The Memoirsour Founding Fathers Wrote
And we are here as on a darkling plain;
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Matthew Arnold, The Dover Beach (1851)
While USA has its Federalist Papers penned by its Founding Fathers, Post-war Britain had a series of books by Prime Minister Winston Churchill (the only one of the 52 British Prime Ministers to have been awarded a Noble for Literature), and India, all the books of Jawaharlal Nehru (one of which ‘The Discovery of India’ is said to have ‘invented’ the Republic of India), what books did our Founding Father’s leave for us? What could they have penned for an illiterate nation? Don’t fathers leave wills for their unlettered children? And yet my search did not lead me to more than a handful of memoirs of our independence leaders. Like the Indus Valley seals, their number is not large enough to yield a design that we Pakistanis could take to heart as the vision of those present at the nation’s creation.
Except for the speeches of Mr. Jinnah and those delivered by our first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan on his five-week tour of the United States, for the first decade and more we had no record of the mind of our Founding Fathers, no drawing of the soul of Pakistan as they dreamt of it; no blue print for how the new nation should look. The only ‘dream’ our text books mention is that of Allama Iqbal as related by him in December 1930 to the annual session of the All-India Muslim League at Allahabad, when he said, “ I would like to see the Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single State. Self-government within the British Empire, or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated North-West Indian Muslim State appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of North-West India………The life of Islam as a cultural force in this living country very largely depends on itscentralization in a specified territory. This centralization of the most living portion of theMuslims of India, whose military and police service has, notwithstanding unfair treatment from the British, made British rule possible in this country (you will see shades of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan here), will eventually solve the problem of India as well as that of Asia. It will intensifytheir sense of responsibility and deepen their patriotic feeling.” That was three years before the seminal pamphlet titled ‘Now or Never’ appeared in Cambridge University. This is the earliest delineation of the national vision for Pakistan. And yet no Memoir of the later leader builds on it. Nobody explains the vast implication of the phrases that I have underlined.
The earliest Memoir of our Freedom Movement leader was published in 1961, called ‘The Pathway to Pakistan’ written by Chaudhry Khaleequzzaman (1889-1973). After Independence, Chaudhry Saheb was the first President of Pakistan Muslim League. (I managed to get hold of its dilapidated copy in the Lahore Gymkhana Library; the book had been issued ten times in the 1960s; once in the 1970’s; twice in the 80’s; never in the 90’s and the 00’s. Even the Librarian could not help remarking that I was the first reader to have asked for it in 24 years!).The Preface to the books begins thus, “Autobiographies are the order of the day. Generally they are written by authors whose achievements deserve recounting as a guide and incentive to future generations. My Memoirs are, however, intended to provide source material for those whose mission in times to come will be to survey and unfold the life work of many great and forgotten personalities but for whose effort and devoted services a suitable environment for wider fields of activity and for healthy and constructive trends could not have been created. The human eye is prone to look at the edifice and ignore the foundation beneath; but serious students of history strive to probe deeper and it is for their benefit that I have decided to write my reminiscences which will, I hope, not only unfold the character and direction of Muslim movements in pre-partitioned India since the advent of the British, but will also disclose on the one hand the political conflicts between the Indian National Congress and the British after the independence of India, and on the other the unimaginative halting and unsympathetic approach of Congress towards Muslims’ rights and interests”.
As to the reason for writing this Memoir, he states in the Preface, “I had been entertaining the idea of writing my Memoirs for quite a few years past but several considerations, political and otherwise, stood in the way of making a decision. While I was Governor of East Bengal, I received a letter from Maulana Abdul Haq, President of Anjuman-e-Taraqqi-e-Urdu….In his letter he said, ‘After reading your speech in the Press, I repeat to you again, as I told you when you were parting from here at Karachi last time, to write your Memoirs and to write them fully without fear or favour. It is possible that something may hurt now but in future these things will be appreciated. The time that Providence has given you should be utilized now, for life is uncertain. Man dies but his work remains. If you finish this work, it will be memorable and future historians will quote it as authority’. (This) coming from one, who had himself devoted his life to public causes and to fighting hard in defence of the Urdu language, made a great impression on me and led me to prepare myself seriously for the work”. It seems that Chaudhry Saheb needed more prodding to set his pen to paper, among whom he lists Maulana Suleiman Nadvi, Maulana Abdul Majeed Daryabadi and Jamal Mian Farangi Mahli.
