A friend based in Vancouver called and we chatted for over an hour, nostalgically meandering through the lanes of our childhood years. This week I had planned to write about these resurfaced memories and the countryside of the Punjab with its mud-brick village houses which, although cramped, housed people with large hearts whose generosity and kindness were legendary.
Then, Danforth erupted. Coming soon after the Yonge St. tragedy and overshadowed by suicide bombings in Pakistan, lynching episodes in India, shootings in Gaza, the continuing tragedy of Syria and the bloody “democratization” of countries, my thoughts were clouded over and I could no longer picture the sunny skies that I had hoped to write about.
We have been told “Guns do not kill people”. Unfolding tragedies are defined and attributed to any number of causes that are shaped largely by prejudices viewed through conditioned, myopic and jaundiced eyes. The kaleidoscope patterns get changed with the tiniest twitch of the hands that control the narrative. The innocent, and innocence itself are collaterally damaged each day with impunity. We are programmed to raise a roadside memorial and move on to the next street corner, leaving those who have lost their loved ones to cope best as they can. The next story beckons. Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner next to that shadowy, white house on a hill?
Reputed English writer and winner of many top journalism awards, Robert Fisk had written a book in 1990 on the conflict in Lebanon titled “Pity the Nation”. Perhaps he was influenced by the legendary poet, Kahlil Gibran’s short poem with the same title, penned in his book “The Garden of the Prophet”.
This week I share the poem with you. First, I believe that the theme is timeless and this message must have been repeated by many a litterateur or provocateurs since time memorial; it remains valid today as when Gibran first published the poem circa 1933. Second, the laissez-faire attitude of the nationals highlighted in this poem spans the globe and is representative of just about any nation-state that comes to mind.
Please read on:
“Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.
Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave
and eats a bread it does not harvest.
Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero,
and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.
Pity a nation that despises a passion in its dream,
yet submits in its awakening.
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
save when it walks in a funeral,
boasts not except among its ruins,
and will rebel not save when its neck is laid
between the sword and the block.
Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox,
whose philosopher is a juggler,
and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking
Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpeting,
and farewells him with hooting,
only to welcome another with trumpeting again.
Pity the nation whose sages are dumb with years
and whose strongmen are yet in the cradle.
Pity the nation divided into fragments,
each fragment deeming itself a nation.”
Reflecting on the lines of the poem, we can probably
• Identify countries that fit the defined profile
• List the politicians (do we still have any leaders left?) that could be classified as a country’s Hero, Ruler, Statesman, Philosopher or a (con?)Artist
• Recount the occasions when each of us has been guilty of jumping to conclusions in apportioning blame while aligning ourselves with the aggrieved party. Just a name or the skin color usually provides us sufficient evidence to righteously label and pass judgment on a person’s actions, simultaneously using suitable disclaimers like “I don’t wish to tar everyone with the same brush, but …”.
Yet, in spite of all this we still see and experience love and hope as communities rally together and support each other. Strangers instantaneously turn into heroes when help and comfort are needed, literally by the roadside. Love and compassion are dished out unconditionally, without reservation. Bigots are challenged and corralled. Human Spirit comes forth.
I am reminded of the following verse excerpted from the famous Urdu poet Nida Fazli’s ghazal popularized by Jagjit Singh:
“Koi Hindu, koi Muslim, koi Issaai hai
Sab ne insaan naa ban ne ki kasam khaayi hai”
[Someone is a Hindu, another a Muslim while yet another a Christian
Each has sworn not (just) to be human]