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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 6, No. 2, 2007
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Robert J. Lewis
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Lydia Schrufer
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Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
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Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




Abbas Zaidi teaches English in Brunei Drussalam. His fiction has appeared in, inter alia, Exquisite Corpse, Killing the Buddha, and New Partisan.

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about; but evermore
Came by the same Door as in I Went.
Omar Khayyam

The moment the Islamabad-to-Lahore bus broke down half way to Lahore, under the midsummer sun, there was a wild ruckus as the passengers dashed out of the narrow door to take refuge under the sparse roadside trees. The temperature was typically in the upper 40s Celsius. Men were cursing the bus and its driver, children were crying with thirst, and women were shouting complaints that it was not heat but fire, which God was pouring from the sky. Within seconds bare-foot poor village boys and girls appeared selling water. Everyone scrambled for a drink. In this rush only one depressed-looking gentleman was indifferent to the heat and chaos. Standing on the road-side across from the broken-down bus, he was lost in thoughts. His name was Wahid Murad. He was on his way back to Lahore after being kicked out most unceremoniously by Aaliya, his cousin. A strong but unsteady heat wave carried a portion of a sad Punjabi song from a far off village,

Don’t forget me my love

You’re the hope of my darkest night

Without you I’m nothing

But a pair of eyes without light

Despite his deep meditation, the song hit him hard. He became even more depressed. His eyes were filled with tears. As everything around him was getting blurred, a scene began to materialize on the empty, sun-scorched highway:
“Hold on, hold on!” A woman came screaming. “This. . . this is Wahid Murad, myyyy Wahid Murad! Look at the blood! God, my. . . my. . . husband-to-be! How did he die?” the wailing woman tried to force her way through the crowd while simultaneously tearing her clothes and pulling her long, disheveled hair. But the cameramen, the reporters, the policemen, and a mob of people were too much for her desperate struggle. All the vehicles on the highway had stopped. In the middle of the road was lying Wahid Murad’s corpse. People were expressing their shock and sorrow,

What a terrible accident!

All alive, save for this luckless lad!

Such a tragic death at such a tender age!

How handsome!

For his mother to bear the news!

Who will ever forget this death?

Meanwhile the woman had fainted. It was no other than Aaliya who had only hours before rejected Wahid Murad’s marriage proposal calling him a good-for-nothing freeloader, a lazy idler and much more. . . .

“Come on shortie!” startled Wahid Murad. “Are you sleeping or what?” “You taking a sunbath?” The passengers were shouting furiously at him.

It took Wahid Murad a while to get back to reality. The bus had been fixed, and he was the only one remaining outside of it. When finally he entered the bus and took his seat, the sun-struck passengers pelted him with taunts for not boarding the bus sooner. But he seemed not to be hearing anything. As the bus moved on, he looked back at the scene of the accident that he had just imagined. The tarred road was shining with mirages that looked like distant mirrors. He pressed his palm to his lips to stop them from quivering, but he could not stop his tears.

It was not the first time that Wahid Murad had visualized himself dying so dramatically. His fantastic brushes with death had had a long history. He was born into an affluent family. Being the youngest child in the family—he was born seven hours after his sister—he was an apple of everyone’s eye: parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts, relations, neighbors. He was named after the most famous and dashing romantic movie hero of the time. His birthday was celebrated with more fanfare than that of any other of his siblings. From his earliest childhood he hated books and school. His grandfather was an influential elder of the area, and had explicitly told his grandson’s teachers not to beat him whether or not he did his homework or came late. No one ever dared reproach or ridicule Wahid Murad for his failures as a student, sportsman, or anything else. By the time he was sixteen he had stopped going to school and joined his father once a month to visit their vast fertile lands. Around that time he had kissed most of the housemaids without getting caught or being complained about, given a lot of jewelry to Aaliya, bought with his own pocket money and the money he stole from his parents, and been to the holy Mukkah with his grandparents. All along this dolce vita he kept deliberating death, which culminated, on his eighteenth birthday, in his resolve to commit suicide. But he quickly dismissed the idea. Suicide was forbidden in Islam, he knew. Besides, it could raise all kinds of suspicions about his character. But having day-dreamed his death so many times and in so many situations, he at times had to feel different parts of his body to make sure that he was still flesh and blood, and not a ghost. Once assured he was alive, he wanted to die a newsworthy death so that everyone would mourn him forever, and the memory of his untimely death would outlast his mourners right into posterity: There used to be a man amongst our forefathers, so full of youth and promise!

