By Dr Ghayur Ayub
An old man was desperately walking fast in the rubble of a demolished house, which once was his home. His torn dirty vest hardly covered his emaciated body exposing his brown skin to the burning sun. His weak hands were holding his curved back as if it was going to give way. There was dust on his wrinkled face, dirt in his bushy white beard and clay on his bare feet. There were signs of despair and pain in his lustreless eyes. Now and again, he would take off his dirty white cap, rub his head with his mucky hands and wipe his face of pouring sweat. It was difficult to guess how old he was as the hard life he lived had disguised his actual age. He looked old; a Baba. Someone introduced him to the visiting TV team as Baba Banaras.
A well known media personality was assessing post-flood devastation near Nowshera in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Let us call him Mr. ’H’. Coming closer, the pain in Baba’s eyes changed into confusion and a faint ill-defined smile appeared on his face which failed to take away the obvious misery haunting him. He was short of breath from the hard work he had been doing rebuilding his home with his bare hands. Mr.‘ H’ started asking questions in Urdu; the poor man hardly understood the language. He started answering in typical half baked lingo mixing Pakhtu with Urdu. Now and again, he would lose a thread and looked for help from a youngster standing opposite him. An interesting conversation revealed he was a retired Chaukidar and getting a pension of Rs 1500/ per month. At the time of retirement, he received Rs 2 Lacs lump sum on which he built the home which the floods turned into ruins. In his broken language he said that he sold part of his house and donated the money to the village mosque in the name of Allah. There was pronounced innocence and sincerity in his utterance.
Further questioning revealed he had one daughter, three granddaughters and no son. In Pakhtun culture, a man without a son is called ‘Meeraath’ meaning by; such person is doomed as he has no one to look after him when he is old. That seemed to be the case. There was no one except his womenfolk to give Baba Banaras a hand to rebuild his home. He said he bought dowry worth Rs 90,000/ for his granddaughter’s marriage which was due if floods had not washed away everything. When asked what would he do? His blank face showed traces of ache and a few tears appeared in his eyes. All he could utter was, ‘what can I do?’ He turned his face to look the other way trying to control his emotions. Then he looked up to the sky leaving everything to Allah; so strong was his Faith. After a while a boy came to him and told him something in Pakhtu. A touch of anger appeared in his tone, slapped his own forehead and cursed his luck.
Then, without saying anything, he left the place in hurry and disappeared behind the heap of rubbles. On enquiry Mr. ‘H’ was told that Baba had asked the boy to get soft drinks for the guests and the boy told him the shopkeeper wanted Baba to go there himself. Powerful emotions appeared on the face of Mr. ‘H’. He was witnessing an illustration of Pakhtun hospitality called ‘Mailmantob’. On his return, Baba told him in simplistic but honourable pitch that he couldn’t let his guest go without serving him. Despite all the misery he was in, he couldn’t lose his Pakhtunwalay. Mr ‘H’ squatted on the ground next to Baba with bottle of cold drink by his side and continued to ask him question upon question. Like always Allah’s name was visible in his replies.
Then suddenly, Mr ‘H’ surprised everyone by offering him his help. Initially Baba didn’t understand and asked the interpreter what he was talking about. He was told that he was offering help to rebuild his home and to help with his granddaughter’s marriage. He turned his face toward Mr. ‘H with astonishment and took off his cap, held it in his outstretched hands and burst into tears. It was his way of thanking him. Then he looked up yet again into the sky praising Allah for sending an angel to help him. Mr. ‘H’ told his partner to tell him in Pakhtu that it was not his money he was offering; it belonged to decent donors who wanted to help people like him. The translator tried to make Baba understand, but his actions showed that it was Divine help reaching him through Mr ‘H’ at this time of need. In his husky voice he tried to argue that Mr. ‘H’ could be sitting somewhere in a cosy place doing something else; instead, he was going from place to place helping needy people. His simple argument carried weight. He kept his cap in his hands for a long time and kept praying for Mr H and his family. Not once did he mention the government in his praises or prayers. One could sense an emotional tempo developing in the scene and feel a spiritual beat in the environment.
This was a typical picture of misery spread all over the country in the flood-hit areas. There are millions of Baba Banarases working with their bare hands to build what they lost in the floods. And there are many TV personalities, independent entrepreneurs, NGOs, religious groups, Pak army and even foreigners reaching to them and helping them. Unfortunately, the help is uncoordinated and ill planned because of sheer mismanagement on behalf of the government resulting in unnecessary loss of resources. It is make or break point for the government. If the slackness of the government continued, it will add to the miseries of the deprived ones increasing their resentment. Their anger is multiplied when the independent media report that the dishonest high ups give irregular extensions or fresh appointments to their corrupt cronies and buy expensive properties in posh areas abroad during these appalling times. With exception of a few, most of the political figures especially from the power corridors have failed to act like their saviours. All they seem to do is to visit the affected areas for photo sessions and disappear without interacting with the affected people like Mr. ‘H’ did in the case of Baba Banaras. As a result, they are fast losing faith in the government. Our society is full of good, decent and talented people; why can’t the political elite and the government officials follow their example and show the world community that we are capable of turning flood-hit Pakistan into a new modern country as Germany or Japan did after devastations of WWII with added technical and monetary support of the world.