Children of lesser elders
THE new members seeking to enter a club often have the odds stacked against them. There have been plenty of incidents taking place in our little world to indicate just how difficult we make it for our children from the very beginning.
The most tragic, the most barbaric of these was the case of nine infants losing their lives in a hospital fire in Lahore, a city that boasts of giving everyone a better deal than they could hope to get in many other places.
A couple of days later, television flashed the all-too-familiar images of a young Peshawar boy bearing the marks of lashes from his madressah teacher on his back, and his soul.
You can add incidents from any day selected at random to pinch yourself out of the stupor concerning the dangers our children have to contend with before they reach an age where they can be expected to suspect and be wary of everyone around them.
The country continues to throw up cases of children abused and, in many instances, silenced forever by the abusers fearing to be found out.
A few buses are routinely burned after an odd boy falls from his dangerous perch on the public transport system in any of the big towns in Pakistan.
Or you could pick up the recent murder — yes another one — of a teenaged boy in Lahore and blame it on anyone — from the gun-runners to the silently expanding culture of violence on campuses. Whatever your pick, there is no denying that we are failing, have failed, the people we entice into this world with promise.
The death of nine newborns in a government hospital fire reconfirms how Lahore in recent times has come to be stalked by murder — where even the most ordinary story could have the standard sinister dimensions to it.
Last week, I came across this man who had three seemingly routine anecdotes to share, related to the birth of each of his three children. When his first was about to be born, at the eleventh hour, the gynaecologist came up with a revelation. She was a Christian and it was up to the parents whether they wanted her to deliver their child keeping in mind the repercussions a Christian hand in the birth could expose them to.
The couple decided to persist with the good doctor. Not only that, they returned to her for the birth of their second child a few years down the narrow alley. The doctor had since then moved to a bigger hospital. She now charged a big fee, which wasn’t actually the most troubling aspect.
The issue was the miracle reputation she had made for herself — at least in the minds of one of her ‘patients’, or more precisely, in the minds of those who surrounded that patient when she was about to be wheeled into the operation theatre. The doctor was a magician: a while earlier she had performed the singular feat of delivering a boy to this very patient’s sister while the tests all along had predicted a girl.
The patient’s warises (literally, heirs), as the queer bunch is known in Pakistan, were hoping, actually they almost demanded of the doctor, to prove science wrong one more time. They had ordered that the tiny girl living in her mother’s womb change her sex for a befitting reception.
As our man with three stories waited to greet his son into this world, the insistent sex-swappers prayed in hushed if inherently disturbing tones for the last-minute switch.
Not too long afterwards, the solemn appeals gave way to shrieks which were quickly replaced by group hysteria, by madness that could scar any soul, small or grownup, forever.
Our narrator tells us his newborn son spent his first couple of nights in our world locked inside a room for fear of being stolen by people in close proximity and desperately seeking a suitable scion.
To cut short his long emotional blabbering, let’s conclude his tale by recalling that his third child was born in a hospital in Lahore known for its kidney sales and purchases —not quite the ideal place to start off.
The message coming out of these early encounters with Pakistani reality is not too difficult to decipher, and another sampling could yield tales really harrowing.
You could easily run into problems for being escorted to the stage by a second-class messiah who has been chastened by experience to forewarn her clients about the pitfalls of her minority faith. You could run into suspected and indeed real thieves of the highest order who are behind the disappearances from hospital nurseries.
Or, while on your way to Mother Earth, you could cross paths with angels struggling to keep track of who was installed with whose kidney, even if they left the monetary side of the transaction for mortal humans to work out. But obviously, the ‘you’ here doesn’t actually mean you. It means a child, the raw material which has to be shaped into a worthy citizen of this world, and shaped in the most painful way.
The senior citizens are aware of their duty in this shaping. They are all too busy in ensuring their children are going down the right path. They are not afraid to try them in their own courts and not afraid of initiating them in their own profession, say politics, which they say demands all kinds of sacrifices.
Amid the examples the big and the grownup make of their children, the Services Hospital where seven infants passed away (two died later) in haste last week is promised new electricity wiring — after three fires. That’s about all. No shutting of shops over a life-taking catastrophe of this magnitude. No long marches. No wearing of mourning colours by television channels and no thick black borders in newspapers. Shame on us. This is a moment for flagellation.
The writer is Dawn’s s resident editor in Lahore.