As for Hindu-Muslim relations, the Preface adds, “Geography is subject to change, either by natural causes or human action, or both, but not so history, which is immutable, pursuing nations and peoples through the ages like a shadow, often dim and blurred but always traceable in their social, religious, and political makeup. Hindu-Muslim relations in India have suffered from this historical fatality. Some of the basic facts of the history of the two people, whom fate brought to live together as friends, foes, neighbours, rulers, or strangers for centuries in the vast sub-continent of India, are common to both. The Aryans were just as much foreigners to the country over which they ruled for 2000 years before the arrival of Muslims in the country, who in turn ruled in Sindh for about 1100 years and, in other regions, for some 700 years. The Aryans had the advantage of time – the pre-historic age and its long duration – in successfully bringing the whole sub-continent under their spiritual and cultural hegemony by imposing the caste system on the vanquished, a unique method of dealing with the subjugated people.
“The Muslim period, on the other hand, started under the full glare of written record, and amongst a people spiritually and culturally united to look upon the invaders as foreigners. Unity of faith between these two completely divergent spiritual systems was not possible. Compromise in matters of belief between the Aryans and Dasyus (“savage”, “barbarian”, “infidel” according to Rig Veda) had been achieved by the inclusion of Dravidian gods in the Brahmanic Pantheon, or by substituting the names of older ones; but a similar solution in the case of Islam and Hinduism was out of the question. They had therefore to live and exist in close proximity to each other, retaining to their own beliefs and practices which for both of them, covered the whole pattern of their lives. Hinduism is more a code of life from birth to death than a set of basic beliefs while Islam is rooted in a clear-cut faith which finds its expression in the mode of life of its adherents. In such a situation only a certain measure of cultural unity could be secured between the two peoples with all their spiritual differences. But that precarious unity survived only so long as the third party, the British, did not enter the scene to subjugate both of them.
“It was during this period of British rule that the Hindu consciousness gradually began to exhibit itself in aggressive designs for securing advantages from the ruling power to the detriment of Muslim interests. The Urdu language had evolved not through the firmans of Muslim kings of Delhi but by the mingling of the two people who had lived together as close neighbours and were under the painful necessity of understanding each other. This language was the first target of attack by the Hindu intelligentsia but as time wore on many other issues came into the forefront to disturb the relations between the two communities of India……It is a great irony that Muslims who had endeavoured for centuries to unify India and made untold sacrifices for the cause, even to the last days of Emperor Aurangzeb’s life in 1707, were themselves forced by circumstances so little of their own making to seek the partition of the country.”
This lengthy extract throws light on how Chaudhry Khaleequzzaman, leader of the Muslims in UP province where they were in a minority, viewed the Pakistan narrative. But throughout the book I found no work on how the new country was to be run. He does mention, with some bitterness, his first meeting with Mr. Jinnah after independence in Karachi, without disclosing what had transpired. Chaudhry Saheb was not in favour of Quaid-e-Azam accepting to be Governor-General of the new Dominion, and argued for giving this office to Lord Mountbatten. Apparently this led to Chaudhry Saheb being ‘dethroned’, shipped off to Dhaka as Governor East Pakistan, and later to Jakarta as Ambassador to Indonesia.
