By Anjum Altaf in the Economic and Political Weekly
Individuals picked off, gone – strangers, friends of friends, friends, relatives – some for who they were, others for straying in the way.
Names etched in memories – Ali Haider, Faisal Manzoor, Mehdi Ali, Rashed Rehman, Irfan Ali, Farzana Parveen, Perveen Rehman…
The public, incapacitated – benumbed, indifferent, does it matter?
Instead, shrill voices of love and hate troll predictably, pressing stale arguments into uncomplaining service.
The telephone rings. A voice from afar:
— Time to give up now?
We have gone to bed often with this question only to wake up irresolute, buying time, cursing broken promises, comforting fading hopes.
Is love denial? Is hate the absence of understanding?
Is there truth beyond love and hate?
Can we look at ourselves, own what stares back at us, and find reasons to hope?
On one side, history – witches burnt, heretics persecuted, blacks lynched, Jews gassed – the journey from darkness into light.
On the other, reality – witches burnt, heretics persecuted, blacks lynched, Jews gassed – the ones that perished in the dark.
Who perishes in the dark? Who survives into the light?
Jews fled to survive. Blacks escaped north to fight.
There is no North here.
What do we say to them we have failed? We will emerge in the light fueled by your embers?
What do we say to ourselves when we begin to go mad, seeds of hatred lodged in every breast sprouting tangled, thorny vines?
What do we do when we foresee our names in the registers, we who did not hate enough?
What do we do when the ship begins to list? Set it right, keep it afloat.
And when it begins to sink? Lower the rafts.
And be the last to leave.
This then is the answer – at once unconvincing and overwhelming – to the voice over the telephone.
— For them, over whom the black clouds have descended – flight, to fight another day.
— The rest, they stay – to make this land whole again as they see it whole.
One day, they too shall leave, but not yet, not just yet.
An epigraph from Yeats has been added to the print version by EPW.
Thanks to Hasan Altaf for valuable suggestions.
Anjum Altaf is dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.