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Open Essay

The Struggle To Be

Mehr Tarar is a well-known Pakistani columnist and author
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And the power of goodness

THERE IS NOTHING worse than not being heard. There is nothing more disappointing than not being seen. There is nothing that hurts more than not being loved. There is nothing that matters more than mattering. The eternal enigma of being. The question of existence, the answer that is almost there, but never quite. The simple issue of being human, the complexity of dealing with that reality, the age-old fight of to be or not to be. And why to be. And how to be. And what to be.

From the macro to the micro, from the most important to the most trivial, from the hardest to the easiest, from the nicest to the worst, from the happiest to the melancholic, from the most extraordinary to the most mundane, from the richest to the poorest, from the most beautiful to the grotesque, from the gentlest to the cruelest, from the most inflexible to the most malleable, the fundamental story of one human is that of all humans. It is all about the struggle to be. The world and its many billions, and it all comes down to the most basic. To be.

Look around. There is a struggle to be all around you, within you. In the effort to be, much is given, much is taken, a great deal is achieved, too much is lost. The ripple effect occurs; from you it goes to the person closest to you, and from there it keeps spreading, until it reaches where you can’t even recognise it any more. We make the world in which we exist, and we complain about its walls closing in on us, its roof caving in, its floor cracking open, its window glass shattering, its door coming unhinged. The things we do, the events that we set into motion, the relationships we make, the blueprint of the ideal that we draw, the communities that we construct, the cities that we build, the countries that we invent, the continents that we divide, the oceans that we cross, is it all real, or are we all in one vivid dream, not ready to wake up just yet?

We create, we worship, we destroy. What we do to one another is what humanises us. What we do to one another is the best of what we are. What we do to one another is the worst of being human. Where the one ends and the other starts there is not a singular answer to that humanness of human beings that makes them the most sublime of all living creatures, and the worst of all living beings.

A world in which children are not safe is not the world we should be proud of calling our own. There are children who do not even get a chance to be born. There are children who are thrown in sewers, in toilets of trains, on a heap of garbage bundled in a dirty cloth. There are children who are kidnapped and never seen again. There are children who are kidnapped and made sex slaves. There are children whose limbs are amputated because of cancer. There are children who lose their legs in a bomb blast. There are children who are maimed in an act of violence. There are children who go blind when hit with pellets. There are children who don’t get enough food to be more than children before they die and are buried in tiny graves. There are children who die because of lack of care in shelter centres for migrant children. There are children like the three-year-old Alan Kurdi and his dead brother who with his displaced parents run away from their home in a conflict zone in an overcrowded boat, only to end up dead on a shore clad in a red shirt, blue three-quarter pants and black boots. Tiny black boots.

Our world in which the eight million citizens of a tiny, poor country, Yemen, in an uneven war with the mighty Saudi Arabia, are where nobody should be: on the brink of famine. One million of them are suffering from cholera, and three million of them are internally displaced, but the world is not doing much beyond tweet-lamenting, angry editorialising and emotional oration. The Yemen war is not between Saudis and their allies and Houthis, it is about the priorities of the deciding forces on both sides.

We create, we worship, we destroy. What we do to one another is what humanises us. What we do to one another is the best of what we are. What we do to one another is the worst of being human

Pictures of Yemeni children dying of starvation are nothing more than a few-hour hashtags, a one-day viral trend. The empty eyes of Yemeni children as they wait for food that never arrives while death moves around them quietly, touching their protruding stomach and pronounced ribcage, will be the image that 2018 will never be rid of. The death of many, many Yemeni children is on the collective conscience of the world in which the death of even one child should be a hard punch in the gut to jolt the slumbering soul of powerful world leaders into action.

Our world in which almost 655,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled their homeland, Myanmar, trying to find refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh, and there is much that should be done but isn’t being done. In Myanmar of the Nobel Peace Award recipient Aung San Suu Kyi, there is in the words of the UN an ethnic cleansing that is a ‘textbook example’ of similar genocides.