One remarkable point I noted in the book are his views on the Two Nation Theory. “The Two Nation Theory which we had used in the fight for Pakistan had created not only bad blood against the Muslims of minority provinces but also drove an ideological wedge between them and the Hindus of India”. He quotes a long letter dated 10 September 1947 from Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy (who was then Chief Minister of Bengal) expressing doubts about the future of the Muslim community in West Bengal after partition of the province. Saying that Suhrawardy doubted the utility of the Two Nation Theory, Chaudhry Saheb writes, “which to my mind also had never paid any dividend to us. But after the partition, it proved positively injurious to the Muslims of India and on a long view basis for Muslims everywhere”. I am of the same opinion and strongly feel that the Theory should have been buried on 14 August 1947, and the industry that has grown up around it in Lahore should be checked. The concept should remain as a point of our Freedom Movement, as explained by Quaid-e-Azam, while making it clear that it has no role in an independent Pakistan.
The next significant Memoir appeared six years later, in 1967. Written by the bureaucrat-turned politician and former Prime Minister Chaudhry Muhammad Ali (1905-1980), it was titled The Emergence of Pakistan. Its Preface says that, “This book is in the main an account of the events in the period 1946-48 immediately preceding and following the partition of British India and the creation of two independent, sovereign states – Pakistan and the Union of India – on 14 August 1947. The introductory chapters describe the historical setting in which those events took place, and the social, economic, and political forces that shaped them. The last part of the book deals with the challenging problems which the newly born state of Pakistan had to face. Some of these issues are still alive, and I have in places indicated developments beyond 1948.”
The author avers that “I have tried as far as humanly possible, to present an objective account. I should, however, be guilty of untruth if I were to claim an Olympian detachment. I have recorded the truth as I see it but I am deeply conscious that it is only a facet of the truth which I can see”.
It is a matter of fact book whose reading does not excite the imagination. After all he was member of the Audit and Accounts Service. Thus by training and experience saw no distinction between figures and letters. There is no pretension to delineate a vision for the new country, beyond the adoption of our first constitution in 1956 which was rescinded by General Ayub Khan, who termed it as a ‘document of despair’ because this “Political system had no relevance to our conditions. The result was that the system was misused and exploited to serve limited interests…What the country got was not a constitution but a hotchpotch of alien concepts which had already brought confusion and chaos to the country. The Constitution, by distributing power between the President, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, and the Provinces, destroyed the focal point of power and left no one in a position of control’. (Ayub Khan’s Memoir titled Friends Not Masters). Thus Ayub Khan shot the first poison dart of ‘Bonapartism’ at our body politic leading to the birth of at least three ‘illegitimate’ rulers who ruled over us for decades.
Why this dearth of Memoirs in our political tradition, especially those of our Founding fathers? Akbar S. Ahmad, in his Foreword to the memoir of Sardar Shaukat Hayat Khan (1915-1998)titledA Nation That Lost Its Soul: Memoirs of a Freedom Fighter (1995) gives one reason why, “Pakistan society in South Asia is characterized by people of action; few write. This is in contrast to the Indian society. Take the drama of independence of Pakistan and the partition of India in 1947. It generated a treasure trove of books on the Indian side. Gandhi, Nehru, Azad, all three wrote their accounts. On the Muslim side there is a notable lack of memoirs or political accounts”.
Now that we are on this subject, let’s see Sardar Shaukat’s quote on Mr. Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan. In 1943, when he was a Major in the British Indian Army, the British Governor of Punjab one day called him to his office to invite him to join the Punjab cabinet of Ministers. “I was rather non-plussed and enquired if I had any choice in the matter. He turned round and said , Both of us have no choice because Winston Churchill has ordered that you should be inducted in the Punjab Cabinet in order to carry on your father’s splendid was efforts in the Province”. So he accepted to join the Cabinet and was given six months to get elected to the Punjab Assembly. He decided to travel to Delhi to seek Mr. Jinnah’s blessings. During this meeting Mr. Jinnah dwelt on his vision saying that, “He had been forced to demand a separate homeland for the Muslims in order to save them from being obliterated completely through sheer weight of numbers. He further explained that it would not be a small nation, many independent countries had much smaller populations. Then he said that the Muslims would get a chance to live according to their own culture and mould their lives according to the principles of Islamic Welfarism.
