Recently I happened to visit the Islamabad Kachehree in F-8 where my father needed to get some “stamp” papers for validation of my brother’s Nikah. Exhausted from the day’s work, I trudged along at 5 in the evening as we passed by shabbily built quarters serving as different law companies’ offices. I was reminded of the John Grisham illustrations of lawyers’ firms and the elaborate sophistication associated with them. I was to find out later that the separate quarters erected like lego blocks in the middle of walkways, were infact the more privileged ones as many more lay holed up in one room offices on different floors of the at-best two or three storey high complex in the main square.
Call it my ignorance or more accurately put burger-oblivion to the actual wheels and gears of the society; Some of that and some of the surprise and uncertainty so intricately tied with everything Pakistani, again probably a very convenient ornate façade of an excuse for the moral depravity visible in every layer of our social behavior and its consequences that render the system completely unresponsive to any set of rules and procedures, I was in for some more discoveries.
As we got to the main square, there were these 3×1 ft desks with monitors and files atop on the walkways in front of the main complex. One of the staff manning these makeshift, mobile workplaces pointed to the stamp-paper guy. If this almost open-air office with just that shade of the patio on it wasn’t bad enough, this tree-manned wooden table with a printed polythene sheet and stack of files was a reflection of just one of the best of our responses to the demands of a modern day society. So firmly entrenched is our faith in God that we do not hesitate in leaving everything from office roofs to school classrooms to His gracious mercy. No wonder then that the stamp-paper guy, just as engrossed as he was in this conversation with some litigant in a high profile case involving some scam of lakhs of rupees, wouldn’t miss out on responding with “Peace be Upon Him” to “Rasool-uLLAH “ in the call for prayers in the background. With his livelihood literally depending on any turn of God’s splendor, in the tree and the weather and the grass on which was perched this wooden table, how could he miss out on any chance to exalt His Highness or His messenger.
Having signed off his name and imprinted his thumb print on a bulky register using an inkpad the stamp-paper guy had to moisten with water since it had dried up lying outside, on the purchase of three Rs 20 stamp papers, my father asked for the total charges. This guy who a minute ago had been lamenting with this litigant on God’s inevitable reprisal not just in the Hereafter but in this world too and very enthusiastically sending blessings to the Prophet (P.B.U.H.), made a total sum of 60+10+50. The extra 50 was obvious just like that, with no effort being made to feign innocence, the audacity reflective of the brazen disregard of the law that comes naturally in the land of Zardaris, and Rehman Maliks and Dastis, and of course the Hamesh Khans who travel in air-conditioned armored vehicles when being transported to and from jail-natural air obviously amounting to “torture” for the “Amreeka palat” white-collar accused. But it isn’t the simple top-to-down equation as probably this street wisdom comprising of many of the likes of the stamp paper guy from both outside and inside the high rise complexes where this show is enacted daily, would have us believe. It pervades all segments, and is rather down-to-top as it would be in any social dispensation even slightly representative of the electorate.
And so that unrelenting faith in God and its vibrant expression was not just for the tree and the weather and the grass. It is used very frequently as a sorry white-wash over a dearth of individual introspection and initiative, never for once putting its practitioners in doubt over their role in maintaining the status qou they lament everyday; never for once fearing that they may be chewing away on whatever remnants of respite they still have left from God, God Who wouldn’t keep going out of the way forever to flout the laws of nature He devised, Who would definitely lose patience on being taken for granted, Whose store of superficial glorifications entrusted to Him by callous followers would be depleted one day or the other, or maybe any moment, and which as our predicament would have me believe would not be surfeited by passionate (read “rowdy”) shows of devotion to the faith on the streets, boycott of one brand or the other from time to time and one of that favorite pass times of denouncing all assumed manifestations of “blasphemy”-all the while that we most graciously turn a blind eye to prayers exalting the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) for his blessings on every business on the street, rife with the disgust of bribery and forgery. The favors received due to the acts of a “few good men”, much like the performance of a collective obligation, would someday lose out against the much more obvious collective fault.
It is then that that tree would not stand stolid taking every misconduct in its stead. That tree, like a ventilator pumping air into a struggling life form would collapse, bringing down the business and the bribery.
God’s allowances don’t last forever; they wouldn’t for us either.