Hasan the potter did not realise he had company. As he stood beseeching, in that famous poem by Noon Meem Rashid, at the door of his beloved Jahanzad to have the pleasure of her company back in his life, a whole lot of people stood by him. An entire country, indeed.
For what Hasan said was also in the hearts of the infinitely large crowd accompanying him. The love of his life also made their hearts beat. They thought he was speaking on their behalf.
They had seen something in Jahanzad’s dazzling eyes that had mesmerised them — just as those Caucasian eyes had dazzled and mesmerised Hasan. A mere look from those eyes had them all leave their daily chores and look for her street after street, town after town, city after city, country after country — just as those eyes made Hasan abandon his potter’s wheel. They forgot about their families after having experienced her love – just as Hasan did – because they were so besotted by Jahanzad.
And when he saw her again, albeit briefly, after nine long years, her dazzling eyes pierced straight into his heart as they always had. Just as they struck the hearts of millions of people around him.
They stood by Hasan’s side, apprehensive that from then onwards they may only receive Jahanzad’s occassional, fleeting glimpses.
They also complained, as Hasan did, that they could not focus on their work unless Jahanzad sat beside them. Their families, like Hasan’s, shook them by the shoulders, trying vainly to remind them of the need to put food on the table. But they had lost the desire to work — just like Hasan had.
Deprived of the creative company of Jahanzad, they had lost interest in whatever they were good at. Their hearts hankered after her. She was their inspiration for getting things done with a verve, a flair – like she was for Hasan.
Their inspiration had been taken away from them. It had been hidden and stored away under lock and key. They knew she was there somewhere but did not have access to her.
So, just like Hasan, they became a handful of dust, like potter’s clay when it runs dry. Jahanzad gave meaning to their existence; she was the reason they wanted to live for. Just like she was all these things for Hasan.
Without Jahanzad, they breathed but did not live. They existed but had no presence. Without inspiration from her, their work was as good as useless. Just as how being away from her ruined everything for Hasan.
And like Hasan, they wanted her back.
Who had taken her away?
What could bring her back?
The one who is afraid of verve and flair in their work took her away. Without slaying that monster, they could not have her back.
Censorship is bad. Self-censorship is worse. The former is like a death warrant; the latter is like a new death every day. The former hurts the public; the latter harms the newspersons.
Freedom of expression and the right to offend the powerful are constitutional guarantees journalists in this country have struggled hard for. It is their Jahanzad. They have hankered after her for nine metaphorical years. They have protested in the streets. They have gone to jail. They have lost their jobs. But they have never stopped pursuing her.
Now that their Jahanzad is again being taken away – by instilling the fear of their own spoken and written words in their hearts – they cannot but speak out. They have to.
She represents the essence of their profession. Without this essence, their work will be insipid, just like the drying clay stored away in cold stone boxes so that the potter does not fashion it into vessels that please the eye and warm the heart.
They cannot go to work with passion until they get back what has been taken away from them and what gives their life’s work the verve and the flair that it must have. This is what Hasan is seeking in this poem — a creative freedom. This is what the journalists are asking for in this country — the freedom to speak out.
And just like Hasan the potter, they have seen what it means to spend a night in the company of Jahanzad on a boat moving imperceptibly on the waves of the Tigris river — what joy, what freedom, what ecstasy! They cannot go back to their potter’s wheels now, not without that joy, that freedom, that ecstasy.
This was originally published in the Herald's June 2018 issue. To read more, subscribe to the Herald in print.