He had even consulted astrologers and palmists who gave him a confusing picture of how long he would last. That confusion only strengthened Wahid Murad’s presentiment that his death, how soon or late, would be very dramatic and memorable. Sometimes while in the bathroom or the attic he would not respond to a call till the caller got concerned and thought, God forbid, something terrible might have happened to him. There were moments that he nostalgically relived for countless times: One such glorious moment was an early morning when he suddenly found his house flooded with people carrying all kinds of gifts for his twin sister who had topped the nation-wide competitive senior school examination; her photos were given great coverage on the front page of every newspaper. That morning Wahid Murad—he never sat for the examination in the first place—lay in the balcony, a white sheet pulled over him. He did not catch anyone’s attention until a prying elderly relation drifted in, pulled the sheet and discovered Wahid Murad lying straight and stationary, his eyes wide open. She gave a loud death cry. All rushed to the scene and were relieved to find him sitting up and yawning, his eyes wet. The elderly woman prayed for his long life. Wahid Murad, short and underweight, had not felt lighter in his life.

Time went on and many things happened: His parents and grandparents died, he survived his suicidal teens and adolescence, Aaliya jilted him for a rich businessman, and his own siblings—three brothers and three sisters—became examples of success and prosperity. But they never forgot Wahid Murad. They tried to help him settle down in every way that seemed possible, but nothing happened. Their last attempt was to set up a grocery store for him close to home. But the business could never take off, his sudden “deaths” and prolonged disappearances from the store lasted more than the freshness of the vegetables and the patience of the customers. . . . Marriage, however, was a blessing, especially because his wife was totally illiterate. Being a village woman—a distant relation who was discovered by Wahid Murad’s twin sister—she did not know the world beyond the household chores. To her, a husband was God by proxy, and she never stepped outside the house if she thought he would not like it. He faked death many times, but would revive before she could go out beating her chest and calling out to the neighbors. Having children was an even greater blessing: They were five girls in all; robust, healthy and pretty, they cared for him a great deal. He also loved them intensely. He “died” many times in the act of saving them from a fierce tiger let loose in the Lahore Zoo, crocodiles in the Changa Manga marshes, a stray killer shark while rowing on the Ravi River, mobsters, robbers, psychos, pythons.

Life took an even better turn for Wahid Murad. The daughters turned out academically brilliant like their uncles and aunts. But Wahid Murad had to stop faking or even imagining death because his sharp-minded daughters were growing up now. Although his wife remained in constant fear of one morning waking up widowed, he began to feel more and more irrelevant, which made him pay minimal attention to his appearance. Soon he had grown a long beard that sported silver streaks.

On an early dawn in the midst of the spring season he was woken up by what he thought were shrieks of his daughters. He looked at his wife who was dead asleep. Before he could make sense of those shrieks, his daughters barged in his room with newspapers. Three of them had clinched the highest grades in their ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels. His wife sprang from the bed and prostrated to God in all humility. As his daughters were still hugging and kissing him, Wahid Murad’s siblings came over to celebrate the results. Within hours his house was filled with friends, neighbors, and relations. All day people came and went leaving Wahid Murad in a mix of pride and some strange uncertainty. In the evening, he decided to take some time off, and so told his wife who, apart from being obedient, was too joy-filled to ask why. After wandering aimlessly for a couple of hours Wahid Murad thought about seeing a hakim, a traditional physician, about whom he had heard some time back and wanted to consult him over his suspicion that he had developed a lump in one of his lungs.