“They could set up an experimental Islamic Free State which would be emulated by other enslaved Muslims all over the world from Morocco to Indonesia. Eventually, he hoped, a third ideology, based on the first Welfare State in Medina, would rise and bridge the gulf between usurious Capitalism and totalitarian Communism. He thought Islam had degenerated because of lack of unity amongst Muslims and loss of faith in their own heritage and ideals. Pakistan would not only free them from colonial bondage but as a democratic state, it would offer them an opportunity for their latent talents to flow after 1300 years.” Sardar Saheb termed this as “heady talk”.
He goes on to mention an interesting aspect of Mr. Jinnah’s personality which is perhaps not often talked about. “I remember”, he writes, “When (Mr. Jinnah) called me in early 1947 and advised me to quit politics. I looked askance at him at which he replied…’I know that you are hardworking, conscientious, honest, and you have been of great service to the cause of Pakistan. But you suffer from one drawback which makes you vulnerable because you have not got large resources available to you as compared with other Punjab leaders. Please go and make money because the nation you are serving has a habit of listening to the sound of silver in its leaders’ pockets. Look at great men like Maulana Hasrat Mohani and Maulana Zafar Ali Khan. They didn’t get their due. Even I was not accepted till I had some 50 to 60 lakhs of self-earned assets’”. Here we have to take the venerable Sardar at his word, as in his account of being drafted into politics on the instructions of Prime Minister Churchill.
Because according to him, the basic purpose of his Memoirs was “to educate and enlighten the youth with true facts about our Movement, its leaders and our Ideology. It is essential that I be completely candid irrespective of the criticism that it may provoke…..I have to mention faults where I have perceived them” (e.g. of not accepting Lord Mountbatten as the first Governor General of Pakistan; a refusal which he estimated caused harm to Pakistan at birth). He adds that “Jinnah’s achievement was a miracle. He led a disorganized people, a people without a clear aim, welded them together into a Party, and finally achieved Nationhood for them. It was the achievement of a logical mind, of an unswerving faith in the cause and his unswerving attitude”.
Remember, the year is 1995, when Sardar Shaukat Hayat Khan’s memoir appeared, in which he cries out for an answer to the question, “What has caused the present cause of confusion?” Who is the culprit, he shouts. “The answer”, he assures us, “though rather complicated, is yet very simple. The revolutionaries themselves betrayed the revolution. Firstly, those who were too young, or not connected with politics in the pre-partition days, were unaware of the reasons for our cause of Pakistan. They were misled by the opponents of the movement that had entered Pakistan to think that it was just a crusade-like territorial nationalism, which is a foreign concept. Being unaware of the ideal they accepted foreign ideologies and outmoded notions of narrow nationalism to seek an answer to our problems. No one explained to them that actually it was deviation from our real objective that had brought about the present sad state of lop-sided development, selfishness and the ever increasing gap between the haves and have nots. We cannot blame them.” Here the Sardar Saheb launches off into a territory unknown to him, and prescribes a “long and arduous journey of Islamic Renaissance” as being Pakistan’s mission while warning,” that neither Marx, Engels, Lenin or Adam Smith, nor Napoleon, Adolph Hitler or Emperors of yore had any place in our political philosophy”. Who else is a Philistine? On hearing this, General Zia ul Haq must have felt vindicated.Putting Pakistan in a narrow cage by our Founding Fathers feels like a punishment not deserved by succeeding generations.
Notwithstanding the force of this Memoir, let’s read the beginning of the Foreword to A Journey to Disillusionment of Sherbaz Khan Mazari (born 1930), a highly respected political leader, which appeared in 1999. He admits that the book was researched and written for him by his son Shehryar Khan Mazari. But the first paragraph says, “At a gathering of journalists some time ago, a friend of mine and I were asked to write our memoirs. The reason cited was that both of us had first-hand knowledge of many of the events that had taken place in our country over the years. My friend, who is known for his colourful exuberance, wryly commented that he did not indulge in writing fiction. According to him all the autobiographies written so far in Pakistan had largely been exercises in ‘fiction’. While my friend is well known for making barbed quips at conventional beliefs, his humorous asides often contain a large measure of truth”. So the great Sardar cautions us about believing all that our leaders wrote in their Memoirs.Caveat Emptor!
