Years ago, when I was in the Merchant Navy, I had two experiences:
The first one happened in a camera shop in Hong Kong. I saw a couple buying a camera and the salesman was telling them something that the camera could not do. I had had that model before. The couple looked Indian so I told the man in Urdu/Hindi that the camera didn't do what he wanted to do and the shopkeeper was cheating him. I left. The couple came out a few minutes later and the man thanked me. I asked him if he was a tourist and it turned out that he was the Indian Ambassador to Mongolia.
Mongolia? The last time I heard of it was in school, I think. In Pakistan's newspapers we rarely see the country mentioned. But it is there. With an Indian Ambassador.
The second experience was going to Kenya - which had fallen from grace. It used to be a beautiful place once. I had friends in Government College, Lahore, from Kenya.
Now, shops after shops remained empty. One large department store had only one item: One single brand of toffees in a corner. A large restaurant had very few dishes but could cook anything you wanted, if you were look for a bad version of its taste.
In both cases people lived. Their countries existed.
But - for all our purposes - they were as good as dead.
I can't remember anything great about it
except Gengiz Khan from Mongolia.
Apart from these two experiences there were two more:
We went to Athens. Greece had lived as the centre of civilisation for centuries. In modern Greece, there are a few ports, a shipping industry that breaks all records of honesty, and tons of tourists that arrived each day.
I remember one American tourist standing near the Acropolis and telling his wife that this was where he stood in the war and had his picture taken. She asked him why the building was famous. He said it was the oldest school in old Greece.
We also went to Rome. Again the centre of civilisation for centuries, it is now just a major city. Tourists love it. However it is no longer a world power. The old buildings, like those in Athens, are there for all of us to see … and it has the Vatican.
But from Greece and Rome - the great powers that they were - we still remember many great philosophers, mathematicians, kings, poets, writers, and even gods.
These are some Greeks
Socrates (c.470/469 – 399 BC) was a classical Greek (Athenian) philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy. He is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon and the plays of his contemporary Aristophanes.
Plato (c.429-327 BC) - He was a brilliant student of Socrates and later carried on his work. He gathered Socrates' ideas and wrote them down in a book. Plato founded the world's first university. He wrote down his teachings and people all over the world, even today, study the Greek philosophers
Aristotle (382-322 BC) - discovered many things in science and biology. He wrote books about physics, poetry, zoology, biology, politics, governments, and more. His father was the personal physician of the King of Macedonia. When Aristotle turned 17, he went to Athens to study with Plato.
Parmenides - watched an eclipse of the Moon in about 470 BC, and noticed that the Earth's shadow was curved. He worked out that if the shadow was curved, then the Earth must be round.
Archimedes - was a mathematician and an engineer. He designed a machine, called the Archimedean screw, which could make water flow uphill. His design has been used for almost 2,000 years, to take water from rivers to the fields. Archimedes was able to tell fool's gold from real gold.
Pythagoras - was a mathematician. Can find out about Pythagoras' theorem on right-angled triangles.
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great - born in 356 B.C. in Pella, Macedonia, the son of Philip of Macedon, who was an excellent general and organizer. He was called 'the Great' because he conquered more lands than anyone before him and became the overall ruler of Greece. He also travelled to areas that are now part of Pakistan.
And here were some of their gods and goddesses: Aphrodite, Apollo, Artemis, Athena, Hades, Hera, Poseidon, Zeus.
These are some Romans
Gaius Marius - the man who organized the army into the most effective fighting machine on earth. At times it appeared nothing could withstand the mighty legions of Rome. It was Marius who changed the way the army organized itself.
Julius Caesar - no doubt the most famous Roman of them all! He conquered Gaul in a brilliant campaign which is still used in studies for training generals today. His victories in Gaul brought into the empire what should later become one of the most important new territories to the empire. (See the movie with Marlon Brando).
Nero - the most notorious Roman of all times. It is most likely that Nero was insane. He came to power because his mother murdered his step-father emperor Claudius. During his rule much of Rome burnt down in the Great Fire of Rome. Helpless to stop the fire, he is supposed to have sung as he watched Rome burn. (A great movie,
Quo Vadis, has Peter Ustinov play him. Well worth a watch).
Cicero - “Gratitude is not only greatest of the virtues, but parent of all others.” This timeless quote, and many others that tell us about the essence of living our lives, and that we may have heard time and again – all of them came from the famous Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero. Widely considered as one of the greatest orators and prose stylist to have lived in the ancient Rome.
Spartacus - Without a doubt, the most famous gladiator in the entire Roman history, a Thracian by birth, he was a soldier caught in war and then sold in slavery to fight in the-then famous gladiator battles. But as history has proved time and again, even though you may take away a soldier’s freedom, a warrior’s fierce will for independence can never be easily given up. (Don't forget to see the movie and the 4-part TV series about him. Both are called Spartacus).
And here were some of their gods and goddesses: Apollo, Aura, Aurora, Bacchus, Cupid, Diana, Genius, Juno, Jupiter, Lucifer, Luna, Mars, Nemesis, Pluto, Saturn, Venus, Voluptas, Vulcan.
When Cancer comes to a person s/he dies. Just like the others who have not had Cancer. It will be painful … and s/he could live longer and worry more. But s/he dies.
When Cancer comes to a country, sadly it doesn't die. It lives on and on. Sometimes of no use, like the first two. Sometimes as a City that people visit and even care for, like the last two, but without the power they once had. And people remember their names. Read about them. Study about them in schools. Look at them as planets. See films about them.
India 'died'. We called it Partition of 1947. Pakistan came into being as part of it. Pakistan 'died'. We called it Partition of 1971. Bangladesh came into being. Soon these countries will die. But differently.
What will we remember about them? I don't know about the other two, but Pakistan will die fairly quickly - specially at the hands of the small group of fanatic extremist Muslims that are becoming larger and larger everyday as a group. How long before they get their hands on or produce a nuclear weapon?
I know that when it is dead and gone, and people read about it years from now in their history books, there'll be Professor Abdus Salam who will live on.
In his conclusive remarks after getting the Nobel Prize.
instead of taking any credit for himself,
he said "Pakistan is deeply indebted to you for this".
Alas Pakistan forgot and betrayed him.
And in the 'cultural world', maybe, Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Here's a translation of his poem (written in August 1947, at the birth of Pakistan), Subhé Aazaadi.
Dawn of Freedom (August 1947)
(Literal Translation: V G Kiernan)
This stain-covered daybreak, this night-bitten dawn,
This is not that dawn of which there was expectation;
This is not that dawn with longing for which
The friends set out, (convinced) that somewhere there we met with,
In the desert of the sky, the final destination of the stars!
Somewhere there would be the shore of the sluggish wave of night,
Somewhere would go and halt the boat of the grief of pain.
By the mysterious highroads of youthful blood
When (we) friends set out, how many hands were laid on our skirt's;
From impatient sleeping-chambers of the dwellings of beauty
Arms kept crying out, bodies kept calling;
But very dear was the passion for the face of dawn,
Very close the robe of the sylphs of light.
The longing was very buoyant, the weariness was very slight.
It is heard that the separation of darkness and light has been fully completed,
It is heard that the union of goal and step has been fully completed;
The manner of the people of suffering (leaders) has changed very much,
Joy of union is lawful, anguish for separation forbidden.
The fire of the liver, the tumult of the eye, burning of the heart, --
There is no effect on any of then of (this) cure for separation.
Whence came that darling of a morning breeze, whither has it gone?
The lamp beside the road has still come no lessening,
The hour of the deliverance of eye and heart has not arrived.
Come, come on, for that goal has still not arrived.