The hakim, a wise old man, was as good a palmist as a man of traditional medicine. He charged Wahid Murad the fee before taking his pulse. After feeling the pulse he read his palm for some time and told him that cancer could come anytime, but there was no possibility of a sudden death.

Unsure and confused, Wahid Murad left the hakim. Nearby was the Wahga checkpoint that formally demarcated the Pakistan-India border. A huge crowd of Pakistanis was protesting there against some anti-Islamic remarks allegedly made by the Indian prime minister. Wahid Murad joined them for fun. On a sudden impulse, he picked up a rock and threw it to the Indian side of the border. The crowd followed him instantly. An Indian soldier fired in the air. There was a stampede. Wahid Murad was caught in the rush. His dress was torn, wallet lost, and he got cuts on his face. After a while, the stampede was over. Ambulances carried the seriously hurt away to hospital. The less seriously hurt, a score of them, Wahid Murad included, walked to a nearby dispensary. The medic had to shave Wahid Murad’s beard and moustache before applying a dressing. He then asked him to wait for antibiotics. Meanwhile, the entire national media was condemning the firing incident from the Indian side. It was reported that dozens were seriously hurt and one man dead, a bullet in his chest. Smashed in the stampede, he could not be identified. Wahid Murad along with other patients and the dispensary staff was glued to the TV. After the latest commentary on the incident, the TV showed interviews with Wahid Murad’s wife, daughters, brothers, sisters and neighbors who had been devastated over his sudden death, and yet they were all proud that he had taken the bullet in the chest, and not in the back. “Not just you, but the entire nation is so proud today!” the interviewer added tearfully showing Wahid Murad’s blood-stained identity card to the nation.

Wahid Murad’s death wish and the cancer premonition were gone all of a sudden. He felt unprecedented excitement that shook him all over; he felt that the ground underneath him was shaking too. Why die when life can give all you have dreamed of? Accounts of Wahid Murad’s death dominated the media. Clippings of his “funeral” were shown in every news bulletin. His impulsive throwing of a rock had made him a national symbol of bravery. From the state governor to everyone of substance either visited his family or sent their condolences. His kids were nominated for special government scholarships and his wife was given a beautiful new house in a respectable area (later aptly named “Murad Mansion”). He joined the Pantheon of India-fighting national martyrs when the Kashmir Liberation Fighters and the Soldiers of Islam—two jihadi outfits—established a special Wahid Murad the Martyr Trust. His martyrdom was to be celebrated in the time to come.

Wahid Murad stayed on in the village. For some time he worked as a waiter in a small village restaurant, enjoying every moment of his new-found status and prestige. But soon he wanted to go home and live. But wouldn’t that be an anti-climax? A shame and embarrassment to me, my family and my memory! Why live when death can give all you have dreamed of? He decided to stay on. He set up a bicycle service facility under the shade of a large tali tree, and rented a tiny room in a mud house. He barely managed to make ends meet. After finishing his work he would stay in a small, dingy restaurant where he watched hugely popular violent Punjabi movies, old Indian romantic tragedies, and all kinds of sports till late into the night. There was nothing else in his uneventful life. And yet he was not an unhappy man. Even when a rustic customer or a rude policeman misbehaved with him he would just smile forgivingly at their ignorance: They don’t know I am the man whose memory they cherish! Once in a while he was afraid to die: What if a chunk of bread is stuck in my throat? What if the mud ceiling caves in? Or a stray bullet kills me? But life went on.

With the passage of time, Pakistan and India began talking peace, and soon the national martyrs, Wahid Murad included, entered their twilight. But he was still a satisfied man. He cleverly kept track of his family; they were doing fine. Countless times he saw his daughters in their colleges, universities, at work and near Murad Mansion. One of them became a doctor, another a psychiatrist while the three others were still studying. To him his wife looked prematurely old. Definitely because of my sudden and untimely death! He was sure everyone, family or friend remembered, missed and cried for him.

One day Wahid Murad realized that for a very long time he had not gone to see Murad Mansion or any of his family members. He also realized that slowly—imperceptibly—he had been reduced to a nullity: that his was a forgotten story. He had practically died! He became sad: After a long time he was sad. He decided once again to pass by Murad Mansion in order to espy his family.

