The gas cylinder

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My God, did you see that photograph on Page 9 of Pakistan Today on the 14th of December 2010? The photograph taken by Nadeem Ijaz at Akbari Mandi shows an LPG cylinder placed on bricks, a fire burning under it. Apparently this is how a street food vendor maintains gas flow to his stove.

That picture epitomises two very powerful things, or shall we say three, because the first of course is that bomb waiting to detonate. The second is the Pakistani state of mind at present, and the third is the disastrous and lethal ramifications of ignorance.

For the first, I wonder if this street vendor knew what the results of his desperate ingenuity could be. Maybe he did, and maybe he was beyond caring. I wonder if Mr Ijaz spoke with the man and what the man had to say.

For the second, at wits end, frustrated and beleaguered, our common man is, like the owner of that cylinder unable to function and willing to do anything, however insane and dangerous, to get something out of the nothing he possesses.

What does a person do when he tosses and turns all night because there is no power to run the fan, and no power to run his machines the following day? When people come home at night, exhausted, grimy and hungry to find that there is no power again, no water to wash away the grime, and no food to fill their stomachs?

It was reported in the paper in December 2010 that many areas in Gujranwala are without any gas, so women in that city took to the streets, breaking windows and furniture in the local office of the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines, while in Lahore workers of the Pakistan Steel Mills burnt tyres in protest against a similar shortage.

Power outages started end of December last year, of anything between four and six hours a day. The Director General of PEPCO public relations claims that they have coping strategies in place, saying that generation is better this year than it was the last. Well, Mr Jalil, we shall see, because we are used to such statements, and none of them ever proves to be true.

As for the third, it is perhaps the most dangerous of all three put together, and then some.

The Dalai Lama said: Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace.

Or safety, or progress, or happiness, or sense.

I wrote once about a man in a village, who, in spite of being directed to wire the electrics red wire to red, and black to black, did them the other way around. When questioned he said hed done it because it looked prettier that way.

How many more such examples will we find, within the ambit of just our own restricted lives?

It is probably the charges of blasphemy that best illustrate our ignorance. Born of frustration, ignorant understanding and a vicious desire to vent spleen, individuals not only find victims to label with this charge, but they are supported in these accusations by our ignorant clergy in the name of religion.

What else is the charge against Naushad Valiyani, the doctor who threw a visiting card in the bin, but just such ignorance? Or the charge against that poor woman, Asia Bibi?

In 1992, Akhtar Hameed Khan, then 80 years old, the man behind the world renowned Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi and a person who had contributed almost as much to this country as Edhi, was arrested for blasphemy. And the charge? That he wrote a childrens poem that was considered blasphemous.

In 1993 Salamat Masih a little boy then only 11 years old was given the death sentence for allegedly writing blasphemous words. He was later acquitted, when it was proved that he was illiterate. However the judge who handed down the decision was assassinated.

The crimes that are being committed today in the name of religion by ignorant people are no less explosive than the cylinder in that picture, or the wiring done all wrong. They are worse than any weapon of mass destruction. Given time, they will lead to the extinction of all sense in our lives just as religion in the hands of the enlightened will bring the peace that we crave into it.