Mashal Khan and living by lighting torches

Some comfort in the words of Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi
Photo: File
Photo: File

Pablo Neruda started a poem with ‘Tonight I can write the saddest lines’ and I believe I can complete this thought with the words of Mashal Khan’s mother: “When I kissed his hand, all his fingers were broken.”
Even though Pakistan never runs out of reasons for despair, the day I felt that the injustice was too great to bear for the human heart was when Mashal Khan was killed on campus by a mob of students in his own university.
Mashal was a bright young man, who wrote poetry and dreamt of an egalitarian world. Many nights he would fall asleep while reading a book and it seems as if he left as the tragic hero for never to return. As a young person, you constantly face the choice of either living as an entirely self-centered individual or dedicating your life to a purpose greater than your existence. Mashal chose the latter. He was an activist and campaigned for the rights of everyone. Today, it seems as if Sahir Ludhianvi wrote these words for him:
Na munh chhupa ke jiye hum na sar jhuka ke jiye
Sitamgaron ki nazar se nazar mila ke jiye
Ab ek raat agar kam jiye to kam hi sahi
Yahi bohut he ki hum mishalen jala ke jiye

We didn’t live by looking away,
We didn’t live by hanging our heads
We lived by looking the oppressor in the eye
And so if we live one night less
It is still enough that we lived
by lighting the torches

Something that irks me about his death is our collective madness, degeneration and crime as a society. How did we let this happen? How did we let the hatred seep to the core so much so that students begin to kill their fellow student? Someone you would have talked to during class, someone you would have asked for help before an exam, someone you would have borrowed a pen to take notes, someone you would have greeted every day without being friends.
It is beyond sanity to think that you would kill someone who is just like you, who shared the same classrooms, same memories of college and maybe same dreams?
When we talk about Mashal, we always think of him as our hero, but today I also want to think of him as an ordinary young man with ordinary dreams. These are dreams that you, me and everyone had in college and are dreams that we still carry within us.
Did anyone in the crowd that was gathered to take his speak to him about those dreams? His plans for the weekend, for the next year, for this one life that he didn’t know would be cut short?
As much as Mashal’s life spoke a hope for a better world, his death showed us a grim picture of our future. Would we continue to snuff out our Mashals? As I imagine him fighting alone for his life among the oppressors, I can hear Faiz recite in the background:
Aaj bazaar main pa-bajolan chalo
Chashm-e-nam, jaan-e-shoreeda kafi nahin
Tohmat-e-ishq posheeda kafi nahin

Aaj bazaar main pa-bajolan chalo
Dast afshan chalo, mast-o-raqsan chalo

Khaak bar sar chalo, khoon badaman chalo
Rah takta hai sub shehr-e-janaan chalo

Hakim-e-shehr bhi, majma-e-aam bhi
Teer-e-ilzam bhi, sang-e-dushnam bhi

Subh-e-nashaad bhi, roz-e-naakaam bhi
Unka dum-saaz apnay siwa kaun hai

Shehr-e-janaan main ab baa-sifa kaun hai
Dast-e-qatil kay shayan raha kaun hai

Rakht-e-dil bandh lo, dil figaro chalo
Phir hameen qatl ho aain yaro chalo

Let us walk the bazaar in shackles
Damp eyes and restless souls are not enough
being charged for nurturing a concealed love is not enough

Let us walk the bazaar in shackles
Let us go with afshan in hand, in trance and dancing
go with dust on head and blood on garb
Go as the city of my beloved is waiting
City’s ruler and crowd of commoners
arrow of false charge, stone of accusation
morning of sorrow, day of failure
who is their friend except me
who is untainted in the city of beloved
who deserve the killers or executioners hand
get ready for the journey of heart, go wounded heart
let me go to be executed.
(Translation by Anis Zuberi)

The writer is pursuing Masters in Public Policy at Central European University. He tweets @@jasirshahbaz



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