It was just before dusk when he reached Murad Mansion. Every inch of it was colorfully lit. The nearby road was also well-lit. Just across the Mansion was a football ground three sides of which were enclosed by tents; almost the entire ground itself was decorated with exquisite wedding furniture very proportionally laid out. An elevated nuptial stage with golden sofas and high arm-chairs on had been erected on the edge of the playfield. About ten feet above the ground was stretched a cord mesh in which countless little bulbs and bells of different shapes and sizes were tingling and twinkling creating audio-visual patterns. There was no one there, but the faint, merry tingling in the air was not only defying the silence of the place, but also announcing that a very big, happy event was about to take place. Wahid Murad sensed that the tinkling was softly pushing a subdued simmering and a set of familiar fragrance into his ears and nostrils. He instinctively turned around and discovered the sources of those sensations: Not far from Murad Mansion were dozens of big cauldrons placed on make-shift brick stoves. The fires were cracking underneath those cauldrons and rice biriyani, goat shorba and sweet zarda in them were sending out the synthetic fragrance. A tall, bulky cook and a train of his helpers were sitting in a row of chairs gazing reverently at those cauldrons as if waiting for something to come out of them.

Wahid Murad approached the cook and asked what was going on.

“Mrs. Murad’s daughter is getting married tonight,” the cook said indifferently.


“Guests should start arriving in an hour’s time,” said the cook looking at his watch and then looking straight at the empty furniture in the football ground. “They will eat the best food of their lives tonight!” he said looking admiringly at the cauldrons.

“Where’s everyone?”

“Inside, getting ready,” he said pointing towards the Mansion with his index finger.

“Which daughter is getting married and with who?”

The cook critically looked down at the shabbily dressed Wahid Murad. He thought about chasing him off the property, but held himself back. He said with some irritation, “Dr Fizza is getting married with her cousin.”

“With who?” Wahid Murad beseeched.

The cook replied indifferently without looking at him, “Dr Karim Behram, according to the wedding card.”

“Aaliya and Haji Behram’s son?”


The cook gave a start as he replied. Before he could say anything, Wahid Murad had moved away from him and towards the Mansion.

Fizza marrying Aaliya’s boy? Without her father’s permission? The world might have forgotten who Aaliya is but I have not! Can this wedding take place without my approval or presence?

At that moment Wahid Murad experienced the same earth-shaking excitement as he had experienced when he first learned about his death at the Pakistan-India border long time ago.

A storm was raging in his head.

And my wife! Look at her! She never did a thing without my permission and now she is giving Fizza’s hand to Aaliya’s idiotic boy on her own! Am I dead? Not yet!

“But where have you been all these years?” shouted a woman.

Wahid Murad looked back. He recognized her. She was the American journalist he had often seen on a satellite channel. But she was not the only one. He was actually surrounded by a legion of journalists, cameramen, and TV crews. They were not the only ones. Countless people had filled the playground, the rooftops of the houses, the streets and the road. Wahid Murad recognized some VIPs that included the people who had mourned his death on the border years ago. Everyone wanted to know where he had been and what made him return so suddenly. There was a rumor that he had been abducted by aliens; another rumor was that he had died but returned to life after all those years, and still another had it that all those years he had been fighting jihad in foreign lands. A Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman that he had often seen on TV had taken over the nuptial stage and was claiming that that all those years Wahid Murad, the patriot, had been languishing in Indian jails, and was able to escape after a brave encounter with the jailers. The constant flashing of the cameras was hurting his eyes. The journalists were vying with one another to get close to him and shouting question after question about his prolonged disappearance, his courage, and his ultimate survival. The noise and the squeeze were becoming unbearable. He felt he was being bullied with where-have-you-been questions.

“Not yet! Fizza’s marriage is a matter of principle that rises above aliens, jails, jihad and dying and living!” he shouted as he dashed into Murad Mansion. # = shared webhosting, dedicated servers, development/consulting, no down time/top security, exceptional prices
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