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Poets, Politics & Pakistan: “Staying Safe: Signs of Attitude Change in My Townsfolk,” by Ernest Dempsey

I asked my friend Ernest Dempsey (pen name of Karim Khan) to write some personal notes about the recent Pakistani elections. I was always so impressed that each time we corresponded, he was busily scribbling away on his poetry collection and other literary endeavors.

His latest is inclusion in Howard Wu's anthology "Random Thoughts," one of the eight authors "compiled in a blend of concrete and abstract perspectives." Here's an interesting twist. The anthology, completed in two months, was initiated through Craigslist, exchanging free advertising and exposure for contributions. "Political protests, love, introspection, travel, miscellaneous rants, and post nuclear war fiction all make their way into this unique combination of works, that likely would not have otherwise found their way alongside each other in the same volume." Dempsey's work is widely read online and is a favorite recurring contributor to Riehlife. Check the Read On! and Write Pen! sections for his past work here.

Ernest Dempsey, Our Man in Pakistan

Staying Safe: Signs of Attitude Change in My Townsfolk
copyright 2008 by Ernest Dempsey

A couple of weeks ago, I went to my hometown Hangu on account of election holidays. It wasn’t that I had any interest in casting a vote (I haven’t done that magnanimous act in my entire life) but simply because the ‘cooking authorities’ of my alma mater (my workplace), the University of Peshawar, informed me beforehand that they were going to close down immediately after the lunch. ‘Hmm!’ I thought. ‘How about my dear mom’s home-cooked food instead of walking two kilometers daily for every single meal that tastes like some wild roots of the prehistoric age?’ The next thing I did was heading toward my home.

I got home in the evening and realized, next day, that my townsfolk had moved on a lot from their historic ignorance. I am speaking about the voters not the political candidates, who, as always, were well known, crooked figures with long histories of corruption and what not. Since votes here are polled for a particular candidate for such ‘grand’ reasons as kinship, receiving money, and simply nescience of the whole sly game, I expected that the most cunning candidate would grab a seat in the parliament and then sell his fidelity to a grander division who could spend hundreds of thousands for buying a vote to the ‘ruling chair’.

As I enjoyed watching my favorite TV show’s DVDs at home and reading Ronnie Lee’s philosophical poetry on Existentialism, everything proceeded as it used to be in the past. People were ‘bought’ and ‘sold’; fidelities were shifting sides; deals were made; ignorant voters were coaxed into polling their only ‘respected’ opinion by ‘smart’ agents working for the candidates; and media was glad to find fodder for their glutinous ‘electronic stomach’.

Wait a minute? Am I contradicting myself here in describing everything as going on in full swing while still claiming that the people of my town have made a leap of progress? Not really! What makes my latter claim true is the fact that only a small number of them bothered to go out and cast their votes. The official figures, as I came to know from a friend, revealed that the total turn out was less than 30%. In my hometown, it appeared that even fewer people had stepped out for polling votes. What a wonderful change! Finally, I am witnessing a time when people have reacted to the hoax of elections in a country where dictatorship puts on sundry persona. They have attested their distrust in empty claims of democracy and trite vows of service. A sigh of relief!

And yet, I feel that something vital has been compromised in attaining this healthy indifference to the putative democratic process. Many people feared the possibility of terrorist attacks, suicide bombings in particular, that are becoming matter-of-course things in our country, being made in crowded polling stations. The apprehensive expression ‘it appears all too dangerous this time’ was the main check on people’s inkling to show up among the throngs where many funny and interesting things happen, making the ‘extraordinary’ in an otherwise alienating routine of daily life chores. The empty roads and dismal quiet of my town on this once-exciting day spoke more for people’s fears of being victimized than for a maturity of mind. And it aches my heart to see the lost freedom of these people to go out for a silly exploit in all the innocence of their ignorance. Maybe it is time for a change. I hope my people will create new, safer ways of getting happy about things that don’t promise utopias but still count a lot. Mom’s home-cooked food is one example; something that works for me.

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3 Responses »

  1. Nice take on the politics of a nation which always have time for political rantings and cricket. Every time Pakistanis poll thier votes in hope of a change (however they themselves are not sure wat kind of change they want). This time they didnot go to polls just because they feel insecure, they are afraid of being blown up by a so called terrorist. But still we have a bunch of nincompoofs guilding up their loins to sit in the parlaiment and impose their "uncanny wisdom" on our poor souls.

  2. Thinking of you Karim, stay safe. Diane

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