Monday, October 31, 2005

DEATH: Of death and its celebration

Once again we have to celebrate death. And because of its massive scale, it has to be a big celebration, as a Farsi phrase says. (“Marg-i anboh jashn darad.”)
When our greatest leader died in 1948, we started celebrating his anniversary on September 11. Ten years earlier, we started it on April 21 when our national poet died in 1938. In fact, we have always been celebrating death. Take our saints, who are closest to our people. The annual urs (anniversary) is always on the date of death. Our history books give dates of death for everybody but often put a question mark after the date of birth.
The reason is not our fascination with death. Actually, we know only dates of death for sure. We seldom know the accurate date of birth because, until a century or so ago, there was never any legal requirement to register a birth and parents did not care. (They had no reason to believe that their child would become somebody important some day.) So, the day of leaving this world was known with more certainty than the day of coming into it.
Some years ago, we decided that celebrating the birth of our heroes was more important than their death. So, the celebration (and the holidays) on the death anniversaries of Jinnah and Iqbal were shifted to their birth anniversaries.
After having stopped celebrating the death anniversary of our Quaid, September 11 gradually faded in our minds. Then the Americans hammered it into our brains. They also forced on us the way they write dates, at least in this case.
The British, our colonial masters, taught us to write the day and then the month, such as 11 September or 11/9. We obeyed but their rebel cousins across the Atlantic did not. They also added a knack for abbreviations. So, they had “September 11, 2001” and then turned it to just “9/11.”
Now, if we follow the American practice, we should remember not the “Earthquake of 2005” but simply the “Kashmir Quake 10/08.” Unfortunately, most of our people are not Americanized enough and will end up believing that the date was “10 August.” So, we shall have to make it “8/10.” That will also link it with “9/11” by deducting 1 from 9 and 1 from 11. “8/10” is also already familiar for us because it is a common way to indicate a quantity that is more or less 10.
But we shall not be able to keep up with the perennial American mourning. Death is a fact of life for us, simply the end of our journey that began with birth. Once we have buried the dead, treated the injured and provided shelter to the homeless, we shall return to normal life. Then “Kashmir Quake 8/10” will be only for the history books. We celebrate death as a change of phase, not as the end of the world.

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