Stories of rape, torture, families being ripped apart and entire families of Rohingya Muslims forced to live in makeshift shelters like animals being readied for slaughter make uneasy headlines and elicit short-lived sympathy. Yet there is no solution in sight. Not from bigger and more resourceful neighbours of the Rohingya refugee-welcoming Bangladesh, nor from countries that matter. Rohingya Muslims are children of a lesser god. They are invisible. Their pain is invisible.

Our world in which a country has not seen peace in decades, where bloodshed is the norm, where a bomb blast in a government compound, in a mosque, in a school is just another ordinary day, where the blood of humans is cheaper than hashish, where an AK-47 is a plaything in the hands of teenagers for whom a lesson in survival of the fittest is more important than high school mathematics and science, in which maimed children play in streets, painfully unaware of how lucky they are to just be alive. Afghanistan.

Afghanistan was used as a chessboard of power play by the US and the erstwhile USSR in the late 70s, and later invaded by the US in reaction to the Al-Qaeda attack on the US on September 11th, 2001

The country that was used as a chessboard of power play by the US and the erstwhile USSR in the late 70s, and later invaded by the US in reaction to the Al-Qaeda attack on the US on September 11th, 2001. Billions of dollars, many Al-Qaeda and Taliban, many American and NATO military personnel dead later, and much of Afghanistan in bombed ruins, there was no Osama bin Laden, dead or caught alive, and in 2018, Afghans are still dying as if that is the only thing Afghans are supposed to do. How to bomb the Taliban into submission to the US command, and how many more Afghan children, women and men their compatriot Taliban will kill to prove to the US and the world that now they are ready to talk on their terms, there are no answers.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria and Iraq are still burning. The world looks the other way. Millions are displaced, sleep hungry, die of curable diseases and remain uneducated.

Our world in which the 20-month-old Hiba Nisar, a Kashmiri, is wounded after a pellet pierces her right eye, where three militants are killed in one day, where seven civilians are killed on the same day, where bystanders are killed as if to pay the penalty of being Kashmiri, where there is no end in sight to the conflict that is going on for decades in that breathtakingly beautiful place called Jammu & Kashmir. It is known as ‘Indian-occupied Kashmir’ in Pakistan, the other part of which is with Pakistan, which India in a tit-for-tat epithet refers to as ‘Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’.

IN AN IDEAL WORLD: the world notices what is happening in Kashmir; Kashmiris are given the right of self-determination; Pakistan and India hold a dialogue; the end of alleged cross-border infiltration; end of the very real cross-border firing in which young soldiers and old women and new brides and bent-back fathers die; policemen and soldiers in Jammu & Kashmir stop shooting stone-throwing teenagers; Indian state forces stop killing young men who are not militants; those who are fighting for freedom stop killing policemen and soldiers whom they accuse of rape, torture and murder; and Kashmiris who are tired of burying their loved ones stop dying.

It’s a world in which Pakistan, a country that is almost 97 per cent Muslim and in which Muslims are still acting as guardians of religion, must take a deep hard look within. Killing in the name of Allah to protect the sanctity of His book or His prophet are acts that are not ordained by Allah, and Allah doesn’t need anyone’s blood to be shed to keep His name alive. He is, He was and He will be. And so will be the name and teachings of His last messenger, Prophet Muhammad without anyone killing in His name or that of Muhammad, peace be upon him.

There is so much that is wrong, but there is so much that is still untouched by any ugliness, any cruelty, any touch of pessimism. In a world torn asunder by natural disasters, war, terrorism, and many, many bad things, there is so much that is to be celebrated. In simple acts of empathy, compassion and love. The world takes, and the world gives, and the equilibrium is maintained. Humanity versus humanity, and notwithstanding the far-reaching effect of the bad, there is not a place on earth where human beings are not there for one another.

Stories of rape, torture, families being ripped apart and entire families of Rohingya Muslims forced to live in makeshift shelters like animals being readied for slaughter make uneasy headlines and elicit short-lived sympathy. Yet there is no solution in sight

There are those who do simple acts of goodness, and the entire universe responds with hands folded in gratitude. It is everywhere, sometimes visible, at times, hidden from the eyes. But it is there. The power of goodness. The power of kindness. The power of love.

