Ego, corona and love, in SouthAsia.


What is an ego? The word has been used irresponsibly through time. Iqbal, Nietzsche, Freud all indulged in putting it on the pedestal, their ‘ego’ was a human kind who had mastered the self, to the point of submission and renewal ‘ khudi ko kar buland itna keh har taqdeer seh pehlay, khuda banday se khud poochay, bata teri raza kya hai (Iqbal) – then Hitler came and looked at Nietzsche for his own good – the message of the ego was tweaked and presented in a new light – that’s what false egos have always done in history – while messiahs and prophets preached submission and surrender- an infinity of articles online teach self-love, we live in a world where books on loving ‘thy self’ end up producing millennial idols. While people like Bill Gates and Tom Hanks find their share of reconnection , reflection and enlightenment, TV show hosts in Pakistan have almost lost their vocal cords in the debate of whether mosque, prayer congregation should go on or not in the times of corona. Maulana Tariq Jamil, a coveted, reckoned and learned Islamic clergy came on TV a few days back to pray for the world in these contaminated times, he clearly mentioned in his sermon that it is Allah’s order to stay in your homes, pray in your homes and protect yourself when there is a pandemic in the environment, but the debate continues, Mecca/holy Kaaba has been closed for the public, but here on the TV shows, the debate endures. We rely on pragmatic Wahabi Islam for many of our state affairs, gentrification of shrines etc. but the South Asian romanticism doesn’t leave us in matters of religion, where it should. A few weeks back my mother called my uncle (her brother) to make sure that he shouldn’t go to the mosque and pray, as he should protect himself in these times, the lockdown wasn’t common then and after a five minute call my mom came back teary eyed saying: “people who go to the mosque, can’t do otherwise… he was only going for two farz as the mosque had only been opened for a short period”. My uncle who’s being addressed here is an incontestably learned and intelligent man…

Love, devotion, going for the Jummah prayer is every Muslim’s privilege but as the number of cases increase I wonder what kind of love does Allah the healer (Ash -Shaafeeo), the protector (Ya Hafizo) ask from us…

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While debates on “what will happen to the daily wager through a continued lock down?” and the approximate number of hospital beds of a few million in a population of billions, the morsel of the health budget in our country, ‘dread and echo’ on the television – one wonders what can be done to be prepared for the worst. As I write this and think about urging the Prime Minister to ask for help in preparing, Pakistanis have always arrived for each other in turmoil and disaster, I overhear that it has already been done but will it help?  I hope the world heals but it’s important to be prepared. The Punjab government finally realized the severity and drastic measures have been taken, the cities appear and feel quarantined but along with this we need to improve ourselves, in facility, equipment and primarily mindset.

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The last two years of my life have asserted the transitory-ness of life but even more than that the tragedy of our health systems and the value of wellbeing. My dad, a veteran journalist (economist and political journalist), human rights activist, poet, was a part of many journalistic scrutiny committees and was elected the President of the Punjab union of journalists. He was known for his integrity and honesty. In 2018 a small ‘burn’ in a home accident became severe due to his diabetes. Through this time I remember his agony when in the Jinnah hospital he was on a bed which he did not fit into – he was 6’ 2” and the bed was many inches smaller and narrower than him(we stayed there less than a night). We were in the burn and bullet center, a man on a stretcher, plopping blood from his chest entered, his bed was kicked like a football to slide into surgery, old buckets were kept on the side and blood accumulated in them and loads fell on the floor, the man returned in half an hour again, opposite us, he was still wearing the bloody sweater that he wore before he went into surgery.  My father had a small debridement procedure (dead skin removal) and then he yelled that we should return home – and so we did. After the debridement a person from Jinnah Hospital came home to change the dressing for a few days, he further damaged the wound with unnecessary skin removal and his tools. Septicemia was accumulating in dad’s body due to the wound. He was a man with a strong mind, body and heart, his body was giving up but on mom’s insistence he began visiting a small hospital near our place. Every day for two months mom drove dad for 2000 mg antibiotic injections. Sometimes I joined them. After the procedure we had fresh juice or lunch before returning home. The main doctor there, a young, talkative chap (the hospital was his uncle’s) kept saying that the increased swelling of the feet was because my father was not walking, when dad asked why he wasn’t being able to walk anymore the doctor said “because you are not walking” how could he walk with poison spread all over his body?! By this time the regular heavy dosage of antibiotic without any x-rays or tests had spread the Septicemia in the entire body. Upon collapse and an appointment that my uncle arranged we reached the Defence Medical Clinic, there the institute shuddered on his condition and said only a bigger hospital could manage it. The doctors prepared us that our case was so urgent and critical that a public hospital would fail (the haunted memory of the bloody Jinnah hospital made us agree) and we made sure that it had to be a private hospital. Apparently the best hospital and surgeon in Lahore were arranged within a night, with the help of family. We moved to the National hospital. Forty days, nine amputations/debridements and most of my dad’s humble, lifetime saving along with self-offered generosity from close family /friends ‘spent’ in the hospital bill, we left for home from the National Hospital, Lahore. I can write a book on those forty days and this is a just a flicker of the story. With all arrangements made at home – two male nurses, hospital bed and the National Hospital main, wound-dressing nurse visiting us every night for the dressing – dad’s Septicemia had gone. He had lost his right foot with the heel remaining. Prosthetics were a promised land. The physiotherapist came every day for opening his joints and exercise. When dad sat hanging his legs from the hospital bed and watching TV we rejoiced and gleamed. When his best friend visited and the entire home could hear them laughing at the times they had ‘lived’, it was happiness.  One and a half month had passed. His appetite was good, his wound was healing but suddenly he began losing his appetite and becoming frail. The grand demeanor began showing bones, whenever we asked his doctor on scheduled visits, we were told not to worry and give supplements. Dad left us on the 22nd of June in 2018. I had not been in town since twelve days and the nutrition problem had majorly deteriorated after I’d left. I talked to him every day. I was on call with him. And it happened an hour after that. He took one relaxed breath, closed his eyes and left us.

