Things are getting bad, so bad that if they get any worse they will become very, really, truly bad. The very worst of course would be if our brothers in Islam start killing all the people in Lahore having the last name Hussain. Or have they started already? In fact, somebody actually suggested just the other day that people with ‘Shia’ sounding last names should remove nameplates from the front gates of their homes. Evidently, it seems that ‘suspicious’ young men were seen prowling the neighbourhood possibly searching out homes where Shias lived.
As I pondered upon this, I wondered what one of my Jhangvi type brothers in Islam would do if he came upon somebody with a name like ‘Syed Abul Hassan Ali Ibn Usman’? I suppose he would get very confused and might even have to call his mentor in Jhang (using a mobile phone with an unregistered SIM card of course) for further instructions. Now, it is possible that the mentor in Jhang, being a bit better informed, just might realise that the name I mentioned belongs to the ‘patron saint’ of Lahore. Would then the mentor, realising that the name belonged to a Sufi better known as Data Sahib, still urge the acolyte to perform his religious duty fearlessly?
This reminds me of the dark days when General Ziaul Haq (remember him?) ruled the roost. The law was passed that zakat (poor tax) would be automatically deducted from all bank accounts. The Shias evidently invaded Islamabad and forced the general to rescind the law as far as the Shias were concerned. A second cousin of my late father, and a Sunni, as the story goes, went to his bank when they tried to deduct zakat from his account and insisted that he was a Shia. When asked to sign an affidavit to that effect he kept saying, “Why do I have to sign anything? Does my name not tell you that I am a Shia?” Oh, those were the days.
Even today, almost a third of all bank accounts are supposedly held by people that affirm they are Shias. That does bring up an interesting question. If the government deducts zakat from an account, does then the account holder, in the eyes of the government and the law, automatically become a Sunni Muslim? And then should that person be treated under the law as a Sunni Muslim?
Here, perhaps, some sincere advice for our intrepid chief minister is in order. Even though his government has not been able to safeguard the lives or property of the citizens of this great city, could it at least help out people who might be in danger for having Shia sounding names? He could just ask his heavily moustachioed minister, who is in close touch with the Jhangvi boys, to ask them to make a list of acceptable names and then publish this list so that all those that so choose can use one of these names on their houses instead of their own Shia ‘sounding’ names.
Changing names for religious, social, cultural or political reasons is not something new. Many immigrants, on arriving in the US, often changed their original names. Eastern Europeans and Asians simplified their last names to make them more acceptable to speakers of English. Some Jews anglicised their names so that they could assimilate more easily. In Pakistan also, many arrivals after partition did what might be called a ‘caste creep’. As the joke goes, more Syeds were born during partition than ever before!
Enough about names. So, how else could things get worse? Let me count the ways. One possibility could be that our Chief Minister (CM) decides to redo all the roads, flyovers, underpasses and other such that were done a year ago. Now that would seriously screw up traffic and besides bring us the concomitant misery of having to inhale even larger amounts of dust and cement particles. This will of course tremendously increase the incidence of lung problems and require ever greater medical care. I suppose some of my physician friends might even welcome this added source of ‘new’ patients.
Another thing that drives me to desperation is the possibility that the Punjab government will fix the price of tomatoes, onions and garlic at some entirely supposedly popular and incredibe low price. That would of course remove all of them from the market. Thereafter, I would need a ‘bootlegger’ if I wanted to buy any of these things. And we all know how difficult it is to procure the services of a reliable bootlegger. Just imagine ordering a kilo of tomatoes and getting rutabagas instead and not even being able to complain about it. And worse, if I cannot find garlic, how will I keep the vampires away?
Then there is the news suggesting that the venerable Lady Willingdon Hospital in Lahore is going to be torn down since it obstructs the view of the Badshahi Masjid in Lahore. For whom, may I ask? I spent three very pleasant months living across the GT road from it during my OB/Gyn rotation as a medical student in King Edward Medical College. Memories of the ‘magical’ evening walks through the neighbourhood that can be encapsulated in the verse ‘bazaar sai guzra hoon khareedar naheen hoon’ (I went through the market but not as a buyer) will always remain with me. If they can tear down a historical landmark for such a puerile reason, what next? Half of the walled city?
And, finally, what about all this Turkey (no, not the bird) stuff. Turkish buses, Turkish waste collection, Turkish power production, Turkish traffic control, Turkish security, Turkish soap operas on television? Last night, I had a nightmare. It seemed that the CM had declared that, from now onwards, everybody in Lahore must speak Turkish and those who would not would go to jail. The way things are going, it could happen you know.
Islamabad is now infested by ideologically driven young men and women, none of whom are just ...