It flies in helicopters and planes filled with food items and other essential things for the afraid and the wounded and the forgotten. It comes in the form of medical aid in far-flung areas devastated by hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and floods. It shows in the trust fund of one of the richest men in the world, doing endless social work in a world in which billions still live under the official poverty line. It flows in the veins of those faceless strangers who reach hospitals to give blood in the time of need. It transmits through the gentle hands of the doctor who helps a rape victim covered in bruises and clothes that are torn.

It waltzes in the magic of cinema. It serenades in the splendour of beautiful singers. It enthralls in the magic of literature. It transforms as art.

It is the gentle hug of the woman who adopts an orphan left on the steps of a mosque. It is the strong clasp of the social worker who helps a differently abled person walk after an accident. It is the silent empathy of an affluent businessman who gives money to parents in need for the schooling of their children. It is the untutored compassion of a teenager who brings home a wounded puppy. It is the tender touch of those who pick up maggot-eaten dogs and disease-infected cats from streets to treat them and provide them a shelter. It is the glistening eyes of a young woman who stays up all night to take her maid to a hospital. It is the generosity of the spirit of the shy man who lovingly takes the hand of an acid-attack victim in his and asks her to marry him.

It is the words of those leaders who listen without being told, and who act without being asked, and do good things for people who trusted them with their vote. It is being there for the person in need, someone who just needed to be heard. It is that one message of ‘I am here’ from a person you barely know when you felt there was nothing but darkness around you. It is the help of those who are not your friends but were there when your friends weren’t. It is the warmth of friendship that is forever.

It is the fairytale romance that is once in a lifetime, love that changes you for the better for life. It is the strength of a marriage that survives it all, and the partners die within weeks of one another—old, wrinkly, content. It is the unalterable bond of siblings who without being persuaded give the other their kidney. It is the father who maps his life to give his children everything they want in life. It is the love of a mother for her child who is her entire world, and for whom she could do anything in the world.

It is a world in which the eight million citizens of a tiny, poor country, Yemen, in an uneven war with the mighty Saudi Arabia, are where nobody should be: on the brink of famine

It is all around us. It is within us. It is what makes us human. There is no limit to human baseness, and there is no end to human goodness. The power struggle of the good and the bad to colour the world in their image lies within us. To build is hard; it takes months, sometimes even years, to build something important. To demolish it, a few sticks of strategically placed dynamite are enough. It takes emotional investment and heartache to form a bond. Severing it takes a text, an email, a hastily written note on a Post-it. You get the picture. Don’t let the world get to you.

Don’t let its dark shadows overwhelm your rationality, your sense of doing good. Notice, react, speak up, act, walk out, terminate, make up, sever ties, forgive, walk away, stay, repair—it is all up to you. There is just one thing that would keep your humanity intact: don’t sully your humanity with so much darkness that you can’t wash it off even with the best medicated soap available in the market.

The division of faith, the restriction of borders, the identity of nationality, the barrier of political ideologies and affiliations, the restraint of professional obligations, the agenda you work for, the narrative you sell your soul to push, the difference of opinions, the wealth you chase, the position you hanker after, the bias that shapes your opinion, the distaste you feel for those on the other side, the forced othering of your compatriots, the jingoism that you mistake for patriotism, the homeland- bashing that is your marketing strategy, the hatred that is your election slogan, the vitriol that is your freedom of speech, the abuse that is your weapon against the indefensible, and the intolerance that you wear like a second skin... Don’t let it all eat you up, chew you and spit you out like bits of unwanted food. Don’t let the dark hit the light within you with a thin stick that makes a sharp noise as it lands on your bare skin.

Don’t let the world take away the beauty of everything that makes you—you, the you who is good, empathetic, kind, forgiving. All around you, falling like relentless rain on a cold night, there is cynicism and jadedness; take refuge in that little place within you that keeps you safe from harm. Exult in your individuality, celebrate your uniqueness, cherish your identity. In solidarity with the diversity around you, the pluralism of your world, the differences that unite, the contrasting colours that blend to make a kaleidoscope that is breathtaking in its magnificence, that brightens the world even on the dreariest of days.

Be the world you want the world to be. It is all within you.

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