The only Memoirs of our Founding Fathers, written in the mother tongue, have caused problems to our rulers. One by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, written in Pashtu, was later translated as My Life and Struggle: Autobiography of Bacha Khan as narrated to K.B.Narang, published 1969 by Hind Pocket Books, Delhi. Bacha Khan was an opponent of Muslim League but took oath as a member of Pakistani’s constituent assembly. His province NWFP has been renamed Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, but his narrative has yet to be rehabilitated in our national narrative which is too narrowly defined and is waiting to be made all-inclusive. The other one is G. M. Syed who spearheaded the cause of Pakistan as a Muslim Leaguer but later fell foul of Islamabad’s ‘Military-Punjabi’ complex which is heavily tinged by rightist-sectarian preferences. His memoir Jee’aandithoaa moon (As I witnessed) is seen as a seminal work in Sindhi literature and politics. Both these leaders, though devout Muslims, firmly believed in separating state and religion, and condemned religious extremism, something which the authors of our national narrative could never stomach.
There were two significant English language Memoirs coming from our Founding Fathers from East Pakistan – both unfortunately fragments. One of Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy (1892-1963) edited posthumously and published in Dhaka in1987. The last Chief Minister of a united Bengal and one time Prime Minister, Suhrawardy was a front ranking leader of our Freedom Movement, who, like Chaudhry Khaleequzzaman, fell foul of Mr. Jinnah soon after independence, and upon his intention of founding of a separate political party, Liaquat Ali Khan termed him as “enemy”; and thus he was omitted from our national narrative. He is the founder of Awami League(initially called Awami Muslim League), for which he was hounded by President Ayub Khan who threw him into prison in 1962 from where he wrote an impassioned letter to Ayub Khan saying, “Let me tell you, Mr. President, what you do not know, that Pakistan is my life. I have, I believe, played a great part in bringing it into existence. Bengal was the only province among Muslim majority provinces that gave Muslim League Ministry to Quaid-e-Azam. Bengal was the pawn in his hands due to which the Congress accepted the partition of India. And to make Bengal accept the Muslim League and align itself in the struggle for Pakistan, I had to work day and night, at the cost of my own living, health and safety”.
Suhrawardy was released from prison but his dangerous heart condition took him to London treatment where he spent time with his only son Rashid (the actor Robert Ashby, who played the role of Nehru in the movie Jinnah).He died in Beirut on his way back to Pakistan. Let’s see the account of Rashid on how he saved the draft of his father’s Memoir: “At the time of his death in Beirut, the Pakistan government gave instructions for his papers to be seized, obviously because they had gleaned information that he had commenced working on his memoirs, which were going to be highly embarrassing and injurious to the reputation of Ayub Khan. A friend of ours in Beirut phoned me in London to give me the sad news of my father’s death and also to advise me cable the Lebanese authorities instructing them to hold my father’s belongings and papers until I arrived, which stymied the Pakistan authorities attempt to gain access to my father’s papers”. He later wrote that “No Pakistani Publisher or press was willing to touch them at that time”.
The other fragment of a memoir was of Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan (1889-1963) who could only write the first four chapters of the book called The Test of Time, published by the University Press Dhaka, in 1989, while the rest of his life story was filled in by the Editor from the diaries and notes he left. It should be mentioned that Maulvi Saheb was elected President of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan after the passing away of Mr. Jinnah. And when in 1954, the Assembly had almost completed the draft of the country’s first constitution, Governor General Ghulam Mohammed dismissed the Assembly, it was the same black-bearded Tamizuddin,who sneaked into the Federal Court building hidden in a black burqa to could lodge an appeal against the order.In Chapter I, he agrees with Gokhale’s statement that “What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow’. These chapters give a delightful account of the early years of the author’s life in the village and school, something not included in any of the memoirs we have seen so far. And all this in easy flowing English languagequite in keeping with the simple elegance of his village environment. In a section called Utopia, he writes, “Although I consider myself as a practical man and man of action, any account of my character would be incomplete unless at least a passing reference is made to the fact that from my early boyhood, I allowed myself to spend long periods of valuable time in building castles in the air. Whether this has been due to the inner urge of my ego to seek escape from the frustrations of my life, only a proper psychoanalysis could discover, but it is a fact that such day dreams despite what futile satisfaction these may have given my ego, proved an eventual hindrance to my progress! I have paid a heavy penalty for it not only in loss of time, but also in considerable emasculation of my mind as the long hours of intense concentration on airy nothing, from which I found it most difficult to extricate myself, took a heavy toll on my vital energy.
