In the summer of 1991, Justice Cornelius reluctantly agreed to see me and was rather amused that I actually wanted to interview him. “I am retired,” he said, “and surely you cannot be interested in what I have to say.” When I persisted he gave me a date and a time and although he never said so, I was sure that he expected me to be punctual. I was.
I still cannot forget the picture of this formidable man of such integrity living out his last days amidst such modest surroundings. He was propped up on a simple bed, with a thin, cotton cover – what we call a ‘khaays,’ or ‘darri.’ A white crumpled but clean cotton sheet carelessly covered him. A basic wooden table with odds and ends next to his bed and overhead a slow, noisy ancient fan whirring away. The surroundings may have been drab but in his eyes there was a brightness that more than lit up that austere room in Hotel Falettis, Lahore that hot summer afternoon. This was Pakistan’s fourth chief justice, actually third since Justice Shahabuddin was CJ for only nine days, but whose values we were able to swiftly cast aside because they did not suit us then and they do not suit us now. Instead we have a national embarrassment and are spectators at this ludicrous show where personal gain and filial advancement is paramount, the nation, its few tattered rules are cast aside with impunity and willing stooges are rented to ride out the storm.
How Cornelius, lived his life and what principles he practically demonstrated are known to many of us – not enough it would seem because certainly his admirable life devoted to this country has evoked little response in those who succeeded him, barring the few great men of our skewed judicial system who stood up to what they believed in. I know many Cornelius stories and each one deserves telling, but there is not enough space and this is not strictly about Cornelius. I do know that his PA had a set letter ready at all times which would be filled out at the top and signed at the base by Cornelius regretting his inability to attend this, that and the other function and thanking his would-be host for the invitation. He never went to these gatherings where far too many judges and other judicial luminaries are seen today jostling for a photo-op. He was the old school. A judge should neither be seen in public or heard other than in his courtroom.
I obviously cannot speak for what passes in the mind of our present Justice Dogar. Perhaps he has outwitted science and developed a second, third and fourth skin. I have no idea whether he has squirmed in these recent days over the marks issue that has literally plagued the media day after day. If Justice Dogar is spending sleepless nights, agonizing over what was carried out to jack up his undeserving daughter to the top to gain undeserved admission in a medical college, deprive thousands of students of their rightful place, ensure that a willing bunch of Pakistan’s top officials would relentlessly lie and distort the truth to make this rotten business kosher and involve half the committees and bodies to probe into this murky business, force the prime minister (as one learns) to distance himself from this whole sordid business and embarrass a nation that has all but forgotten what that word means, it might mean something.
Personally I think and mercifully I suppose, Justice Dogar has nothing appendage called conscience that sometimes prevents people from trespassing into murky cesspools. He has risen beyond these earthly considerations but surely this entire issue has simply driven one more nail into our national coffin that has more nails than wood and provided yet another grim example of how far and how low we have sunk. I think any Pakistani with half an iota of decency is simply embarrassed by this terrible affair, yet there are no resignations, no apology, no retraction and no clear and swift action from the new democratic circus to bring this matter to its just and rightful conclusion. It has actually spurred the petty ‘babus’ and their willing accomplices to tow the line, maintain a position like an octopus that simply will not let go damned be the evidence.
The amount of people and representative bodies which are lying, refusing to attend sessions, attending but remaining silent, refusing to answer calls or questions and taking refuge behind closed telephones and protecting ministers, is a long list. What has happened to all these people? Is all shame fled? Red herrings are being thrown in to divert attention, cause a diversion so that the real issue dies down. That has been the magic formula here. Deny as long as the truth becomes totally irrelevant. Deny because no one can keep an issue alive forever. Stick it out because the more brazen you become the more chances you can ride out the storm and have faith in Pakistan because before you can say ‘Bob’s your uncle,’ some new disaster would have materialized and one issue replaced by the latest flavour of the day. This sad and embarrassing spectacle has been played out on the national media day after day and starting from Mr Abbasi’s courageous story and this newspaper’s bold stand, the people have read on with growing despondency. No rocket science to conclude that if this is the quality of justice that flows from the top man, what remains behind? Even the ‘Jadoogar of Jeddah’ that man for all seasons, all reasons and all dictators who has crossed the line between truth and falsehood, looks more acceptable than this marks business.
We are in a decline. We might recover financially in two three years and may even in a dream scenario become something akin to a modern nation – far-fetched as all this may sound, but the very core, the very essence that defines a nation, that special quality inspired by just a few good men and women that makes ordinary countries become extraordinary – that is long gone. Where we lost it and when is no longer relevant. The sad truth is that as another year closes its doors fitfully on a Pakistan that has no idea where it should be heading, our national standards of right and wrong, our sense of decency or indecency and all the other factors that define a good people, has vaporized into the smog-laden and heavily polluted atmosphere that symbolically and physically has us enveloped in a gray and dull choking light. Our souls are in serious jeopardy.
The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org