The moment is gone

imageIt was the 1996 World Cup Quarters at Bangalore and two older stalwarts of Pakistan, who singly and together had done it so many times, were fighting it out in the middle. They were trying to retrieve a lost game. They failed. As Javed Miandad walked off late in the innings, his very last departure from the international arena, a highly partisan Indian crowd, let him know that his moment was gone.

This happens so often. In my history of following sports and really even watching life, there comes a time when your moment is gone. It actually happens to all of us in life. Just that some recognise it and deal with it, while others fight on desperately, slowly losing this battle, till one day they depart with less than grace. Nevertheless, it is a riveting sight, sad, melancholy and yet, the spectators watching almost one and all are wishing for success to happen again. It would be a great human story. Alas it almost never happens.

The statement which typifies this journey was made about Rod Laver. Master and king of tennis, and dominant for a decade. At 37 in 1973, he was playing the Aussie Open, and the newspaper wrote, ‘Lavers mind was making appointments, which his body simply could not keep’. That is the spectacle. A former king, not recognising his ageing, his mind still forming the visionary pictures, yet his body gives out.

For me the greatest of these stories, was the one of Muhammad Ali. Boxer, brash, believing, crusader and darling of the world, other than the old conservative red necks. He was not simply a boxer, he was the icon of the 60s and 70s and people pinned hopes of revolutions on him. It was the most instantly recognisable face in the world. He did what few ever did. Reached a pinnacle, sacrificed it on a principle, took on the US government, won, came back from the wilderness, and reached the pinnacle again, not once but twice more. No wonder we thought he was invincible. Maybe he believed it also. But, in the background a wasting disease was already working. In the slow decline spread over years, Ali kept trying to climb the pinnacle once more. He got beaten and only then the body gave out enough for him never to return to the ring. It was a terrible spectacle, yet it was fascinating as a human story, played out in front of the worlds billions. Very few of those did not wish him one last success, but this never happened. What a man and what a tragic decline. What a human story.

There have been many others in our sports, in politics and even conquerors in history. Stanley Matthews played football till fifty, losing his magic in the end. Adlai Stevenson fought elections till no one would vote for him. Alexander went on conquering lands till his army gave out on the banks of the Beas. Napoleon fought till he was washed away by the hordes of his retreating army at Waterloo. None of these and others like them grasped that for reasons of age, or of changes in circumstances, or belief, their moment is gone. But, they add fascination, colour and history, in this life of ours and are part of the effect of the nature of life.

So to today. In the sporting world two such stories are being played out nowadays. Roger Federer, king and master of tennis for long, has been struggling for years for that one last big moment. Its has eluded him these many years and so many of us want him to have that. Only nature is matter of fact and has no sympathy or emotion about this. Similarly, in the world of golf, Tiger Woods, revolutionary golfer, has not won a major in seven years. He is desperate and works and enters all the four majors. Yet at almost forty, is his time past? So many want him to have one last big day, before he goes off in the sunset. One hopes that both the above do not descend to the level of ordinary mortals, as they have been kings in their domain for long. Such a sight is generally unbearable. One prays that they have their day in the sun and then fade away gracefully.

To all I would suggest there is a time and space for success and the limelight. Then the moment is gone.

*picture from

Nations, don’t just happen

imageThe breaking news was as usual all about dire consequences of one event or the other. One gets used to it. This is the way of all channels and media, world over. Somehow, bad news travels fast, gets more attention and attracts people. Nothing like a good old disaster to get people animated. Anyway, here in Pakistan we have become de-sentisized, as we have plenty of bad news and on top of it, dozens of channels vying for breaking news. Grief!

All the bad news notwithstanding, I would like to add my two bits to the discussion of how things have deteriorated and we are in a mess. My personal take on it is that, it is nature taking its toll. Yes surprise, Nature!

In the past I have written on our nationhood and blamed our lack of belief in our vision. This lack of vision, a desire to be an aspirational Muslim homeland, got diluted and a desire to be a strong economic state took over. We got our wires crossed and really ended up doing neither. (Reference However, over time and after due consideration, while I still think we need a vision to take us further – otherwise there is nothing to hold us together – the reality is that nature is taking its toll.

Let me explain my statement, which I assure you is not an effort to be facetious. In the worlds written history, there have been nine great nations. There have been other good ones, but what we would classically call great, are those who have dominated their period in the world, added to knowledge and their traces are left in the working of the world even today. Historically they have lasted an average of two hundred and fifty years or more. Want me to count them out? Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, China, Arabia, Turkistan, Britain, America; more or less chronologically and another interesting point; there have been no repeats. China might well turn out to be the first repeat.

Anyway, think of these nations. They were formed layer by layer. The Egyptians took thousands of years to come to a stage of absolute dominance. Same with the Romans. From the discovery of Romulus and Remus on the banks of the Tiber to Julius Caesar was several hundreds of years. These years comprise a coming together, a homogeneity of purpose, a gathering of strength, conquest and then respect follows from other nations, that you are the leaders. Having reached this peak, the decline starts and at first society declines, then economics and finally the military strength dissipates. That is the round trip of a nation. (Reference

Now think back to August 1947. When India obtained independence they had a memory. They remembered the Aryans, Alexander as he came through the Khyber Pass, later the Huns, Mongols and Babur. India owned the Red Fort and Taj Mahal. All these they took as their own. This was as much their history, as Chandragupta Maurya or Ashoka or Ranjit Singh. Their culture was a melting pot of homogeneity and in economics they were working together against adversity. So naturally it is easier to bond as a nation and have one identity.

