The Conservative Conundrum

By Ali Bhurgri

 

In the morning there is an obnoxious sound of a hurricane, but it’s nothing of that sort, it’s just an every day morning for Khan who lives in central Lahore. “This is the problem with big cities”, he tells his wife, “it is always chaotic.” However, that’s the life he is used to since he is a taxi driver, and there is nobody more familiar to the city’s liveliness than him.  It’s the weekend, he starts his car and leaves to find a passenger, this is where I meet him as he greets me with a wry smile, and asks me where I wanted to go.

Old Lahore, Delhi Gate.

As I tell him the address he starts conversing. And the first thing we talk about is economics, he tells me how the Punjab agricultural market is monopolized, and no matter what the actual rate, the final product that hits the market in Lahore is always at an amplified rate. He goes on to talk about the general public he says with great anguish, people don’t realize what power they have under this (capitalist) system they get to decide eventually what prices are reasonable, but “Alas” he says, as his voice quivers, we are all responsible for this exploitation.

 

There is also an interesting story behind his name, he tells me he is a Punjabi, but he doesn’t really know how he was named Khan. He said, “my father was named Khan, maybe that’s how they gave it to me.” He then talks about how Lahore is changing fast as a city.

 

He explains to me that modernity has ruined this beautiful city. He tells me, women have no honour, and their celibacy is non-existent today. All of this makes him uncomfortable, however, he wasn’t the only one in the taxi who felt uncomfortable now. I tried opting out of the conversation, but Khan was a persistent man and he was unapologetic about his opinions.

He explains to me that modernity has ruined this beautiful city. He tells me, women have no honour, and their celibacy is non-existent today.

He then went on to briefly tell me a bit about his background story. He said, despite always staying in this city, his family has always been honourable. He doesn’t send his daughters to school like his father didn’t send his. He says, men in this city should be ashamed, he reiterates that if something like this happened in the tribe that he comes from, they would immediately kill the women to save whatever little respect is left. Isn’t morality subjective I ask? Khan responds, “No, right and wrong are not relative, they are deterministic and this is the only right I have ever known.”

 

I think what may be the most amusing aspect of this story is that despite Khan’s prejudice against modernity, it was what essentially made him employed.  A box of algorithms that vanquished the traditional horses as a mode of transportation and Khan isn’t naive, he sees the economic advantages, he even accepts them but just doesn’t accept the moral standards set.

“No, right and wrong are not relative, they are deterministic and this is the only right I have ever known.”

The taxi stops at the destination, Khan says to me, enjoy your trip in Lahore.

I wonder if Khan was a really bad guy? He was petrifying irrespective though, I concur.

 

Nonetheless, as I was hungry I went into a restaurant to get myself some lunch. This is where the second character of the story will be introduced, Abid Khan.

Abid is a waiter at this place, and he has a pleasant smile on his face. He asks me to order,  and as I do, he whispers that he wouldn’t recommend me a specific dish I was ordering, he said it isn’t our best. I liked his earnest attitude, so I decided to converse a little, for two reasons. 1- is every average middle-class citizen prone to the same thoughts as Khan was? 2- if not, why are there some people who think like Khan?

 

I ask him about the growth of the city and how feels about the growing modernity? He says he has always loved the city and that growing modernity is the need of the hour. He goes on, “this city has room for everyone; we are in general very accepting”.  Despite some reserved views, Abid believed that humanity should have preference over everything.

He goes on, “this city has room for everyone; we are in general very accepting”.

As we converse more, I realize that Abid had spent 10 years in a first world country. He could speak in the English language, and he had access to the same market as any one of us. However, Abid was equally deterministic and unapologetic about his opinions. Although, as there was no one uncomfortable between the two of us I didn’t find his thoughts self-righteousness provoking.

 

I wondered why somebody like Khan, who had the perfectly viable economic knowledge, was so against contemporary moral and social rules.

 

Maybe, because unless you spend time in a first world country: your exposure to objectives of modern values is non-existent. You may have access to education in Urdu medium schools, where basic principles of mathematics or economics don’t change but moral principles do. Or maybe because people like Khan are just hypocrites who have embraced modernity in bits and pieces, unlike Abid. Surely, we are no less of hypocrites than people like Khan, I conclude.

Modern Lahore and it’s developments.

But that conclusion sounds disturbing and hopeless. The dividual in me is more optimistic about finding a solution, a middle ground. But we won’t find one, not till we understand who runs the civilized system of today?

 

In today’s largely liberal, capitalist world, people like us run the system from their privileged bubble. People like khan just want a stake in it and they don’t know how they can be accepted in the world of growing modernity. The reasonable conclusion then is, to stick with the older values and hope someone with a magic wand appears and fixes everything back to how it was. If someone doesn’t, they have to fight for their values to be relevant.

 

We have a problem when they ask if they can be allowed to be part of the system but we also have a problem in raising our voices against the rising expenses of educational institutions, the unavailability of modern platforms to people who are not privileged. Their depravity to modern values isn’t our concern, not till they directly affect us.

 

So if someone lie Khan Commits honour-killing or if he is unemployed and drifts towards extremism, we would be quick to bombard him everywhere and tell the world how we are ashamed of people like him who live on anachronistic moral values. In today’s liberal, capitalist world: we might lose some lives here and there but we will always win the game of hypocrites with a round to spare.

 

The writer tweets @Cric_Liebhabe