Title: Neglected Christian Children of Indus
Author: Azam Mairaj (Tr. from Urdu into English:Michelle Azam Mairaj)
Publisher: Mairaj Publications, Karachi, 2018
Azam Mairaj’s latest book, Neglected Christian Children of Indus is, on the one hand, an album of word-portraits and an archive of losses and pains, but on the other, it is also a kaleidoscope of historical injustices and socio-political analyses of a people in search for both their identity and their destiny. In this 174 page volume the author tries to unburden a soul-suffocating emotional baggage and a weight of unresolved pains. He seems to be under a huge amount of emotional pressure to cover its many aspects in a few short pages: the rightful claim of his people to their ancestral land, in which they now live a humiliating life, the diagnosis and the prognosis of their psychological ailments, (including social inertia and self-pity), and the convoluted mental states of their so called leaders, are a few but salient aspects of his work. All of Mairaj’s characters, both the protagonists and the antagonists, in Neglected Christian Children are real. However, though not a work of fiction, the sting in the plight of its characters could be neither sharper nor deeper, nor their miseries more loathsome even if the author had created them as the figments of his imagination. Here the reality is much more convoluted and cruel than fiction could ever be. The reader meets Chacha Younus and Pa’h Farman, Younas Khokar and Michael along with several others. Each character typifies some deep-seated complex and characterises Pakistan’s present day Christian community’s denial of ownership of the real issues. Each character, in turn, grows on the reader’s nerves and clings on to his conscience without ever finding an adequate resolution. The reader is gradually drawn deeper and deeper into the web spun by the storyteller. The stories continue, but the resolution is ever evasive. This strange experience carries on even when Mairaj shifts his focus from the common characters to the special ones like J. Salik (The Sick Saviour) and Kamran Dost (Magistrate cum sweeper) and a Station Master. The problems of his subject matter, it seems, are all pervasive and of pandemic proportions, and this reviewer feels that the author finds a cathartic release in exposing them just as they are!
For a student of Pakistan’s Christians community this little volume is a treasure trove. It sheds light on many undefined terms like Sannsi, Gughra, Musslee, Tapriwas, Bhangi, etc. It also provides a historical insight for why Goanese Christians have Portuguese surnames. Mairaj convincingly proves that today’s down-trodden Christian community are the decedents of the real original inhabitants of these lands. They were here before the Aryans, the Huns, the Mauryas, the Guptas, the Rajpoots, the Turks and the Mongol conquerors, mixed their blood with the natives and became the ruling classes of these lands.
Mairaj has tried to do in one volume, that for which most authors would have required at least two if not three. His work is compact, and his writing style is intense and passionate; like a man not guided by his convictions but instead driven by them. A unique, and for this reviewer a very pleasant aspect of the present work is the authors allegorical use of plants throughout its pages. He employs his botanical knowledge to create vicarious dialogues in the local flora to communicate the messages which otherwise remain unsaid by his human characters. These conversations among the trees, palms and shrubs are ruthlessly honest and to the point. Trees talk and the reader gets the message. (This style is reminiscent of a passage in the Holy Bible, Judges 9: 8-16.)
The book’s pages are interspersed appropriately with Urdu and Punjabi poetic verses from the sufic wisdom tradition, placed as bouquets on a dining table, though, not part of the menu they make the meal so much more palatable, though not enjoyable. It is also a testament to the writer’s vast reading and studying habits, always a plus for any author.
This book is not written to be enjoyed. After reading it once, I went over its various passages time and time again. I did not enjoy the book. Yet, I kept returning to it, again and again. This book is written, I believe, to provoke thinking, to stimulate debate and make the reader uneasy, even angry, and to think hard to the point of action. If these are the objectives of the author, he has succeeded spectacularly. In it the reader meets towering figures like wing commander Lesley Mervyn Middlecoat (Shaheed on 12 December 1971, Indo-Pak war) the only martyr of the Pakistan Air Force to be awarded the Stiara-e-Jurat twice, Major Sarmus Rauf TBt, Tamgha-e-Basalat (war against extremism in Waziristan), Haroon Mall and Mr. Demelo, Chairman of Pakistan’s railways, Francis X Lobo, the renowned import/export businessman who was also the head of the Hale-e-Ahmar (The Red Crescent) society, Vice admiral Leslie Norman Mungavin Deputy naval chief, and many others. The author’s point is simple, if they could do it why can’t you. His battle cry is clear, “yes you can!” Through this book he is endeavouring to show the Christian youth, this is possible, and “do-able”. To this end the writer has also established a movement, Mairaj Memorial Social Awareness Programme Pakistan (MMSAEPP) which is an ideological endeavour to establish the honourable identity of Pakistani Christians in the Pakistani society. Through it he is involved in raising the awareness among the Christian youth. The programme is based around 6-points, which are drilled into the attendees to help them understand and take positive steps towards reclaiming their rightful place in their own country. (This is all detailed in the book.)
The author is a realist, so while he is appreciative of the church’s role in uplifting the native Christians he is also critical of their present day degeneracy. In Mairaj’s own words, “It is a bitter reality that the deterioration of this system of our churches is pushing us towards the same misery that these churches had pulled us out of.”(p138-9). The reviewer fully and whole-heartedly agrees with this analysis. However, the reviewer holds serious reservation about the arguments presented and the conclusions drawn in “The Statistical Myth” (p128 -134). This being the only chapter in which I believe more intensive work needs to be done, as my own conclusions, based on historical references, data sources available to me and statistical tools lead me to different conclusions. (Having stated this I will not labour the point here, but will address it in detail in some later work.)
Over all, Neglected Christian Children of Indus is a valuable addition to our literature. I feel privileged to be its first reviewer and would like others more qualified and more skilled than myself to come forward and evaluate the worth of this gem of book. Some books are like meals, they have to be tasted, swallowed and digested: in short, enjoyed. Others are like medicines, they also have to be ingested and digested, though they might not be enjoyed. This book belongs to the latter class. As our community is far from being in a state of radiant health, this book-medicine was greatly needed, and now, must not be ignored. I would like to congratulate the author, and end by stating that this is one book that must not be neglected, and certainly must not be neglected by the Neglected Christian Children of Indus – that is all of us!
PS: This book review first appeared in the magazine, The Minorities' View, (Feb. 2019) and can be accessed at their website: www.theminoritiesview.org
© Akhtar Injeeli 06/02/2019