Also-rans

Posted on August 30, 2016

The 2016 Summer Olympics came and went. Pakistan did not win a single medal. The country that before the mid-1990s regularly won a medal or two hasn’t been that lucky since then. But if we consider the Games as not just a gauge of a nation’s physical fitness but also of its political power as was the case during the Cold War, we stand nowhere. And those who thought that the US is a declining power found it in steady lead with 121 medals. China, the emerging power, stood a distant second with 70 medals in total. That much is obvious. India, the self-appointed challenger of China, won only two medals. Two medals and not a single gold. Immediately after its freedom India won one medal in 1948. In 1952 that number doubled. So in the Games of the Olympiad India stands where it stood five years after Independence. That is some feat for a country that just celebrated its 70th year of independence. A country of over one billion people managed to produce two players fit enough to win a bronze and a silver medal each. Two out of over 10,000 contestants. Please do not get me wrong. I am not gloating. Told you already we got nothing. No, I am building up an argument. Hear me out.

Now every now and then you hear India has arrived, India is the next big thing, the ‘it’ thing. And here is the problem. The country is said to be among the leading economies. But then here and there you come across stories like that of Dana Majhi, the poor man who had to carry the body of his dead wife on his shoulder for six hours before help came in the shape of journalists who brought him an ambulance. Grinding poverty at the heart of the shining star of the world economy. And now, now dear Indian trolls, take a deep breath. I am not for India-baiting. I am about to discuss my own country’s predicament. I know, I know, some of you would say there is no comparison and Pakistan doesn’t matter to you. But why then are you reading these lines? And if you are wondering if I am about to tell you that everything is hunky dory in my country then you are mistaken. Visit just parts of south Punjab, interior Sindh, Balochistan and why, even Thar to know how badly have we failed in developing into a modern state. Overpopulation, crumbling infrastructure, illiteracy, poverty, all are visible to the naked eye here. When I look at such indicators throughout South Asia I cannot help but wonder if freedom came too early for us. If we really deserved to be set free. The Indian state and our own, both have invested heavily in a culture of prejudice, intolerance and hate, and have allowed these cancers to grow. Today the Sangh Parivar supported government stands testimony to India’s failure to develop a culture of tolerance and secularism. And we… we will think about it when extremists stop blowing themselves up to kill us.

The world, meanwhile, has moved on. There are so many fascinating things happening in the world. And yet the South Asian Siamese twins stand there rooted in primal mediocrity. Yes, mediocrity. Not greatness. Both try to procure more weapons. But they have no time to sort out existential questions that ensured their lopsided growth since their very inception. Nor do you find the courage to do so. So it is natural that the culture of intolerance and mediocrity will be further reinforced. That the clergymen in India would continue to value cows over human lives. And their counterparts in Pakistan would continue to find new ways to deny rights to women.

There is a reason why the US leads the world. It worked hard to evolve its own brand of democracy built on culture of inclusion, equal rights and tolerance which it now proudly exports. Every now and then it loses its way but its core values bring it back on track. China is still an introvert as a nation. It still is busy in perfecting its own experiment. Therefore, it doesn’t export its culture. Who knows by the time it does it might not be much different from America’s. But if you thought India or Pakistan are capable of finding the way out of wilderness, look again. India’s unending war on Kashmiris and our silly experiments in our own land prove they both are still not.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2016.

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