Extraordinarily ordinary

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

There is an anecdote about a person who was quite unsuccessfully trying to sell an ordinary donkey at a market place, but then had the good fortune of meeting an excellent salesman (or call him a PR man of the class and calibre who sold Benazir to the West and made her the ‘Daughter of the West’). 

The story goes that after the PR man praised the supposed and imaginary qualities and the pedigree of that donkey, a crowd of people gathered, all very anxious to buy that rare specimen. The owner asked him if the donkey was really that good, he would rather keep it. The PR man laughed and told him it was an extraordinarily ordinary donkey and only his eloquence and eulogy had enhanced its value, so sell it before he ended up holding the can. 

The story always ends here and sadly the main character of the story, the donkey, has always been ignored. I have extended the story to include it as well.

This extraordinarily ordinary donkey had always laboured selflessly and diligently. It understood that unquestioning hard labour was its moral obligation and it had been quite content fulfilling its obligations and tasks in spite of the harshness of life. It never even in its wildest dreams had ever conjured up the thought of being indispensable, inviolable and a notch above others. 

Hearing the PR man eloquently express its immaculate pedigree, its past grandeur and importance, it erroneously assumed that it was the inheritor of all the wonderful qualities and the grandest of historical legacies that the history of mankind had presented to the world. Legacies full of heroism and gallantry, of pomp and splendour and of power and supremacy. A legacy that held the place of pride in the pantheon of glorious histories of humanity, it however did not hear the PR man call it an extraordinarily ordinary donkey after all that praise. 

As is always the problem with extraordinarily ordinary donkeys, once a concept appeals to them they live and die for it. They begin to believe that their belief is the only truth and not only should it be accepted by all and sundry, but should become the basic tenet of everyone’s dogma, faith, ideology and life. Any deviation from it is sacrilege and perverted profaneness. 

This donkey now arrogantly believed that its persona, privileges and prerogative were inviolable, sacrosanct and absolute. It thought it had to live up to the legacy of its ancestors whom the world had held in awe due to their power, grandeur and pre-eminence. It thought that it had to uphold the traditions that it assumed were its and its alone and in the course of upholding them it presumed no action was excessive, crazy or absurd.

Once these ridiculously bizarre ideas took root in that infantile mind, the life of its new owner turned to sheer hell. It would not accept the sacking that kept it warm because in its mind it could feel the silky whispering rustle of the silken robes that it thought it was entitled to and deserved due to its pedigree. The crude wooden saddle that was previously used to carry wood, etc., on its willing back became a stigma and anathema for it because it thought its back was worthy only of the jewel-encrusted silver saddles inlaid with gold crafted by the best of the craftsmen known to humankind.

It would wildly kick and prance if the owner brought the sackings or the wooden saddle within a mile of its persona. Its tantrums would go on indefinitely, vexing the poor owner to no end, who hesitated to use harsh words or the stick because he too had been impressed by and believed in the yarn woven by the brilliant PR man. He desisted from harsh measures because he had sacrificed a lot by investing too much in this donkey.

This extraordinarily ordinary donkey then proceeded into this unfortunate person’s house and after that simply refused to return to the pen because it thought that the petty stable was below its dignity and it was entitled to live in a place that reminded it of its legacy and past glory, and would also help it achieve that glory. 

The unfortunate owner’s life was tormented beyond limit because this boorish donkey with its disproportionate, self-assumed importance and significance would spring a leak and droppings whenever and wherever it desired. Sometimes it would even brandish its symbol of virility in an indecent manner to impose its authority without any concern for decorum or sensitivities. The poor owner had to put up with the strident braying also, which it thought was the pleasantest music because after all it was a legatee of the greatest civilisation and wisdom that ever existed. It kept trying to get the message of its importance loud and clear across to the dimwit of an owner by advertising its capabilities. 

The poor owner’s life changed nightmarishly as he had bought this donkey for earning his livelihood and sustenance, but now it refused to work, something that it was supposed to do and should have done. The absurd and incongruous behaviour and attitude adopted by it eventually proved to be the reason for the undoing of the lives of both these unfortunate beings. The donkey refused to work and the owner awed by the fallacious and spurious glory and the supposedly inherited legacy of this extraordinarily ordinary donkey refused to challenge its right to act absurdly.

Consequently he tried to appease the donkey with better saddles and sackings, but all efforts went to waste as it always wanted more. The result was that with his income he could not afford the donkey so he started borrowing from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) and because the donkey’s refusal to do what it should have done, they slid into irreversible penury and eventually both simultaneously kicked the bucket as their lives complemented each other’s.

This bizarre behaviour and conduct in the parable may seem innocuous, but when it is enacted out by individuals, groups, organisations and institutions in real life, then its actual impact is felt and suffered. The behaviour displayed by the victims of the delusional misconceptions of being the legatees and successors of the greatest military, political and religious traditions is at par or rather worse than that of that extraordinarily ordinary donkey because they are supposedly rational beings and not donkeys and asses, but that they probably are.

The root and genesis of the multifarious problems, dilemmas and predicaments that have haunted us can be found in the delusional misconceptions that took hold even before these people stumbled upon founts of powers, which were never rightly theirs. The foundations for the interminable sequence and cycle of foolhardy schemes, absurd adventures and incongruous policies were already fossilised and petrified in the minds of those who came to lead the destiny here.

The rulers’ minds here were and are ingrained and embedded with the preposterous ideas that they are the successors and legatees of the Umayyad Caliphate, the rulers of Cordoba and Granada, the Mughal Emperors, the Ottoman rulers and any other Muslim dynasties of consequence anywhere in the world. With this fallacy entrenched and fixated in anyone’s mind, rationality and rational actions become an impossibility. It is this erroneous approach that makes them think they are indispensable, infallible and flawless and that only they can lead the hapless and the wretched masses to the glory of which they are the inheritors. Little wonder that they all desire to rule for life.

The institution of the army also sees itself as the inheritor of those valorous, valiant and intrepid armies that defeated the greatest armies of Persia, Byzantine, Spain, Hindustan and Europe. They idolise Mahmood Ghaznavi’s predatory incursions and have set Nadir Shah’s depredations as the benchmark to be emulated. Such a warped approach can only lead to the quagmire that we find ourselves in. The misconceived notion that they are the ‘Army of Islam’ and of Islamic values has led to its high-handedness and assertiveness towards the minority nationalities, in one instance against the majority nationality, here in particular and the people in general. A certain set of attitudes leads to certain actions, which then lead to a certain set of consequences.

I am amazed at the sudden transformation of the meekest of civil servants and the obedient armies who were at the beck and call of the British Raj for nearly 150 years into these arrogant, egotistic and self-righteous inheritors of the greatest traditions of the Muslim world. The metamorphosis has been so sudden and comprehensive that it defies logical explanation. It probably has something to with the evil called ‘absolute power’ and the calibre of the sycophants who have ensured that those in power come to believe in the weirdest of concepts and beliefs, as long as it is something that they are benefiting from.

This benighted country is bound to remain in the present morass eternally not only because of the spurious inheritors, but also because a lot of people like the donkey owner are awed by fallacious beliefs of glory and feel obliged to accept the injustices perpetrated in the name of that glory. A lot of the suffering masses enthusiastically subscribe to these views and consequently help sustain the injustices and excesses of those infected with misconceived misperceptions of their historical roles and status. Change will be possible when misconceptions are shed.

Tailpiece: a recent survey has shown there are 4,800,000 donkeys and asses in the ‘Land of the Pure’. The figure is highly contentious.

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at mmatalpur@gmail.com

This article was first published in The Post on 21 October 2007

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