The gnawing emptiness


The dance of death getting more macabre, more nauseating

The chill ascends from feet to knees,

The fever sings in mental wires.

If to be warmed, then I must freeze

And quake in frigid purgatorial fires

Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

The dripping blood our only drink,

The bloody flesh our only food:

In spite of which we like to think

That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood –

Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

–T S Eliot, East Coker

Whenever things get excruciatingly painful, one is reminded of T. S. Eliot for he has so often enacted human situations bearing uncanny resemblance with what we are witnessing:

That corpse you planted last year in your garden,

Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?

Or, has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?

Oh keep the dog far hence, that’s friend to men,

Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again

You! Hypocrite lecteur! – mon semblable, – mon frère!

–T S Eliot, The Burial of the Dead

Death is dancing around us. Instead of fighting it, we are offering ceaseless sacrifices to the sharp knives of butchers whose appetite appears unquenchable. How does the roster read in the last few days? August 6: thirteen people taken out of buses in Bolan, identified as Punjabis and killed in cold blood. August 7: bomb killed eight people including children who were playing a football match in Lyari. August 8: over thirty police officers and jawans killed when a suicide-bomber attacked a funeral procession in Quetta who had been gunned down in the city earlier the same day. August 9: nine people target-killed in Karachi and a guard on duty at a Shia mosque in Islamabad killed when he confronted a suicide bomber whose jacket did not explode, thus averting another catastrophic tragedy. Add to that an unending stock of gunny bags that are discovered daily containing body pieces of humans eliminated after being subjected to brutal torture. Also think of the innumerable untold stories of rape, death and deprivation and you have an inkling of the kind of country we live in and the kind of people we keep company with. Every day of our lives is witness to indescribably harrowing stories of mayhem and murder. How many more corpses will we have to plant for this dance of death to come to an end: “The dripping blood our only drink, the bloody flesh our only food”.

They say that every grievous setback also cultivates hope. I don’t see any of that around. What I see is a motley crowd resigned to their fate, absolutely unwilling to offer any resistance to the perpetrators of death and destruction. The agents of corpses have succeeded in dividing an uneducated, unenlightened and rabidly obscurantist bunch of people along petty religious, ethnic and sectarian lines, thus pitting them violently against each other. They are killing their own like. They are imperilling their present and endangering their future. But, oblivious to the effects, they are engaged in innocuous discussions which are inordinately tarnished by the side-effects of seeing through numerous coloured glasses that they refuse to take off.

Wearing the coloured glasses of emotions, they are reminded of Afia Siddiqis and the like and, wearing those of religion, they cannot see beyond the realm of the ‘Muslim Ummah’ which has no relevance outside the geographical frontiers of Pakistan. In reality, the so-called Muslim world is utterly and hopelessly divided into small fragments that are perpetually at war and there is nothing among them that would ever knit them together. Mostly ruled by antiquated and brutal monarchs and autocrats, the people slave on endlessly in search of measly meals to keep them alive. There is no hope for them. There is no hope for their progeny. They have been denuded of even the last shreds of their self-respect. It is a story of perpetual enslavement at the hands of hypocrisy, tyranny and corruption. Drunk in the perceived invincibility of their ill-gotten power, the rulers are brazenly using their authority to further dig in their incisive and bloodied tentacles.

In spite of a ceaseless bloodbath resulting in the loss of thousands of innocent lives to the violence-preachers, there is no rational discourse to ascertain the nagging issues and their possible solution. Instead of moving against the terrorists with the exclusive motive of eliminating them, we are begging for negotiations with them – the very beasts who have repeatedly rubbished the writ of the state and shown disdain and arrogance for the rule of law and constitutionality. This is a mortal case of self-affliction which is becoming ever more gruesome with the passage of time, burying ourselves under the dead:

Webster was much possessed by death

And saw the skull beneath the skin;

And breastless creatures under ground

Leaned backward with a lipless grin.

–T S Eliot, Whispers of Immortality

Will it ever change? Apparently, the morbid putridity of this engagement is beyond the realm of any cure. It is deeply embedded in the psyche which, over a long period of suffering from deprivation and degeneration, has begun to believe in this as ordained. This is how it is and this is how it will be. There is nothing that one would get out of questioning one’s state. There is only a servile acceptance of one’s bounty without protesting for that may be construed as lack of religiosity – an aberration by its own weird definition and entailment. So, on goes the train carrying the dead weight of the people rendered redundant by a long stretch.

Look at the signs of deliverance! The Rs450 million wrist watch allegedly worn by the newly-elected chief executive of the country who has a case of wilful loan default pending against him in an accountability court. There may be more of the same. But, the grossly expensive watch is a nauseating way of asserting his authority on an inconsolably distressed people. The manner in which over Rs500 billion have been distributed among the IPPs towards retiring the circular debt and the inordinate escalation in the cost of the Nandipur Power Project and the reported involvement of some leading lights of the newly-installed government are only some of the initial signs of what is to be expected in times not too far away.

The leaders – they are all the same. They all come with a penchant to loot, plunder with a seething desire to come back again to indulge in some more of the orgy. Some come with half-filled stomachs having had access to avenues of corruption during their previous tenures, while others come with empty stomachs eager to have their slice of the pie. There is ample on the plate which is accumulated from indigenous resources as well as what comes in shape of borrowings from the international institutions. It is all there to be devoured. The first helping goes to those at the top – the ones already fighting cases alleging involvement in fraudulent practices.

In a situation as gross as this, no one is any help. The rot is deep and the takers are eager to sink deeper. Instead of making an effort to change what is so gravely wrong, so despicably rotten, they have become active agents to further perpetuate the sickness and, in the process, become its beneficiaries. From the bottom to the top, they are looking for their chance to plunge into the putrid juices of what distinguishes this country most appropriately: a viral surfeit of corruption. So, in all probability, the dance of death would get more macabre, more nauseating with its pungent smell drowning all possible prospects for improvement. The emptiness inside is gnawing as it drains the intellectual resources and numbs the rebellious streak.

May be we should stop looking to Eliot and Faiz. We need to come to grips with the problems that we face and address the conflicts and paradoxes that imperil our approach. This has not worked in the past and this is not likely to work in the future. If we are to move forward, we need to overcome our lackadaisical dependence on the coloured glasses which distort our vision. We need to take them off, have a hard look at our state and take that one meaningful step forward that would eventually gel into a million more such steps that we need to traverse to get anywhere away from this dance of the macabre, this death kingdom.

The writer is a political strategist. He can be reached at: [email protected]


  1. What a deeply felt and moving statement about our situation.I do not believe that newly installed leadership ,both at the center and the provinces,have the integrity and intention to put the nation to a proper direction. The two term Prime Minister and younger brother in Punjab are in politics to protect and expand their late father wanted when he inducted them into politics.Respectful and loyal sons have been pursuing father’s dream single-mindedly.Indications are judging by the directions of.their new governance,that they will not deviate from their late father’s guidelines.Situation in other provinices also does not generate any hope.The writer has not suggested anything specific and concrete.He has concluded the article with more of heartfelt prayer rather than a tangible course of action.

  2. Please read protect and expand their business empire as their late father wanted when he inducted them into politics.

    • Was their father also in money laundering activities. May be they learnt these activities from their uncle.

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