The Pakistani columnist’s burden
By Saim Saeed
I am a Pakistani columnist. This means that millions, if not billions of people, pay to get access to my highly developed intellect. The articles that I write in The Express Tribune, Dawn and The News make sure that I reach a truly nationwide audience and beyond. I have a thousand-something Twitter followers. From the shopkeepers in Dera Ismail Khan to the construction workers in Dadu, I have been entrusted with the responsibility to tell people what to think about what is going on in the country. How else could people know about the current negotiation process between the PML-N and the ASWJ (the defunct SSP)? The people have a right to know, but it is not easy for them.
I am the one to enlighten them. I am unabashedly smart and I write extremely well. I quote Shakespeare and Von Clausewitz in my articles. I am really good at chess and have degrees from foreign universities.
If I don’t tell Pakistanis to pay their taxes, that making peace with India is important, or that there is a power crisis in the country, then who will? People would be lost without me. They just wouldn’t have the slightest clue.
It is a curse, not a blessing. The trips to Islamabad and New Delhi, London and Dubai are exhausting. Constantly telling people what they should or should not do — but never how — saps the life out of me. I long to be among the common folk. I long to share a knee-slapper with the taxi driver, play a game of cricket with the gatekeeper and know what the average Pakistani thinks. Maybe I could start an NGO with my friends at the club. That would cleanse the soul. Common folks’ work and their lives are simple and without worries. Mine? I have the weight of moral responsibility on my shoulders for the entire country, which, unlike Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, cannot be shrugged.
I can think and write, and most people cannot. In fact, according to Descartes — who deems that existence is contingent upon thinking — most people would not even exist. And people who can think but cannot reach out to everybody — private intellectuals if you will — are irrelevant, which is why my job is so important. And that is the irrefutable fact that I have to accept and I shall be stoic about it.
You may ask how I know the things I know. Other public intellectuals, of course. The closed door meetings in which we share, appreciate, critique and inform one another’s work is actually for the benefit of the nation. We have divided responsibility amongst ourselves to take on the gargantuan and critical task of knowing something about everything while pretending to know everything about everything. Yet, I know the people would never be able to think for themselves. But I sincerely believe this is the right thing to do despite the futility of the endeavour. Rudyard Kipling can say it better in his poem, “White Man’s Burden”, than I can. Just substitute “White Man” for ‘Pakistani columnist’:
Take up the Pakistani columnist’s burden,
The savage wars of peace,
Fill full the mouth of Famine,
And bid the sickness cease,
And when your goal is nearest,
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly,
Bring all your hopes to nought.
I am a Pakistani columnist and it is a sacrifice I am willing to make.