despite not existing in this world anymore, stays relevant because of his timeless approach towards progressive writing. The sure sign of a good piece of literature or journalism is it being futuristic in approach. Waris Mir fought for his right to free expression and for the freedom of thought vehemently, during the roughest stint of martial law ever experienced by the nation.

In his last essay, published in Daily Jang in 1987, posthumously, he doesn’t sound like a man under pressure but like a man asserting his right to speak as well as still trying to make sense of a chaotic world – not just for his readers among the junta but also those who could not bear to listen to him anymore, though listen they did, nonetheless, in order to tighten the noose of job security and right to free speech around him.

Waris Mir writes, “It seems to me, that those people, who misuse their power of the pen, to strengthen the ill-meant political system of present day Pakistan – a military democracy, as they call it – are’ the ones dear and near to their favourite general and have been awarded with certificates of patriotism. However, those people who thrive despite the tangled web of personal gains designed by the political elite, are called fungus for the land of Pakistan.

"The people of Pakistan have always been led by the nose by those political leaders who never want the masses to learn; that behind all pseudo agendas of religion and politics, these so-called leaders are always serving themselves big scoops of self-interest. When governments base their policies on orthodox and obsolete policies, it is usually done under the camouflage of indisputable whims of religion, no matter how counterproductive they are. Similarly, those voices or words which exercise the right to debate these issues are either silenced by force or are given colourful labels to discredit them.”

As per Waris Mir’s school of thought, journalism cannot be a ‘feel-good’ medium of expression. It is by and large, a textual description of a tangible or intangible scene. It requires the techniques of allegory, literary references, literary review. Journalism is raw text, both in writing and in speech, but with a flair. It is as informative as it is educational, and in no measures is it pulp, beaten nor whisked. Waris Mir’s writings are exemplary of these characteristics. The line between literature and journalism is porous.

Thoroughly researched essays and bodies of text quoted as reference handbooks have largely been part of journalistic writing, such as those of Waris Mir, who not only taught journalism at the Mass Communication Department at the University of the Punjab during the tyrannical Ziaul Haq regime, but also wrote columns in established and leading newspapers in Urdu, in a way that they have been put together in several volumes of collections of essays. In an interview on October 3, 1981, Waris Mir’s thunderous voice boomed through the transmitters of Radio Pakistan, where he discussed writing and reading.

He said, “I have found more knowledge in the books not prescribed by the curriculum but those which my teachers or seniors at school would be reading in their spare time. One’s experience is enriched through reading and an enriched mind is more capable of writing positive and productive notes in the vast scripture that nature has put in front of us.”

It takes not just a journalist but a well-read man to see his surroundings as a book, in which one writes history in their own way with every passing day. “I tell my students this every day, the essentiality of grasping reality from different angles, which can better be done out in the field rather than in the classroom. This correlation between the social structures around us affects us, and in turn, we affect them. It is better to be well-equipped to exude positivity into our environs”.

Waris Mir, like most rebels, has been written about in those margins which fall on the right side of history. Those who are still trying to malign his name are doing a disservice to themselves alone, and in a way a service to Mir’s name which resurfaces during every debate and bit of writing wherein patriotic writing, journalistic credentials and good values of commitment are being written of.

Ahmed Bashir, friend, companion and fellow writer of Mir, writes in an essay in the book, 'The Story of a Rebel': “Waris Mir was a truthful and realistic writer. His references were from history as they were from the Quran. It is not possible to ... write him off. His last days were very painful because of the atrocities he had to face at the hands of [the] Zia junta. But Waris Mir died fighting, with his boots on, at the young age of 48. His death deprived the pen of a warrior, and Pakistan of a true patriot.”

Note: the death anniversary of Prof Waris Mir falls today.

The writer is a journalist and author.