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Pakistan: Parking lot or drive-in-madrassa

by Nadeem F. Paracha, 27 July 2009

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Dawn, 26 July 2009

Driveway to Heaven

Nadeem F. Paracha deals with piety in a parking lot.

While driving up a three-storied parking structure, I noticed that at the turn of each level, a wall chalking commanded drivers to say ‘God is great’ while ascending (ooper jatey waqat Allah-o-Akbar kahen).

On the way up, I also noticed a tremendous amount of litter scattered on the sides of the heavenly pathway as well as paan stains on the walls. I also saw cars parked awkwardly, some almost in the middle of the pathway, hindering the flow of traffic on the curving ramp.

After parking my car, I asked one of the teenaged attendants as to who was responsible for the wall chalking.

‘We are,’ he said, with an expression that was a cross between pride and suspicion.

‘Bhai,’ I continued, ‘how many Pakistanis remember God everyday?’

‘Almost all,’ he said, following his declaration with an, ‘Alhamdulliah.’

‘I agree with you,’ I said. ‘God is remembered and his name constantly used from the most pious of men to the most corrupt of them. Nobody is prone to forget him in this country.’

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Bilkul sahi.’

‘If so, then why are you telling the drivers to chant his greatness even while looking for a parking space?’ I asked. ‘Are you suggesting that people forget him while driving?’

‘Nothing wrong with reminding people about him,’ he shrugged his shoulders.

‘Absolutely!’ I said. ‘But don’t you think God would be happier if the chalking asked people not to litter, or spit paan on the walls, or think about those who don’t have a car, or to be more charitable?’

He started to smile: ‘But this is only a place for parking cars.’

‘Arrey dost, if this is only a parking lot, then why are you turning it into a drive-in-madrassa?’ I heartily slapped his right shoulder.

He started to laugh, promising he will get chalking done for the littering issue as well.

‘Alhamdullillah!’ I exclaimed. ‘Forgetting to say ‘God is great’ while going up or down is not the issue in our Land of the Pure. But getting people like you to get a better job is!’

He told me he had passed his intermediate exams but didn’t have the money or time to study further.

‘Then you should tell those who asked you to do those wall chalkings to give you that opportunity,’ I said.

‘They wont,’ he said, disappointingly. ‘In fact they ask us for money.’

‘Really?’ I said, genuinely surprised. ‘What for?’

‘For building mosques,’ he explained. ‘They are religious people. They only give us sermons and some stickers and posters.’

‘And you pay for them?’ I asked.

‘Sometimes they come and ask for money because they say they will build a mosque in this area,’ he replied.

‘But there are already three mosques in this area,’ I said. ‘The next time they come to you, tell them you want a clinic in the area. That’s doing God’s work too, isn’t it?’

‘I can’t say that,’ he shook his head. ‘How can I tell them not to build a mosque?’

‘Okay, then tell me,’ I said. ‘While driving up and down, I chant God is great. What should I say if I get stuck in the middle because a fellow Muslim has parked his car wrongly on the ramp?’

He started to giggle: ‘Perhaps then you should say, Lahauliwalkuat!’

That made me laugh: ‘Okay, great. But am I supposed to say God is great loudly or in my heart?’

‘It’s up to you,’ he said.

‘And is it also okay if I don’t say it at all?’ I asked, smiling.

‘Of course, sir jee,’ he said. ‘Nobody’s forcing you to say it!’

‘But that wall chalking feels like an enforcement,’ I said. ‘It reads like a stern order!’

Before he could answer my query, a middle-aged, pious looking man appeared. He turned out to be the lad’s boss, who, according to the teenager, was also very close to the owner of the parking lot.

‘You seem to have a problem with the wall chalking,’ he said, smiling sarcastically.

‘Oh, not at all, sir,’ I said. ‘I was just asking the lad where to park my camel.’

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and