A Prescriptive Existence

  • (This piece of writing is dedicated to MG Sahib who has a cunning ability to keep reconnecting people with their humanity)

    A Prescriptive Existence

    A simple question but important question posed by a fellow blogger (asif65) got me thinking. Here is what he asked;

    “کیا ہم کوئی درمیانی راستہ اختیار نہیں کر سکتے؟”

    His question was in reference to the high-brow intellectualism of the so called older bloggers and the perceived impatient and shallow approach to blogging of our youth. I am not here to agree or to disagree with any proposition but to ask why was this question asked in the first place. Is it really difficult for Pakistanis to tread the middle path? Is there really a disconnect between generations when it comes to a fundamental human need to share thoughts and ideas? Do generations flow in parallel, both intellectually and linguistically? Or is there a middle way that they can both access and connect to? The human quest for the ‘middle’ is nothing new but I will limit my ideas to the question of generation gap within Pakistani society as of now.

    Pakistanis have been in the vice-like grip of prescriptive existence since the birth of Pakistan. We are in love with rules and methods of living that have been passed down from one generation to another. One good example of this is the mad rush at various mazarat (even your current President is happy to fly to one) in the belief that visiting someone’s remains will solve the problems you face in life. We like the comfort and the semblance of continuity that adhering to a prescriptive existence gives us. Our teachers are prescriptive in their approach to education, our maulvis are highly prescriptive and even worse our parents are quite happy to lock their children in yet another cycle of prescriptive behaviour. We are told the prescriptive truth and asked to find only evidence that confirms it. Asking piercing questions is frowned upon and considered a waste of time. In such society breaking the mould is totally unacceptable; I speak generally but I am aware that there may be exceptions to it. There is nothing Socratic about our society and there is certainly no danger of the birth of a Pakistani Galileo Galilei, a deeply religious man who dared to break the mould. In short we have a highly compliant and prescriptive society which we fondly refer to as a conservative society.

    In a prescriptive society, people imagine that the answers have been found and now we can ask questions to fit those answers. Pakistanis behave like consultants who have found a solution and now they need a problem to fit the solution. On many occasions I have stopped to ask directions in one city or another, and even though the person I asked had no idea where I needed to go, he was still happy to misdirect me rather than just admit they simply don’t know. In our prescriptive Pakistan, not knowing something is like a swear word; it is an admission of incompetence and ineptitude. So we get round it by lying; we lie in interviews, we lie on our CVs, our rulers lie, our shopkeepers lie, our police lies and the list goes on and on. A prescriptive existence demands the telling of lies in order to make a good impression or to gain advantage. In my very early education, I asked my Pakistan studies teacher what the word ‘dilapidated’ meant (since it was used in the text we were studying) to which she replied it was a certain part of the province of Sind! She could have just said she didn’t know the answer and would look it up or I could do it myself.

    The political consequences of our prescriptive behaviour are grave and relentless. The fact that Pakistan’s old and new generation have known nothing except a prescriptive life, where they were told what to do, when to do and how to do without ever asking any real questions, the result is we fail to ask why are we being ruled by the same incompetent and corrupt families who have given us little or nothing. We fail to ask why the only way to get a good education in Pakistan is to buy it and to get a good job requires a connection (sifarish) and not merit. Both the old and new generation of Pakistanis are locked in their respective prescriptive groove, unable to think outside the box. We live and die for petty favours and charity from the rich politicians, rulers, landlords, waderas, sardars and chaudaries etc. We do not understand that the reason why our lives are such misery is because we are stuck in a vile and stagnant pond of status quo, where no fresh ideas are allowed to flow in or flourish. Our youth blame the older generation and they in turn blame the youth for everything that is going wrong in society today; never realising that they share a rather large common denominator called a prescriptive existence.

    The best societies, to my mind, are societies that ask the best questions in an honest and open way and are not necessarily obsessed with answers. They seek answers in an objective manner and are never afraid to accept that they may have got it wrong sometimes. This is what the old and young need to think about. This is the way to the middle way, a happy compromise between the thorn and the rose. Self-righteousness spells the death of humility which is a fundamental prerequisite for the acquisition of ‘ilm’ and self-improvement.

    I leave you with the following words;

    “In adversity, I desire prosperity; in prosperity, I fear adversity. What middle place, then, is there between these, where human life is not a temptation?”

    (Confessions of St Augustine)

    I only wish I knew the answer, but that does not bother me because my quest goes on.



  • It is always easier to be wiser after the event and unfortunately I have to go down that route too. Having written and posted this piece, I realise that perhaps it comes across as very pessimistic. That was not and is not my intention. The prescriptive life I describe in the piece, I believe, is slowly but surely coming to an end. It is increasing evident that people are waking up to a new reality and they are demanding a bearable existence.