by Anwar Iqbal
We don’t know how it happened but it did. Somehow our generation became a faceless generation. But before that we lost our faith. Or perhaps, we lost our identity first and then we lost our faith. Does it matter now what we lost first? We know we have lost both.
Like other people we too had names; names that showed we had parents who cared for us. Our names reflected our bound to a family, a community and above all to humanity. But first we adopted new idols, those that sipped blood and spat fire and brimstone.
Those were fearsome deities that loved suicide-bombings, beheadings, and firing-squads.
And all of this was not done in the name of religion alone. We had many idols, each named after a sect, an ethnic group, or a political cult. They had one common trait, an insatiable lust for power.
Soon after we adopted those new idols, we lost our identity, or we may have lost our identity first and then we took these new symbols of worship, abandoning the loving, merciful and benevolent God.
Yes, we still lived in cities, towns and villages. But living was our only distinction. We had nothing to be proud of. There was no bond, no love among us. We did not trust each other. But did it only happen to those living in our city? No. People in cities around us stopped trusting each other too. It was a strange disease that spread across the region and affected everybody.
We were incomplete men and women, unable to recognise each other. Even those who had nameplates on their doors did not know who they were. We often asked each other who we were! Nobody had an answer.
“Whose children are we? From whose womb were we born?” We had heard that our mother became barren soon when we became faceless or we may have become faceless first. But we did not know why it happened what happened. May be we knew, but did not care.
We often asked our mother, if she was infertile why did she have this divine light on her forehead? And the pain of creation on her face? Why did the elixir of life ooze out of her?
She never answered.
“And if you are our mother, return our identity to us. Tell us who brought us up. Whose arms we held for support while growing?” we pleaded.
She was silent.
Some said we were children of the ocean, born out of the rage of the storm when it churns the sea into foam and froth. Like little fish, we leaned on every wave for support but were tossed around.
“Are we plants, growing on our own? Some obscure form of life in the depth of the sea? One moment we shine, the next it is dark. Are we fish wandering from sea to sea?
“Are we foam and froth? Why do we run to the beach with the retreating waves, rushing to our own death?
“Will we be scattered like the sand? Mother, are we the rock on the beach? Or the sea birds sitting on the rock or flying aimlessly in the blue sky? But even the birds have names?
“Are we related to the stars that brighten up the sky? Are we related to the sun or the moon?”
Little did we know that there were skies beyond our vision too!
There were many suns and moons. But our eyesight limited our vision. For us the Milky Way was just a bright line on the sky.
“Mother, who are we?” we asked. “How are we related to you? If you are our mother what is it that divides us? Who has poisoned this land that only hate grows out of it? Who could answer these motherless children, born out of rage, fathered by blood-spilling demigods?”
Every morning the sun came to our window and stole another day out of our lives. The wind blew dust into our hair. The time wove a net on our faces. We stopped looking at the mirror. This cobweb of time, this graying hair, wrinkles on our foreheads, scared us.
“Is this our image? Is this our identity?” we would whisper to each other.
But we refused to accept what was offered.
“This is not who we are. It is a conspiracy; a magic. The sun and the wind are plotting against us, leaving their marks on our withering body,” we would argue.
“Mother, why don’t you tell us who we are?” we would ask again and again.
But what could she say? She was in pain too, the pain of a mother whose children had no names and no faces.
It was difficult growing up with this faceless crowd. We were not only nameless but also quarrelsome, always looking for an excuse to fight. We were so engrossed in our little disputes, that we seldom noticed others as they walked past us. For us others did not exist because for them, we did not exist either.
There were some who never participated in these quarrels. They walked past us silently, with their chins touching their chests, watching their own steps, trying not to stumble on the uneven road.
What could they say to this nameless crowd? They had no miracle, no cure for our woes. They did not share our dreams or desires. Perhaps, we did not want a cure. We were not looking for a physician or a wizard. We wanted a snake charmer with his basket full of poisonous snakes who could dance on his tune to charm this nameless crowd. And
then slip into the crowd and bite whoever they wanted.
Those few who were still sane, bewildered us when they asked us who we were. “How could we know who we are?” we wondered.
It was not a leaderless crowd, though. We had many leaders – powerful, pompous, mighty and influential leaders. Our soldiers were ferocious fighters and proudly filled many graves with their enemies before they too fell to someone’s bullets.
Our intellectuals claimed to know the secrets of the earth and the sky. But they did not know who they were. So how could have they told us who we were!
Yes, it is true that many wise men, and women, were born among us. But what difference does it make now? The wise among us left home early. From the doors of their youth, they set out to earn a living and never returned.
The only wise man we saw in our neighborhood was called a pagal, the insane, because he talked to his shadow. He liked a particular hour of the day when his shadow walked with him. He talked to the shadow. The shadow talked to him. They often argued. But they always walked hand in hand – each foot following the other. If he stopped, the shadow stopped. If he sat, the shadow sat.
It was a faithful companion. The night took him away. But he returned the next day, like a faithful friend.
The wise, old man, when asked why he loved his shadow, replied: Because only he will go with me to my grave.
The author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.