With the planet in the grip of a deadly pandemic and societies getting adjusted to a new normal, things did change but in typical Pakistani haphazard way. While the state is concerned with the health and economic challenges, there is a socio-cultural angle too. I was asked by my Fulbright cultural exchange program supervisor from the United States that how people in Pakistan were dealing with the issue. After which I sat down to ponder what this global plague tells about our socio-psychological milieu and belief system.
To begin with, the current pestilence has globally changed ways of living involuntarily, people are taking note of the severity of the situation and trying to adjust. While we are not acting rational enough to see the health hazard from the prism of science. Our journey with the virus started with churning out of conspiracy theories, right at the onset with single-digit cases. People started bombarding each other’s phones with tales as novel as the Pakistani government importing the pathogen to gain foreign aid. Others claiming Israel invented it for being recognised. Although Israel is already recognised by all the significant players of the international arena.
This brings us to our favourite most belief that “the entire world is out there to get us.” I wonder when exactly we gained this sense of entitlement. Whatever the timeline, here we are in the 21st century believing ourselves to be at the centre of everything. This phenomenon somehow owes itself to the overzealous ambition of building a national narrative which eventually resulted in blindfolding the nation in the first place and then forgetting to ever take it off.
Most baffling appears to be the attitude of “an educated lot”. The ones who never saw the inside of a school their thinking patterns make sense being gullible enough to absorb propaganda. What about the privileged well-fed, well-travelled class of this country? What satisfaction do they get in throwing out weird stuff? Is it just beyond them to see through the absurdity of their claims? This is reflective of how we as a nation are prone towards stuffing minds with unfunded claims and farfetched theories
Theologically, our sense of religion surpasses that of other Muslim countries, our clerics claiming that circumstances in Pakistan are different, without proving how. Islam has all that it takes to function in any situation. For example, there are Sahi Hadiths available that guide how best to isolate oneself at the time of a pandemic but we are going to any limit to prove that we are “more Muslim” than any other nation under the same title.
It might be a nightmare for clerics to come under state authority or to lose financial aid and influence owing to mosque closures. While backlash of the public signifies a deep-rooted sense of paranoia that God-forbid Islam is under threat. Though all of us stare into the uncertain future but firmly claim that somebody is trying to harm Islam (read Pakistani Muslims). We are also being told by well-reputed clerics that this pandemic has been inflicted by the Almighty due to our “bey-hayai” and other wrongdoings, at the same time calling dead victims of the virus martyrs. For the majority it is an acceptable account, ignoring the self-contradiction.
Moreover, we would love to throw wades of bills on the poor in the name of charity but would shirk away from paying taxes to the state for equitable social welfare. The very pious who are fighting hard to offer Traveeh prayer in the mosques would have no qualms in doubling prices of foodstuff in Ramzan. This is telling of our twisted sense of Sawab.
On the political front, the muddled policy response of the current dispensation has helped sow confusion among masses. Government has its own headaches to deal with, manipulating the situation and data while people choosing to go their own way. The saddest part is the lack of social responsibility of the ones who test positive and run away from Quarantine facilities and move to distant communities. One such incident happened in my paternal village and now the whole village might be sealed soon.
The shopkeepers have come up with creative ways to somehow sell their merchandise despite the lockdown. A recent trip to the market by a friend was amusing and scary as she found that clothes merchants have devised ways to bluff surveillance. Some of them literally ferry customers to their homes, where they sell clothes now and drop them back to the market. Mistrust of the policies of the government is at all times high, neither people have been able to stop themselves from going to the market, despite the pandemic of a global scale. Shoes and clothes appear to be on the list of essential items for us.
On the sunny side, this affliction has brought out all the good in Pakistanis too. Just like anywhere else in the world, the brave soldiers i.e., paramedics and frontline workers have lined up against the deadly pestilence and are taking the brunt with valour. Also, I personally know many people who are running ration drives or contributing to making local personal protection equipment. We are a generous nation, times like these are testimony to that.
The question is, for whom the situation is dire enough to opt for catching a disease or starvation, their tale of misery is different but what about those sections who have to cushion of some kind? Why are they acting so nonchalant and also helping propagate false information? It appears emblematic of our national character to be self-complacent and trigger-happy. Although, the entire globe is together in this Pakistanis have their own rules of engagement with the disease, hailing a ride on the shoulders of fatalism.
The writer teaches English Language and Literature.
Published in ibcenglish.net, May 8th, 2020