Q’ is about the only thing in common between Qayanoos of Kotli, Azad Kashmir and Abdul Qadir aka Bunny of Multan, Pakistan. The distance between their circumstances and their lives is the exact distance we have to travel to achieve a berth worthy of respect among the comity of nations.

Qayanoos is exceptional in more ways than one, as both his circumstances and his country collaborated in his remaining wretchedly poor all his life. But he decided to give himself an opportunity, nonetheless, through grit and perseverance. He was born to a garbage collector - the ones who collect tins and bottles and sell them as recyclable scrap and who just continue having children so they can be additional, available hands for performing daily labour. They do not expect much from life and quite stoically accept their fate, happy if they can get two square meals for their dependents.

Qayanoos’ father, probably, enrolled him in a primary school with the objective that he would acquire rudimentary education to see him through life. He did not expect that his son would be such a good and persistent student. So, even when Qayanoos became somewhat older he opted to stay on in school all the while, assisting his father in the collection and sorting of scrap so that he did not mind his studying. This is one activity that we see all the time in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir - rummaging through discarded rubbish for salvageable bits of anything - paper, tin, cloth, even food.  Mostly children, they can expect to find anything in the rubbish heap, except opportunities of a better future for themselves.

When the results of the matriculation exams in AJK were announced a few days ago, it declared that Qayanoos had got the second highest position in the board. Imagine the basic brightness of the child, who was able to sift and retain in his mind all that his teachers taught him despite having no computers, no extra tuitions, no nothing really. When his special story was shown on TV and he was asked what he wanted to do in life, all he wished for was to become ‘a teacher so that he could teach other poor children as he understood their problems’. His father, although proud of the distinction achieved by Qayanoos did not really see him studying further, as he said that there were plenty of educated unemployed and he would rather see his son becoming a contributing member of the family with a skill.

Herein lies our problem. Lack of opportunity and the closure of doors on those who are without the accompanying paraphernalia of family name, wealth, positions of power etc. etc. Favours are only done for those who are in a position of paying back when the time comes. What use would be educating a scrap collector’s son? In fact, he would unnecessarily disturb the status quo and would forever stand out like a sore thumb among others who were born in well-off homes. This is the difference that the Prophet of Islam (Peace be upon him) tried to bridge in his teachings and practices, but which continues, to date, in our part of the world. From where he is now, is it possible for Qayanoos to go on to study well, get more brilliant results, and teach students as is his ambition and then go on to contest a seat in Parliament? Extremely unlikely, in our life time!

What we do see is that Abdul Qadir won in Multan from NA 151 in the by-election on the seat vacated by his father the ex-Prime Minister. The same Abdul Qadir whose name remains involved in the Haj scam among others. The fact that his victory was only by a narrow margin of 4,000 odd votes does not allay the fears of those of us who want things to change for the better. Before all of us set out to vote for the next government in the elections we ought to dig deep into our discarded sack of rubbish for reusable pieces of our sanity, our discarded values and rejected concept of the original Pakistan, if we are to salvage ourselves.

Postscript: The fact that Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim is now firmly seated in the chair of the CEC is a huge beacon of light in these dark, not just due to loadshedding, times and augurs well for the fairness of the electoral process. There continue to be analysts, who say that a caretaker government of technocrats for a longish period is the only answer to overcome corruption and the economic downslide (read - look at me as a caretaker cabinet option), the bulk of the country does not want to halt the democratic process and would like general elections to be announced soon.

Another Pakistani origin Briton who has done us proud is Jaffer Hussain, one of the lucky few who were invited to carry the Olympic flame in the UK. He was nominated by a youngster he worked with and who spoke of him ‘as a local hero in a league of his own who has impacted and changed many lives for the better’. This 23-year old works for a company called Culturapedia as a Promotion and Engagement Coordinator and helps talented young people fulfil their potential within arts, sports or culture as a living. Jaffer’s family hails from Jhelum, my hometown; originally and perhaps that fact makes it even more personalised for Jhelumis! Zara num ho tau ye mithi bauhat zerkhaiz hai saaqi!

    The writer is a public relations and event management professional based in Islamabad.

    Email: tallatazim@yahoo.com