Nadeem F. Paracha
He wrote in English. Someone complained that since Urdu was the country’s national language, he should be writing in Urdu. So he wrote in Urdu, only to be told that he should be writing in the country’s four major regional languages: Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi and Balochi. So he wrote the same things in these languages but was told that since he was a Muslim, he should be writing in Arabic.
So he now wrote in Arabic until someone asked, ‘why write at all when one could say the same thing?’ So he decided to speak and say the same things in Arabic, Urdu, English, Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi and Balochi.
Someone didn’t like what he was saying and asked him to say something else. But before he could do that there was a commotion between those who liked what he was saying and those who didn’t. Soon the question arose, what was it that he was saying?
Many answers sprang up, so much so that everyone forgot what the question was. Everybody had an answer but nobody could remember the question. They began to brawl over what the question was and nobody bothered to ask him. Then someone asked, ‘what about faith?’
Quite often it is difficult to assess the collateral damage of being in a vicious circle
‘What about it?’ He replied.
‘Was that the question?’ Someone inquired.
‘No,’ he answered.
‘Why not?’ He was asked.
But before he could answer he was told to speak about faith. He said faith had nothing to do with what he was first writing and then speaking about. He was booed and some people even wagged their fingers at him, telling him to stop spreading faithlessness.
He said he wasn’t. They said he was. But before he could add more, a commotion broke out about whether those telling him to talk about faith were as faithful as those who weren’t.
He watched them brawl over who was more faithful. He tried to stop them through pleas of peace and tolerance — first in Arabic, then in Urdu, then in English, Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi and Balochi.
‘What was the question?’ Someone asked him again.
‘Why ask when you guys already claim to know the answer,’ he lamented.
‘Is your faith not the same faith as ours?’ Somebody inquired.
‘Indeed, it is,’ he said. ‘But what I was talking about had nothing to do with faith.’
Then someone interrupted: ‘Everything has to do with faith …’
Now it was his turn to interrupt: ‘Yes, everything has to do with faith but nothing with the faith.’
There was a short, sharp silence. Then someone spoke: ‘Huh?’
He kind of repeated himself: ‘Whatever you do believing that you do it for faith has nothing to do with faith.’
There was another short episode of awkward silence. And then, ‘huh?’
‘Huh, indeed’, he said.
Then someone asked him to speak to them like he was one of their own. ‘Yes,’ another agreed. ‘Speak like a true son of the soil.’
‘Yes,’ someone else also agreed, ‘speak like you too sprang from the soil of Yemen!’
‘Yemen?’ Someone asked. ‘You mean, Samarkand, in Central Asia, no?’
‘No, no …’ another pitched in, ‘someone who came from Persia.’
Soon all this sparked a commotion and a brawl: ‘Yemen!’ ‘No, Samarkand!’ ‘No, Persia!’ Another interrupted: ‘South Asia, perhaps?’ This started another brawl.
‘Settle this,’ someone asked him.
‘How?’ He replied. ‘I’ve done all that I was asked to and yet everything I say, or you say, or they say ends up in starting a brawl.’
‘It’s a debate, a discourse,’ someone added. ‘Democracy,’ added another. ‘It’s screaming bloody chaos!’ Someone complained. And ‘… what was the question?’
He didn’t know. By now he too had forgotten the question that he himself had asked. Then someone said: ‘You’re a terrible speaker. I suggest you go back to writing. In English.’
He agreed. So he wrote in English. Someone complained that since Urdu was the country’s national language …
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 30th, 2014