 This sharing is only a morsel of what I saw of my country Pakistan in those forty days. As corporate files, insurances etc. piled up in front of me with the title ‘paid by company’ on the hospital counter, a man who dedicated his life to truth and Pakistan was on self-support. Born in the privileged elite, ‘middle class’ was a life that my dad ‘created’ for himself through different lessons he had learnt and choices he made, mainly to know what it’s like to be a Pakistani – but in this posh private hospital of the city, as friends , family gathered around him every day – his spirits remained high and he talked about the strength of soldiers who go to war and that he was the brother of a martyr, but his disappointment travelled into me whenever I held his hand and whenever I looked deep into his eyes – middle class – in Pakistan – really hurt. He knew that the treatment he was getting , a days expenses there were twenty times more than the monthly wages of an average Pakistani. This offense was not so much upon the hospital , as they were providing the services, but upon the larger truth.

This is not the Pakistan he believed in and loved so dearly.

He wrote this note on the 14th of August, only an year before he left:

“7oth independence day. Country has passed through decades of nonsense. We need to be a justice giving social welfare state. Do it fast” (JHA)

My father’s old friends stood by him. When gangrene had invaded his body, the Lahore Press Club, The Business Recorder, institutions he took ownership of were invisible. As soon as he left there were beautiful memorial ceremonies, ‘deep’ shared grief, regrets and loss among his comrades and words and stories to last a hundred lifetimes but a man who fought for the rights of his journalist community from the front was alone in his last fight. My father, commonly known as ‘Raja Sahib’ was the life of these places for four decades. At home, on the 1st May 2018 only I know how I had to convince him that it was impossible to take him to the Press Club to raise the national flag on Labour day. I called a journalist friend of his and made him call my father and say that no ceremony was happening in the club and all traffic was blocked. The recovery of his wound didn’t allow such a visit.

He was a poet. Many versions of his handwritten unpublished poetry book are in our safekeeping. He also presided over the literary committee of the Lahore Press Club for many years and valued the company of his poet friends. On his memorial ceremony in the Lahore Press Club I promised his journalist fraternity that we will publish his poetry book soon.

Most of my father’s poetry is satire, irony, glorious tragedy  and there are many of his works which resonate deeply with our times now, where the world is on a ventilator and struggling to breath, but I present to you one of his works which entails who ‘we’ the South Asians are as a people –

 It is hope –

And I share it because after all, I am my father’s daughter.

Let’s try and remember all of this – and while remembering it work for a land with more hospital beds and not hopeless metros…


Hum Ayaz bhi hein, Mahmood bhi hein

Hum Chishti aur Ayub bhi hein

Hum Daata ka Fezan bhi hein

Hum subho ka eqan bhi hein

Hum Qasim ka khwab bhi hein

Hum Jehangir ka insaf bhi hein

Hum Hussain ka esar bhi hein

Hum Baahu ka afkar bhi hein

Hum Shams ki tanveer bhi hein

Hum Rumi ki taleem bhi hein

Hum Buddha ke chahne walay hein

Hum Nanak ke maannay waley hein

Hum Tehran bhi hein, hum Kandahar bhi hein

Hum Yasrab ke beqarar bhi hein

Hum Esa ki saleeb bhi hein

Hum Musa ka asa bhi hein

Hum Shabir ki talwar bhi hein

Hum phoolun ka haar bhi hein

Hum laal qilay ke malik hein

Hum Taj Mahel ke khaliq hein

(Jalil hassan Akthar Raja.

1.1.1952 – 22.6. 2018)

A humble translation:

“WE, the creators of the TAJ MAHAL”  

And yes, we are Ayaz and Mahmood

Yet we are also Chishti and Ayub

And we are Daata’s grace

Yet we are the faith upon the sunrise

And we are Qasim’s dream

Yet we are also Jenhangir’s justice 

And we are Hussain’s altruism

Yet we are also Baahu’s thought

And we are Shams’s light

Yet we are also Rumi’s scholarship

And we are the lovers of Buddha

Yet we also confide in Nanak

We are Tehran, we are Qandahar  

 Yet we also yearn for Yasrab

And we are Jesus’s rood

Yet we are also Moses’s rod

And we are Shabir’s sword

Yet we are also a garland of roses

We are the owners of the red fort

And the creators of the Taj Mahal   

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