Protocols of Poverty
By Brig® Mehboob Qadir
Prosperity is by the grace of God; poverty arrives from elsewhere. The two are incompatible through a different Rhesus Factor. Unlike general but abstract understanding of poverty, what is going to be discussed here is an upshot of such overpowering destitution where everything material and moral is severely scarce. In our calculus moral poverty versus the 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 dehumanized and de-civilized not as a voluntary option but under compulsions of dearth of means and poverty of responses .As a result it peels away decency, valor, generosity , strips of education and self control leaving behind shrunk homo sapiens. It is a state of subsistence similar to that which hangs around the boundary of humanity and beastliness. There is an apt American native proverb which says ‘Poverty is a noose that strangles humility and breeds disrespect for God and man’.
It is this kind of bitter Surf like poverty which is slowly but surely inundating our countryside drowning large masses of men and women in the stinking black mud slide. 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 their unusual brutality is that, by the wealthy society and their leadership, no compassion had been shown towards their own sea of sufferings; no helping hand was extended in earnest when they were needy and none cared much when they were strapped in want and privation. A passing expression of sorrow , more from a revulsion towards their ugliness than their pitiable state and a few photo shoots handing down packs of food and clothing hardly evoke any thankfulness. They see through the conceit quite easily and instead consider the charity as their right which was overdue and wrongfully retained by the privileged few. Watch carefully, it would not be difficult to guess what was passing through their minds; it is surely not gratitude. Their vacant stare would reflect frustration at being so blatantly reduced publically for what was rightfully theirs in any case.
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 in their tatters sitting in anticipation of receiving a loaf of bread and some gravy from a poor baker in a dark and dingy Rawalpindi bazaar, every day. The first note of being able to benefit others from your influence and riches is humility and compassion and not pity and sense of entitlement or superiority. A Shahid Khaqan Abbasi cannot imperiously call the needy lined up on roads since hours in 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 embedded and invariably draws blood. One must realize, these are the same beggars who ripped apart French and Russian empires with such viciousness just because their aristocracy too was equally contemptuous. They too firmly believed in their unchallengeable entitlement and the repressive social order which they had enforced since centuries without any pangs of conscience. They too had refused to share wealth equitably with the poor as undeserving. They too had two different sets of laws meant for nobility and the ordinary separately. Their judiciary too was ineffective and profitably discerning not to ruffle powerful feathers but make example of those with no means. They too were unrepentant.
That rotund baker in Rawalpindi is utterly unpretentious and humble to the bone, those who receive food from him never feel slighted or pitied. He goes about ladling out food like one does to his family at home; without any fanfare and as a matter of fact. There are no TV crews around as it is neither glamorous nor sufficiently scandalous. That shows the whole system is tailored to serve the powerful and the rich, therefore destined to be destroyed violently. This is no gloomy forecast but an established norm of history.
What is it in poverty which is so enduring and why must it persist even after the ghastly French and Russian revolutions? Why must it continue in the US after the American War of Independence, in Pakistan after independence and in the Middle East after Arab Spring?? Why should it continue to defy so many prophets, Budhas , Krishnas, Lamas , saints and reformers???Does it mean it has a life and relevance of its own? I think it does. Henry Wald Beecher has a point, ”you cannot sift the poor from the community. The poor are indispensible to the rich”. If so then there must be a way of living it out or a protocol which must govern the universal practice of poverty. That protocol must also serve as a handbook for the privileged to deal with the disadvantaged humanity below them, if so inclined.
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 which would be plentiful in the course of his insignificant and abject life.
As a first principle do not cover your master’s wealth, extravagance and revelry in luxury. For you is to 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. He must feel reassured in his unshakable entitlement 24 hours a day.
Do not expect to be paid your wages and what is justly your due, just receive crumbs thrown your way or whatever is handed down in the pleasure of your master. Be very grateful for the unusual kindness shown towards you and pledge loyalty and allegiance of not only yourself but of many a generations to come. That will be an insurance of your continued subservience and a few square meters of space to live under his benign patronage. You have to please a wolf to keep the other from your door.
Do not resist his oppression and abuses just persist steadfastly in your misery and squalor. That you are expected to do in any case. Nursing heartburn and living with a grouse are injurious to your precarious wellbeing 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 does not matter if you committed a cognizable offense or not. 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 not your due and are like the white elephant which will crush you under their weight if pretended. Lean into the harness and just haul along with other yokemates regardless. Where possible press your children, wife and aging parents also into it so that the whole family is suitably soaked into the master’s manure .Your remarkable subservience is likely to be viewed with approval and quoted as an example to other servants.
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 and applaud every word that he utters. You do not have to understand what he mutters. When he addresses public rallies erupt into rapturous joy, 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. It is not for you to think to be or not to be, that your master will decide .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. As also more hands are required to work his fields and to handle toxic chemicals in his sprawling factories.
Homicide is part of your package. When assigned perform without anger and compunction as the ones on the business end of your muzzle are also similar earthworms. If nothing else religion, honour, pir and tribe are good excuses to work one’s self into deadly frenzy. Slay, burn and maim viciously; if you don’t they will. In case you are consumed in the effort, the master will take care of those left behind. He has many more scores to settle yet.
I must beg your pardon I am perhaps running out of requisite imagination. The trouble is that I do not belong to your class therefore I could only think of apparent aspects of your servitude which are normally looked forward to in desirable servants. You may have pain in your heart and a deep hurt to grieve about, never place it before him as it might unnecessarily emotionally bruise him. He is not there to worry about petty matters such as yours. Cringe and cry privately when you have to. But in the presence of your master put on a broad smile and stand tirelessly in his service with both hands respectfully clasped before you.
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.