Sticks, stones and devils

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For many, the stoning of the devil at Jamaraat is the highlight of the Haj. It is here that many a pilgrim gets a chance to finally cast out their own demons, both of this world and otherworldly ones. This is also where many irate pilgrims vent their anger indiscriminately. Its times like these you realize just how scary human beings are.

It could be those wooden shurtas whose job is to make sure that you dont doze off in the House of God. Or maybe the impossible taxi drivers, who only know how to ask for more fare, and that too in the double-figure currency note denomination. No khamsa, ashra, ashra, they will cry, their arms flailing around as if trying to resuscitate a dead fish. Then there are the multitudes that descend upon the Kingdom of God from all directions; be it Filipinos, Malays, Nigerians, Boatswains or Mongolians; each one more lost and more ferocious in their hatred for the devil than the last. But even in his disgrace, Satan pulls one last trick on the faithful, one that has the more zealous believers paying a heavy price for their devotion.

You see, the more diminutive pilgrims (usually of the Southeast Asian persuasion) inevitably end up at the tail end of the heaving hordes, while the lankier haji, or the ones more familiar with the pilgrimage itself manage to shove, bite and kick their way to the frontlines of the battle between good and evil. But the formula which applies to the displacement of stones thrown at the devil here also offers us one of lifes great ironies, and the little people at the back end up stoning more human devils than concrete ones.

Giving credit where it is due, I must say here that the rear guard are just as ferocious in their hatred for Satan and his spawn. This is why you can usually see those on the front lines flinching as little pieces of karma land strike them square on the backs of their heads. The more militant sometimes turn around to protest, but others, embarrassed by their punishment at the hands of God, simply shuffle away. Thats poetic justice for you.

The Pakistani press can make anything a matter of national security and pride. Take the recent Haj hullabaloo. After exposing corruption at the top and putting the former DG Haj behind bars, the news media is now after Hamid Saeed Kazmis job. Adding fuel to the fire, Kazmis cabinet colleagues have now entered the fray and one Azam Khan Swati, one of the countrys richest Senators, has accused the right honourable Minister for Sacrilege of fudging the facts in his report to Grand Vizier Yousaf Raza Gilani. Kazmi, on the other hand, insists he is right and has promised to expose irregularities and corruption in Pakistans Haj operations. Apparently no one in our government has ever heard of collective ministerial responsibility, and if they have, then they obviously need to fire their PR department. My CV is in the mail.

In all seriousness though, the Haj debacle of 2010 is being touted by many as another nail in the governments coffin. But what the news media doesnt know about this particular set of rulers is that they are descended from a long line of undead blood-suckers from the Carpathian Mountains in Romania. This means that not only do they love coffins, they also have a thing for sinking their teeth into things that have already been sucked dry, like the PSM or PIA. And since no one has ever really seen any of the key members of this government in direct sunlight or eating garlic bread, one can only assume that the rumours are true.

Speaking of rumours though, my informants tell me that the wind of change that is blowing through the corridors of the Religious Affairs ministry is an ill one. This might come as a shock to many, but apparently, there are political interests at work in the Haj scandal (Surprise, Surprise!). It seems that there are two groups within the ministry, the Ds and the Bs. The latter are the ones running the show right now, and to be fair, they are a level-headed lot. But the Ds are out to affect a sea change, and are using current difficulties being faced by embattled Kazmi and Co as a spring board to launch their own agenda.

The ancients knew that church and state should never mix. The ancients also knew that sticks and stones never broke any bones. But it seems that the wisdom of the ancients was lost along with the rest of human knowledge in the great fire at the Library of Alexandria. All we can do now is pray, hope, and throw stones at the Parliament House. Maybe well manage to nail a devil or two where it hurts.

The writer is a broadcast journalist.