Mheeda Bharla | Daanish Mustafa

Mar 2013

English | اردو

In the late 1970s and early 80s there were some excellent Punjabi dramas playing on PTV. Late 1970s was also the time when Pakistanis had discovered the glitter and promise of foreign shores to fulfill their material dreams. The overlap is not a coincidence.

A Punjabi drama from the time, featuring the inimitable Jamil Fakhri, continues to be fresh in my memory to this day despite the lapse of three decades. In the drama, Jamil Fakhri played a village idiot, Mheeda Bharla who is conned by a smooth talking recruiting agent, promising to send him abroad. Poor Mheeda had awarded himself the honorific of bharla (from abroad) in his excitement at soon being part of that fraternity of people of substance who worked abroad. In that show Mheeda Bharla, making a case to his mother to sell her jewelry to pay for his way abroad, expressed a vision of future and progress that is as relevant today as it was then. He says to his mom in the beautiful Punjabi of northern Punjab, “Amma abroad is a wonderful place–cars everywhere PHAPHAM PHAAN PHAPHAM PHAAN [imitating the sound of horns]–money everywhere CHANAN CHANAN CHAN CHAN!”

Development and progress in the vision of Mheeda Bharla and his intellectual companions in our contemporary elites is about things and possessions and the maximization of those. Our economists, bureaucrats and leaders have bought into the capitalist orthodoxy of mass production and mass consumption hook, line and sinker. And even the recent, evidently grave, failings of the capitalist system and consumerism do not seem to have dampened our enthusiasm for it. In fact, I have heard people lament why we can’t be exploited by global capital the same way as India, China or other cool countries!

I was reminded of Robert F. Kennedy’s immortal words here by my friend Jayanti Durai, which I reproduce below with minor adaptations for the Pakistani context:

“Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the openness of our public debate or the nuances of our traditions. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about Pakistan except why we cherish this country.”

Development in popular parlance has always been equated with modernization, industrialization and urbanization. The key assumption of the dominant development paradigm is that we are indeed a sum of our possessions and increasing those will somehow increase our value as human beings. But the things we seem to crave so much come at an incredible human and environmental cost.

Today, the life styles of the West are sustained by the back breaking, soul searing labour of the Chinese, Indian, Thai, Bangladeshi and other workers in the third world. It is paid for by the poisoned rivers of Asia, denuded forests of South America, and toxic dumps in Europe. Until such day that we can find Star Trek style replicators that can create things out of thin air somebody somewhere is going to have to pay the price of affluence for the few. Poverty is a curse, but that curse cannot be understood independent of its reverse, which is affluence. Poverty can be culturally defined, except that in our contemporary materialist culture it has come to be defined singularly in monetary and material terms. But human beings don’t just need things–important as they may be, but also sociability, companionship and intellectual stimulation. And poverty when thought of in those added dimensions can afflict the most unlikely candidates.

I am reminded of a story my good friend Dipak Gyawali told me of his experiences in Ladakh. He said that when he first visited Ladakh in the 1970s and went to a remote village for a social survey, he asked the local guide to take him to the poorest person in the village. Upon reaching the house of the supposed poor person he was rather surprised to see that the person seemed to have the usual complement of quilts, crockery and livestock that go with a reasonable rural existence in that part of the world. After having had yak milk tea they took their leave from the persona. On the way back he asked his guide why he had taken him to that person’s house, when that person was clearly quite well off. The guide surprised at this protested, that that person was indeed the poorest and the worst off in the village because nobody liked him! To the guide poverty was about lack of friends and social standing and not about lack of things.

The point of the above is that we have to define a development future for ourselves not just in terms of material progress but in terms of things like social justice, equity, democratization of the polity, gender equality and so on. The West may be affluent but it also has a darker side of pervasive loneliness, isolation, and insecurity. Pakistanis may be afflicted with many things but lonely most Pakistanis are not. Our institutions may be corrupt, but our social networks nurture and protect us from adversity. A headlong drive to emulate the West could mean paying the price in terms of break down of social safety nets and perpetrating injustice and exploitation on our own people and perhaps even distant lands. Imagining a future of fulfilling basic needs for all and then contentment through sociability and justice is much more desirable than lots of roads, cars and skyscrapers.

Daanish Mustafa is a Reader in Politics and Environment at the Department of Geography, King’s College, London. He spends his time contesting the despostism of the reader over the message of the Author.

Pages: 1 2 3

Tags: , , , , ,

One Response to Mheeda Bharla | Daanish Mustafa

  1. Khwaja Hamzah Saif on Mar 2013 at 9:36 AM

    This is beautiful! Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *