We had a graphic illustration of the problems of being a country which follows the Gregorian calendar for ordinary purposes, but follows the Hijra calendar for religious festivals, on December 24 and 25. For while we marked both Christmas and the birth of the Quaid-e-Azam on December 25, on Christmas Eve, December 24, we marked both the urs of Hazrat Ali Hajveri Data Ganj Bakhsh and the chehlum of Imam Hussain. Just a little shift in the sighting of the moon, and we would have had the urs and the chehlum falling on Christmas Day.
Though the sun and moon are linked by the earth, the Gregorian and Hijra calendars are not identical in length. As a result, there will now be another coincidence of the two after 35 years, when the 10-day gap means that the Hijra calendar slips back to the present position. It might be noted that the two main sects of Islam, the Sunnis and the Shias, were both represented on December 24, and it should be noted that the urs and the chehlum are yoked together in the Hijra calendar, never being separate. It is interesting that the Imam’s chehlum is celebrated, for the chehlum is a peculiarly Subcontinental thing, while the Imam was very much an Arab, as were his survivors.
Be that as it may, Christmas is not just Christ’s birthday, but also that of the Quaid. Not just the main Christian festival, but also that of the entire nation. Another person born on December 25 is Mian Nawaz Sharif, which makes it a PML(N) anniversary. I see that the PML(N) has not become a proper political party yet, for there was no rudeness with birthday cake. But anyone could be born on December 25. One of them was Sir Isaac Newton. By that token, December 25 should be celebrated by physicists even more vigorously than Christians. I don’t know if there’s a Pakistani Christian physicist, but if there is, and I’m sure there is, he should be in the PML(N). Now he would want cake rubbed into his hair.
Sorry to Harp on the cake theme. But the party which seems to specialize in both birthday cakes and food fights, the PPP, has also got an anniversary, that of the death of Benazir Bhutto, though not on December 25, but December 27. It was marked all over the country, though the main event was at her graveside at Garhi Khuda Bux. An urs in fact. This year, her son Bilawal announced that not just he, but his sisters would enter politics. Great. The old PPP dream seems to be coming true. Unless a member of the Bhutto family is either President or Prime Minister, there can’t be democracy in Pakistan.
But with the increase in descendants, there is a proliferation of contenders. Apart from Bilawal, apparently, Fatima, Murtaza’s daughter, is also eyeing the seat, and so far there is no mention of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Junior, Murtaza’s son, and Zulikar Ali’s only grandson in the male line. It seems that the Bhuttos have got the PPP playing dynastic politics with a vengeance. That is a bit of a comedown for a democracy. Remember, democracy is the system which got moving with the beheading of the King of England, Charles I, and whose defining Revolution, the French, was not a Colour Revolution, unless a red one, of which the defining moment was the beheading of Louis XVI and his Queen, Marie Antoinette.
Another anniversary that deserves notice was that of the death of Parveen Shakir, easily the best poetess in Urdu of the last century. She was not a politician, but a bureaucrat; the bureaucracy being a good refuge for poets. While Benazir was assassinated, Parveen Shakir was killed in a road accident, and who is to say which death was more tragic? True, Benazir had a lot of aspirations and hopes tied to her. But so did Parveen Shakir. If politicians are honoured for solving people’s problems, poets are for expressing their dreams. And who is to say which is more important?
Perhaps the plight to which we have been reduced is that our greatest reason for pleasure on the chehlum and then on Christmas has been that there have been no militant attacks on either Shias or Christians. There have been attacks on both on previous occasions, though it’s noticeable that Shias have been attacked on Ashura, but Christians have been attacked on ordinary Sundays. Oh yes, and the police did not miss the chance to turn off mobiles. Rehman Malik’s worthy successor, Ch Nisar Ali Khan, further proved his credentials by going later to Karachi to talk to the Governor and an MQM delegation. If you ask me, there can’t be all right with a party that talks so much to the Interior Minister, whoever party is in office, and whether it itself is in office or out of it.
Well, next thing you know, you’ll have all the leftist parties join the PML(N). It has already got the National Party on its side, and has even given it the Balochistan Chief Ministership. And the Pakistan Awami Party of Abid Hassan Manto has merged into the National Party. Next thing you know, Mian Nawaz will get an award as a progressive. Already, under his government, there’s been a student attacked for wearing the veil in Peshawar Medical College. Oh, but isn’t Imran Khan responsible for the medical colleges there? Maybe he’ll get the award.