It is a well known fact that the court of the great Moghul Emperor, Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar, was adorned with nine extraordinary courtiers, referred to in their own right as the ‘Nau Ratan’ or ‘Nine Gems’. Every one of these individuals vied to remain in favour of the king, but at no level was this rivalry more legendary, intense and full of wit than between Mullah Do Piaza and Birbal. 

It was often that their verbal jousting was in the presence of the Great Moghul, who often decided the issue in favour of one or the other. It is said that a discussion once erupted between the two and royal intercession demanded Birbal to prove his contention that the blind outnumbered the seeing within the kingdom.

The next morning people entering or passing the palace gates found Birbal sitting at the spot weaving a bedstead. As each passerby stopped at the strange sight and asked the wily courtier as to what he was doing, the latter turned to the ‘munshi’ sitting beside him with words: “Put his name in the list of the blind.” It was not long before the news of Birbal’s activity reached the Emperor’s ears, who decided to visit the scene in person. As Akbar reached the spot with his retinue, curiosity got the better of him and he asked: “Birbal, what are you up to?” Without batting an eyelid, the ‘munshi’ was instructed to put the great king’s name under the blind.  “Your Majesty,” Birbal submitted, “I am weaving a bedstead and everyone ought to see what I am up to, but those that still seek to know what I am doing are surely blind.” Akbar was so impressed with this irrefutable logic and amused by the overwhelming number of the sightless that he rewarded Birbal.

I am reminded of this story because of the utter sightlessness and apathy of a vast number of my country men and women, who display a callous (almost criminal) disregard to keep their environment clean. Persons that I have spoken to, tend to hide themselves behind the argument that it is the government that is responsible to remove the stinking piles of filth that litter our roads and clog our sewage system. While this is true, these individuals tend to forget that, perhaps, it is they, who have created conditions for the service providers to give up and let things rot. I am by no means defending the apathy that has befallen those deputed and paid to keep the country clean, but I am trying to apportion blame equally, where it is due.

Take, for example, a road that I often use, while visiting some close friends in suburban Islamabad. I have often noticed shop owners cleaning their premises and sweeping their litter into drainage channels. One day I turned into a side street and saw some children squatting on the open drain to do, what should have been done in the privacy of their toilets. Drains that were covered by concrete slabs are now open as people have removed these covers and used them for their private purposes.

Nonetheless, a people that refuse to mend themselves are no excuse for the government to throw up its hands and admit defeat. There is no reason why garbage can’t be lifted regularly and even greater reason to enforce the rules that already exist with regard to keeping the environment clean.

A walk around the Fatima Jinnah Park in Islamabad is an eye opener, as one sees the beautiful wrought iron fence with ugly gaps, where steel has been removed by thieves. I have yet to see a news item saying that so and so was arrested for stealing parts of this fence or, perhaps, the authorities, who run this facility are as blind as the ones passing the palace gates in our story.

I have of late seen a rise in instances of spray painted graffiti on critical road signs around Islamabad. This vandalism is often characterised by the name and coordinates of the perpetrator - many of whom have political linkages. Responsible leadership from these political parties and those mandated to deter such acts may have passed these ‘atrocities’ many a time - but then, perhaps, I need to follow Birbal’s example and put their names down amongst the blind.

Many roads in suburban Islamabad lead to communities, but this may not be possible much longer, if the Capital Development Authority or the local government continues to turn a blind eye to their deteriorating condition. It is infuriating to see, that similar roads leading to the farm houses of the high and mighty have been paved and carpeted so that these individuals or their relatives can travel to and fro in comfort. The story is very much the same with regard to provision of natural gas, as communities with no ‘political connections’ continue to be ‘gasless’.

An increasing pressure on housing has necessitated setting up of housing communities across the length and breadth of Pakistan. I happen to know that this expansion has resulted in people living in localities that lie in the vicinity of large open sewage drains. How they manage to breathe there, is a matter of amazement for me, but, perhaps, they have no other alternative, except to inhale the foul smelling and toxic odours with attendant health effects.

And now the last remaining bit of the Birbal story, wherein the list of those who had the ability to see contained one name - Akbar’s Prime Minister. And so the Pakistani waits to choose the team that will govern it for the next five years - the question is: will this team have a team leader with the wisdom to see? 

The writer is a freelance columnist.