“It also must have robbed me of a good deal of my zest for action since the work-a-day world loomed so drab and uninviting vis-à-vis the glamorous world of my fancy. There was perhaps one redeeming feature in this childish game. In creating the world of my dreams, I adhered tenaciously to my ideal service – service to my kith and kin, to the poor, to my country and to mankind in general, which all combined is regarded according to the Islamic conception as service to God, if rendered in the proper spirit. What was wrong about it was that I prepared a most fantastic and elaborate minute scheme, complete with circumstantial detail, culminating in the establishment of a new world order, and also worked out in my imagination not only the process but also the very events ultimately leading to the envisaged goal; the trickery of the Ego making myself the central figure in this imaginary drama. I have too often transported myself to this Eldorado and too often at the cost of mental and physical health. This day dream proved to be a serious menace to my studies”.
This passage takes me to that jewel of a memoir called Babarnama written by Emperor Zaheeruddin Babar (1483-1530). From all the memoirs that we have seen above, only Maulvi Tamizuddin came close to dipping his pen in Babar’s ink pot to write his The Test of Time.Babarnama is written by a soul for soulful readers. The book came straight from the heart, and what a heart it was – that of a king, born to be king (the book opens thus: “In the month of Ramadan in the year 899 AH (1494 AC), in the province of Farghana, in my twelfth year, I became king”), conqueror, poet – all lonely occupations. Explaining his motive for writing his memoir, probably the first royal diary in modern history, certainly the first in Islamic literature, Babar said, “”I have simply written the truth. I do not intend by what I have written to compliment myself: I have simply set down exactly what happened. Since I have made it a point in this history to write the truth of every matter and to set down no more than the reality of every event, as a consequence I have reported every good and evil I have seen of father and brother and set down the actuality of every fault and virtue of relative and stranger. May the reader excuse me; may the listener take me not to task.”
Although this is a translation (originally written in his mother tongue the Chagatai Turkish, translated by Emperor Akbar’s firman into Persian) note the lyricism of the language, the imagination of a bird in flight, and the cutting honesty of a mind that lifts the text from a diary to the domains of literature and history). Babar was a king, conqueror, scholar, poet, and finally Emperor – all lonely tasks. Most of all, he was a man of God. After defeating Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi’s armies at Panipat (estimated by Babar to have been 500,000 strong with 1000 elephants, compared to his own 12,000 soldiers), he writes, “In recognition of our trust, God did not let our pains and difficulties go for naught and defeated such a powerful opponent and conquered such a vast kingdom like Hindustan. We do not consider this good fortune to have emanated from our own strength and force but from God’s pure loving-kindness; we do not think that their felicity is from our own endeavour but from God’s generosity and favour”.
May be if our Founding Fathers had composed their Memoirs in their native languages, instead of in staid, bookish English, they may have shared Babar’s inkpot to write books that may have brought some joy to the reader. In his brilliant essay on Babarnama, titled The Man Behind the Mosque, the Indian writer Amitav Ghosh terms the Babarnama as a ‘narrative of self discovery’ and writes, “To read the Babarnama is constantly to ask oneself what could have prompted a man in Babar’s position to write his memoirs. Historically, autobiography was not a form that flourished in Asia, certainly not in Central Asia, where Babar’s roots lay. As for the Indian sub-continent, I know of only one autobiography written before the 19th century: a brief account of the life of a merchant.” He goes on to quote from Babar’s first poem, a ghazal written when he was 18 years of age: “Other than my own soul I never found a faithful friend/ Other than my own heart I never found a confidant.” (www.littlemag.com/amitav.htm).
