What is it about poverty that is so enduring and why must it persist even after the French and Russian revolutions?.
Prosperity is by the grace of God; poverty arrives from elsewhere. The two are incompatible through a different rhesus factor. In our calculus, moral poverty versus material poverty takes a higher place, as mind and sentiments are, invariably, the ultimate engines of perceptions and responses. One has to understand that in Pakistan, poverty is a function of material limitations affecting moral options amongst a very large segment of society chronically less privileged. Such a situation leads to a stage where one is dehumanised and de-civilised not as a voluntary option but under compulsions of dearth of means and poverty of responses.
It is this kind of bitter serf-like poverty that is slowly but surely inundating our countryside, drowning large masses of men and women in the stinking black mud. When they rise they are already at the end of their tether and extremely vengeful. That is why we see some terribly gruesome crimes being committed in our rural areas and in jobless, steamy slums of cities. One major reason for this unusual brutality is that no compassion had been shown towards their own sufferings and privation, no helping hand was extended in earnest when they were needy. There is a passing expression of sorrow, more from revulsion towards their ugliness than their pitiable state. Handing down packs of food and clothing hardly evokes any thankfulness. They see through their conceit quite easily and, instead, consider the charity to be their right, one that was overdue. Their vacant stares reflect frustration at being so blatantly uncovered publicly.
One has attended quite a few such stage managed charity events where hardly any recipient was moved enough to utter a small prayer for the impostor on the stage, unlike overflowing satisfaction and great levels of comfort shown by the hundreds of hungry and needy men and women sitting in anticipation of receiving a loaf of bread and some gravy from a poor baker in a dingy Rawalpindi bazaar, every day. The first note of being able to benefit others from your influence and riches is humility and compassion, not pity and a sense of entitlement. A Shahid Khaqan Abbasi cannot imperiously call the needy lined up on roads for hours in the bitter cold to get a pint of this and a pound of that as beggars and hope to retain their regard too. A slur hurled over suffering humanity gets immediately and deeply embedded. These are the same beggars who viciously ripped apart the French and Russian empires just because their aristocracy too was equally contemptuous. They also firmly believed in their unchallengeable entitlement and the centuries’ old repressive social order. They too had two different sets of laws meant for the nobility and the ordinary. Their judiciary too was profitably discerning enough not to ruffle powerful feathers. They too were unrepentant.
That rotund baker in Rawalpindi is utterly unpretentious. Those who receive food from him never feel slighted. He goes about ladling out food like one does to his family at home, without any fanfare. There are no television crews around as it is neither glamorous nor scandalous. This shows that the whole system is tailored to serve the powerful and the rich, and is therefore destined to be destroyed violently.
What is it about poverty that is so enduring and why must it persist even after the French and Russian revolutions? Why should it continue to defy so many prophets, Buddhas, Krishnas, Lamas and reformers? Does this mean it has a life and relevance of its own? I think it does. Henry Wald Beecher has a point: “You cannot sift out the poor from the community. The poor are indispensible to the rich.” If so, there must be a way of living it out and a protocol to govern the universal practice of poverty. In the preamble to the protocol it must be stated that in order to successfully endure poverty, one must be stone deaf, bat blind, thick skinned and completely tongue-tied. He must have the capacity to suffer in silence any and every indignity in the course of his abject life.
As a first principle, do not covet your master’s wealth and revelry in luxury. Simply drool, sulk and scurry around like rodents. You may sneak up to steal a glimpse of the party but praise and beseech profusely if caught. A rich mix of fear and submission like that before his guests pleases the master immeasurably. Do not expect to be paid your wages and what is justly yours; just receive crumbs thrown your way at the pleasure of your master. Pledge unwavering loyalty of not only yourself but of many a generation to come. That will be an insurance of a few square meters of space for you to live under his benign patronage. You have to please a wolf to keep the other from your door.
Do not resist his oppression; just persist steadfastly in squalor, which you are expected to do in any case. Nursing heartburn is highly injurious and may breed contempt among your family. That can result in destruction of your family if detected and a long jail detention for you. It is enough for the system to know that you were privately disrespectful to a privileged peer. Do not demand a modicum of respect, leisure or respite from the back breaking and humiliating chores. Such notions are luxuries and are not your due. Lean into the harness and just haul along with other yokemates regardless. Where possible, press your children, wife and aging parents also into it for good measure.
If your master has political ambitions or reformist notions, make his day by bending your knees and lowering your head in his presence hundreds of times a day and applaud every word that he utters. Erupt into rapturous joy during his public rallies, dance like a monkey when he arrives in his regal motorcade, and clap when he mounts the stage. Vote for him when it is time to elect and get shot when required. Should you get time to spare, do not breathe, just breed as more maids and servants for the master’s daughters and sons are needed.
When assigned, perform without anger and compunction as those on the business end of your muzzle are also similar earthworms. If nothing else, religion, honour and tribe are good excuses to work one’s self into deadly frenzy. Slay, burn and maim viciously; if you do not, they will. Should you perish, the gracious master will take care of those left behind.
I am perhaps running out of requisite imagination. The trouble is that I do not belong to your class and, therefore, I could only think of those apparent aspects that are normally looked forward to in desirable servants. You may have pain in your heart and a deep hurt to grieve about but never place it before him as it might unnecessarily distract him. Cringe and cry privately when you have to.
A parting word of advice: live as insignificantly as a snail and, once dead, expect the kindness to be dragged with a rope around your ankle to the burial pit of indignity only to rejoin the remains of your ancestors. You will be in the presence of God. There you may rest in peace forever my child.