The subversive past

History never forgets, it invariably seeks vengeance upon those who try to distort facts

While excavating an interred past a thorough search in the heap of eclipsed memory brings home some faint shadow, which could be frustrating but a productive and qualitatively different outcome is equally possible. On a cold and grey night, shivering with the chill in the air a child clad in warm clothes, sitting beside his grandma in a Chevrolet, was wheezing and coughing. Each bout stifled his breath little more. The Mall in late 50s was not over-congested with traffic. It did not take long to reach the doctor who took his time to diagnose the ailment. Acute Bronchitis was his diagnosis as he affectionately caressed the red cheeks of the child and wrote the prescription. The child was this scribe and the doctor was some Aaron or David Seltzer — probably a Sephardic Jew.

The unconscious is a black hole but memories are always retrievable. They have subversive character hence recalled by the psychologists to combat the neurosis. Men without memory are what capitalism needs for the status-quo, under its might recalling the memory becomes a moral act. In my own memory, I carry an image of my childhood physician as that of Sigmund Freud and cherish his fond memory as a messiah who pulled an ailing child from the jaws of a possible death. At that stage, none had the inkling how much the Jewish lineage was going to play a role in the intellectual development of a child of a Muslim pedigree. Incidentally, from Marx to Marcuse every one helped him to become a better and enlightened human being.

Fast forward to mid-70s when a charismatic man of destiny, a Caesar with diminishing power borrowed a page from the fascist history by using the parliament to divert the class struggle into a fake religious encounter. A sect among the Muslims was chosen as victim to replace the Jews of yesteryear. The economic necessity reincarnated a homegrown Hitler and the country slid back to 1930.

During the religious riots, at its acme, I had the temerity to visit one of my friends who having had his house ransacked by the ‘very pure’ exchanged his property with survival. He was hiding in a small apartment situated on McLeod road in proximity to the Brooms hostel. Only a handful of non-conformists knew his place. In a gloomy evening, in the ruins of hopes and season of terror we met to console him. In the midst of the ashes of his withered garden, he stood amazingly tall. It was bewildering yet delectably pleasant to see the effulgence of his spirit. He brought me a couple of books, which he was able to rescue from the wrath of virtuous insanity; the Holy Koran and the Capital. A heretic, a Giordano Bruno despite standing at the stake was protecting the sanctity of the scripture. The only difference was it was not 1600 but 1974.

The assembly has become a symposium of sadists where Faustian language, pejorative, pretoration and threating words are spoken against those who don’t agree with the official versions of religion, thought and political ideology

History never forgets, it invariably seeks vengeance upon those who try to distort its face. When perdition comes back to haunt, the tyrant finds a bare minimum room to escape. Before the turn of the decade a Bonaparte, a Frankenstein overthrew the populist Caesar. The unreason finally took its toll. My family closely associated with the ideology of socialism — lost upon the Caesar himself who advanced it for his ulterior motives — suffered the share of its plight. When a piece of flesh was denied, the pious lust begging for a piece of spirit, dragged the material content, the assets of a famous physician, out on the road and set his belongings alight. My father lost his savings; it was the beginning of our unending exodus, in wilderness having no destination.

“He who dies in despair has lived his whole life in vain” this was exactly what I noticed in my brief encounter with a leading jurist of Pakistan who presided over the anti Ahmadi riots of 1953. A cancer of prostate made him wiser and probably upright as well. Death loses its terror when it comes closer than one’s shadow. Despite shouldering a big, blot on his career a decision, which changed the course of Pakistani politics, he remained impeccably secular, fully convinced that the religious issue was nothing beyond a political gimmickry.

Today the Lilliputians and the political dwarfs, even the suspects are spewing the venomous gall against the minorities. The assembly has become a symposium of sadists where Faustian language, pejorative peroration and threatening words are spoken glaringly against all those who differ the official version of religion, thought and political ideology. These are the field days for the civil-military might and feisty moments for the bloodthirsty clergy. The evil that the demagogue did is outliving him. Jinnah’s Pakistan is finding itself at the extreme ebb of its decadence. Is it necessary to flutter a flag glorifying a Swastika when every member of middle class is carrying one in their heart?

Small wonders that in this wave of insanity Munir-report is shelved in the remotest corner of state archives. In this historical piece, Munir persistently demanded the definition of a Muslim from the clergy of all hues. In the end probably in sheer exasperation, he states, “keeping in view the several definitions given by ulema, need we make any comments except that no two learned divines agree to this fundamental. If we attempt our own definition as each learned divine has done and that definition differs from that given by all others, we unanimously go out of fold of Islam. And if we adopt the definition given by any one of the ulema, we remain Muslim according to the definition of that Alim (religious scholar) but Kafir (infidel) according to the definition of everyone else”. The deposed king of Egypt Farouk, who sarcastically reminded Pakistanis that Islam was not born on August 14, 1947, was not altogether wrong.

‘The old world’ Gramsci says ‘is dying away, and the new world struggles to come forth; now is the time of monsters’. ‘In epoch of revolutionary crisis tradition of all dead generation are apt to weigh upon the people’. Marx continues they ‘conjure up the spirits of past to present this new scene in world history in time honoured disguise and borrowed language’. The savage dances of monsters and the orgy of recalled spirits are displayed in the open. The sleazy disguise and the hideous language both are vivid and can be deciphered easily. One wonders when the process of transformation sets in would it culminate by supplanting religion with Locke or the atavistic rule of Rasputins would continue to rein in. Out of this utter chaos, is there a possibility of a revolution to emerge or the restoration would continue to haunt the shores of false purity? The fate of Pakistan hinges on these questions.


The writer has authored books on socialism and history. He blogs at and can be reached


Published in Daily Times, October 18th 2017.