The little passage I cited above on the Utopia of Maulvi Tamizuddin is another piece of self-confession rare in our political autobiographies. Our dear Maulvi was groaning under the weight of colonial emasculation by the conquered race. He was weighed down by his dreams. His Utopia dreams weakened him physically and hindered his education. While Babar’s dreams drove him to seize the kingdom Kabul,and then to conquer Hindustan, and found an Empire that remains a marvel for the world today. Maulvi Saheb, who studied English and Law, was the product of an education system that he terms as being ‘only nominally secular, and culturally both pro-British and pro-Hindu, and pointedly anti-Muslim’.
Reading of Babarnama should be compulsory in our schools of history and politics and administration and comparative literature. Alas all our course designers are tired people, worn down by their colonial education, and, afraid of looking inwards to feel their souls the way Zaheeruddin Babar did. Hollow men, Stuffed men, ‘Leaning together/Headpiece filled with straw.” (T. E. Eliot, The Hollow Men). So they don’t expect their students to look too far back, or too far forward. And yet Babar is not too far behind us. Just look at some of these barbs of wisdom thrown by the Emperor at us:
– Beware of festering inner wounds, for inner wounds surface in the end. Distress no one in so far as you are able to, for one cry of anguish can upset the whole world.
– When you have done evil, be not secure from calamity, for retribution is the law of nature.
– A proverb says, ‘If you don’t seize what is at hand, you will rue it until old age. One must act in a timely fashion, for untimely acts are ineffective.
Simple truths, simply told. These are what make a reading of Babarnama a joy, unlike any of the memoirs mentioned above. Our Founding Fathers come out as apologists. Their memoirs are dry, polemical, and by comparison, not more than ‘wind in dry grass’.
While Babar’s treatment of women is matter of fact, and indeed colourless, look at the way in which Babar describes his infatuation with a boy called Baburi in Samarkand, when it seems, he was out of power: “During this time there was a boy from the camp market named Baburi. Even his name was amazingly appropriate. I developed a strange inclination for him – rather I made myself miserable over him. Before this experience I had never felt a desire for anyone, nor did I listen to talk of love and affection or speak of such things. At that time I used to compose single line and couplets in Persian. I composed the following lines there:
May no one be so distraught and devastated by love as I;
May no beloved be so pitiless and careless as you.
Occasionally Baburi came to see me, but I was so bashful that I could not look at him in the face, much less converse freely with him. In my excitement and agitation I could not thank him for coming, much less complain of his leaving….In the throes of love, in the foment of youth and madness, I wandered bareheaded and barefoot around the lanes and streets and through the gardens and orchards, paying no attention to acquaintances or strangers, oblivious to self and others. Sometimes I went out alone like a madman to the hills and wilderness, sometime I roamed through the orchards and lane of town neither walking nor sitting with my own volition, restless in going and staying”. A would-be Emperor in love!
The books our Founding Fathers wrote show a vision different from what we see around ourselves today. While they do explain the raison d’être of our state, they have never been studied for what they prescribe as principle of state policy for the independent republic. This is an area that should be of particular interest to those who today are scratching their heads as how to check the rising extremism in our society. Suhrawardy warned of this as early as on 6 March 1948 in his address to the Constituent Assembly when he thundered: “You are establishing a Corporation. You are appealing to religious sentiments; you are raising a cry which was raised at the time – and I was a party to it and I think I was justified in those days because we did not have Pakistan and the Indian Union, but for which there is no justification at the present moment – that the rights of Muslims were in danger. Now you are raising the cry of Pakistan being in danger for the purpose of arousing Muslim sentiment and binding them together in order to maintain you in power. This must go now”. Sixty five years on, this is still waiting to be changed!
The author is a former Ambassador of Pakistan.