Then there was Pakistan. We had a seven year history (from 1940 resolution), two varying lands and cultures- apart by fifteen hundred miles-, a western part which comprised borderland tribes, who had only shared history of invasions in common and were diverse otherwise. We had nothing binding us, other than a great principle and we competed for the same resources. This was running uphill against the flow of history and nature. No wonder, we shall take time! 67 years is a minuscule time period in history, a dot in time. We are children as a nation and still learning. When we get to our teens our time will be different and hopefully we will mature. It might involve another hundred years for these layers to form. In comparison to other stages of development of nations, I would say maybe we are like the Wild West of USA just now.

We shall get there In-sha-Allah. Just require patience and faith. The good will come through. Nations, don’t just happen.

Kallar Kahar recalls

Kallar Kahar recalls

I sit here now in Kallar Kahar and today the cars speed by on the M2, going to their busy destination. But I have seen different times also, when the plains in front were all forest and Babur came by with his armies for a tryst with greatness at Panipat. He sat in my bosom for months on the Takht-e-Babri, loving the local loquats, while his army rejuvenated and prepared to meet Ibrahim Lodhi and change history.

Down the plains, long ago in the age of man, the civilizations of Indus lived in peace. The Indus was mighty then and raged like a torrent and in monsoon season you could not see one bank from the other. I remember a young lad who landed at Debal on the Arabian Sea with his army to take on Dahir Sen. He came with vision and inspiration and conquered too. But this land is all enduring and either it conquers you or you depart. Muhammad bin Qasim went and never returned. But like most he left a legacy for this land to absorb and even today they remember him.

Up north, I vividly recall the sunlit day when Alexander crept across the Torkham and sneaked into the pass of Khyber. Then when his armies had crossed and strong in numbers, he rushed down to the Jhelum, just next door to me. Was that a battle and Porus stood proud in defeat and Alexander was suddenly tired. The battle lust gone; he turned away. But some others were tired too and they did not go with him. Instead they wandered by, went into Hunza, and were relieved to find a land to settle near the Kailash. For two millennia I saw them live a life of peace, unadulterated, lost to civilization. Now …well they are being assimilated into this advanced world.

In the beginning when the land came and hit the Asian tectonic plate, I was formed and for hundreds of millions of years kept rising. Great pressure was applied on me and salt formed and it was a painful period. But I too endured, now am upstanding and watch the comings and goings of man in this plain, which spreads from the Himalayas and Karakorum down to the sea. I have seen great upheavals and changes and then at the tail end man, self important, small, and very potent. He changes things at bewildering speed and has no consideration for others.

In a miniscule amount of time, man took away the forests. Those lovely, friendly trees, who would converse during the day, waving away. We would talk about the dinosaurs, ice age and the animals. Then one day in some corner there was a strange busy creature and he had a new item called fire. It caused wonder, but it scared everyone. We learned that he called himself man and was like no other. Selfish and totally at one, with his own needs. Such was his outlook! We saw him grow and then history formed. His history; not ours! He was a predator par excellence, because he could think and he could talk. But he had a weakness too. He differentiated within himself. First, against his own mother and then against his older people. Later he exploited his weak ones and formed into tribes and hunted and killed his own kind. As I said selfish and at one with his own needs.

Some decades ago these local tribes drove away the light colored ones. They were a species like Alexander’s people, but colder and more calculating. With a few thousand people they ruled over this land for centuries and used the local ones against themselves. They stripped the place and caused starvation and poverty; took away the culture and language. It was painful to watch such evil visited on this local civilization, which were in my sight for 8000 years.*

Then the local ones got wise and drove away the farangi.  But I knew what was coming! They came in their hordes from all over exchanging lands to be together and they had one passion only…to populate and make this land the land of the righteous. But they should have asked me. I know the land and I know its inhabitants. For eight millennia in the plains below me, the same drama has been played out. There have always been the ruling ones. From the time of Harappa, then Chandragupta Maurya, Prithvi Raj, Akbar and Ranjeet Singh. They all ruled and ruled for their own pleasure and preferences. The people were there to serve and the ruling ones lived in luxury. Their land, their crops, their livestock. The gold was theirs too and so were the women. In the end all belonged to them! The populace lived in submission, to serve and to be at beck and call. So why should this change with ideology? The DNA and genes are the same. They think and speak in terms of the ruler and man oppressed.

One day the sea will sweep back the land and reclaim it, the humans will be gone and equal in destruction. Till then the lands call is to serve its rulers and to subjugate its people. I…well I have patience eternal and I watch this drama and wait for the inevitable end.

*the Indus civilization circa 8000 years, not the first entry of man some 195000 years ago into India.

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