On the 18th of October 2017, Hyderabad was awaiting the re-birth of her son. She felt burdened and sweaty, pushing her limits to another second, another minute and then another hour to bring him into the world. For her incumbents, it was a time of great celebration as waiting for a son is perhaps more thrilling that the act of birth itself. I was heading out of one of Hyderabad’s hotels to Hala for work, where on my way, I could feel her sitting next to me with a red, black and green garb wrapped around her belly to conceal her condition.
It was the coming of Bilawal Bhutto, the Prince of Sindh (and the monarch of Pakistan’s People’s Party- PPP) who it seemed, was jolting Hyderabad’s amniotic sac, kicking violently with both legs to reclaim his grandfather’s vast territories.
She was sick out of sheer joy, spilling posters, flags, and paintings of her anticipated son onto billboards, tea shops, dhabbas, gullies, eroding colonial buildings and the broken walls standing alone on the highway. Bilawal’s face on every poster had been enlarged to the size of mud huts and put everywhere our eyes would fall on. Hardly, did I see a place not marked with his upcoming presence.
Red tents had been put up at numerous points under which sat clean shaven and mustached males facing a dancing man as he swooned, pouted his lips and shook his hips to an age-old Sindhi jingle lauding Bhutto’s spirit, his unfailing character and his immortality. The buses were decked with cloth painted with the PPP’s tri-colored rainbow, candidly depicting a scene from Mad Max: Fury Road, as they raged on the road to be the first to arrive at the wide-stretching camp, where Bilawal was to address the people.
I saw, as we passed through the dust and mud, a woman clad in a piquant red dress dancing on top of a van. She was swaying to the beat of the high-pitched ‘Jeeay Bhutto’ (long live Bhutto) song as if Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was still alive and admiring her expression of untainted loyalty and devotion. It was a striking image, really, almost out of a surreal painting in its distinctly absurd, mad and appropriately fitting form, drawing a diagram of the passionate and unfailing Sindhi character for the passerby.
Bilawal’s face looked remarkably ‘Fair and Handsome’ as goes the title of a big-brand whitening cream; with lush, pink lips and a convincingly warm smile; ready to be loved, adored, cuddled and worshiped.
Benazir’s face had been printed too in the background, to establish how strong a lineage Bilawal has and why he should be loved in the first place. About seventy thousand chairs had been set up near the district of Matiari (the city of mosques) in front of a massive, red-carpeted stage and a helipad (where he was to be delivered) to commemorate his coming.
The highway from Hyderabad to Hala was swamped in a mixture of black, red and green with booming music and PPP tunes swaying even the eagles and crows in the hot summer sky. They too, perhaps, were waiting for the umbilical cord to be cut so that the Prince may finally arrive. We passed by graveyards, banana fields, cotton spreads and madrasas– held by Saudi, Qatar and Doha funds, established at the beginning and end of each district. We stopped at several points to give way to Bhutto’s people- some with soiled hair and stained clothes and some in shiny white jeeps. This is ishq, I thought- a higher form of love, something that entirely limits the English language, where compelling passion exists for the invisible.
When we reached Hala (the largest taluka of Matiari), defeating many flagged cars full of dressed up women, men, and children on the road, we discovered that it was grieving the loss of Ameen Faheem’s wife (the late senior vice chairman of PPP) and so, any music to disrupt the depression was strictly prohibited. We passed by open gutters, broken roads, burning plastic bags, wrappers, and drains filled with an astonishingly black liquid from which arose a putrid stench in the narrow alleys of the city.
The literacy rate of Hala is a dismal 40% percent with a majority of girls and boys out of school, while healthcare (prenatal and otherwise), as we saw, seemed to be a far-fetched dream.
Open defecation is common as was validated by the air. Teacher-absenteeism prevails in government schools. Hyderabad’s dirt, broken buildings, and withered education and health institutions are a testament to Sindh’s dilapidated, bruised and broken body, which only walks and talks because it has to and not because it can.
These factual claims are no surprise and probably will remain as significant as the value of pen and paper in the country.
This is perhaps what you get when a dead man rules; degradation becomes acceptable and only blind faith matters. The tragedy of the Bhutto dynasty is the tragedy of Sindh itself, where Bhutto blood is etched in Sindhi hearts and soil. Institutions hold little value and so does development, despite its unerring need.
We left Hala at around 3:00 PM, during which time the highway was jammed with Bilawal’s lovers. His time of delivery was expected to be 8:00 PM but, of course, everyone had to be gathered at the camp much before the actual time. Such was the delivery of the Prince of Sindh, unlike the delivery by a rural woman of Tharparkar who delivers her child on hot mud, with no water, no sanitation, no hygiene, no care and no love.