Planet Earth is Closed For Temporary Repair

While the hurt, maimed, bruised, ruptured earth has been closed down for essential repairs, solace can be found in literature.

Dr Syeda Hameed | May 26, 2020

Planet Earth is Closed For Temporary Repair


We truly live in dystopian times. Fearful of an invisible enemy, the whole of humankind is locked in. And yet, despite being confronted by a common threat, the darkness within ourselves has resurfaced with a vengeance. Communalism, racism, classism, social ostracism, profiteering and petty politicking threaten to spiral into anarchy. During these dark days I have found my refuge in literature. Images of human misery flash before my eyes during long summer days when Ramadan compels me to identify with the hunger of millions of migrants who move on unknown roads towards kuchcha road leading to 6 lakh villages.

Na kisi ko fikr e manzil na kahin suraagh e jaada
Ye ajeeb karavaan hai jo ravaan hai be iraada
(No worry about destination no clue about future
A strange caravan moving without direction)

As a child I used to read Jonathan Swift’s story book Gullivers Travels. Gulliver the inveterate traveler lands in a land called Lilliput which houses the tiniest humans, size of his finger. Here he is the giant, they are the mites who crawl over him in their quest to conquer his might. This story is repeated in our COVID Travels. COVID 19 is the giant and we residents of this small planet called Earth are the mites. All busybodies devising ways to conquer its invincible might.

Wusatullah Khan is a writer from Karachi who wrote a piece in Urdu. Kurra e Arz Zuroori Marammat ke liye Bund hai meaning ‘Planet Earth has been closed down for essential repairs’. The main idea is that the hurt, maimed, bruised, ruptured earth has been closed down for essential repairs.

Today on the 25th day of Ramadan my dear mentor and friend, Mohini Girl sent me a box of besan laddoos, packets of namkeens, a banana cake. Every year we broke at least one Roza together. This year again we will do it but we wont sit at the same Iftar table. When I thanked her she reminded me of something we have discussed ever since I met her in 1997. The distance and indifference which we humans were sucked into, both knowingly and unknowingly, has resulted in this Pandemic which is the greatest leveller ever witnessed by the human race. When technology replaced human relations, what followed was inevitable. Mohini using the word love unabashedly, said, ‘Love took the back seat in fact it was sent out of the room while the world sat and played with its mobile baubles’. So Earth struck back in a manner that hit every living being, not animals, but humans who had systematically inflicted blow after blow on what they ardently referred to as ‘Mother Earth’

Happy days have become beautiful memories. When Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Begum Alys Faiz came to stay with me for few days in Canada, he recited a poem before a gathering of Indian and Pakistani diaspora which has become for me anthem of these times. I quote it here in both languages for meaning and flavour. The fact that it was written by a poet from the other side, also speaks volumes:

Aaj ke din na poochho mere doston
Dur kitney hain khushiyan manane ke din
Khul ke hansne ke din geet gaane ke din
Pyar karne ke din dil lagane ke din

Aaj ke din na poocho mere doston
Zakhm kitney abhi bakht e bismil mein hain
Dasht kitney abhi raah e manzil mein hain
Tiir kitney abhi dast e qatil mein hain

Aaj ka din zuboon hai mere doston
Aaj ka din to yun hai mere doston
Jaise dard o alam ke puraney nishan
Sab chale su e dil karvaan karvaan
Haath seene pe rakho to har ustukhwan
Sey uthe nala e al amaan! al amaan!

Aaj ke din na poochho mere doston
Kab tumhare lahu ke darida alam
Farq e khurshid e mahshar pe honge raqam
Az karaan ta karaan kab tumhare qadam
Leke uthega voh bahr e khoon yam ba yam
Jis mein dhul jaega aaj ke din ka gham
Saare dard o alam saare jaur o sitam

Duur kitni hai khursheed e mahshar ki lau
Aaj ke din na poochho mere doston

Dont ask don’t ask today oh friend
How far are those happy days
Full throated laughter, trilling songs
Days of love and passion of heart

Dont ask don’t ask today, Oh friend
How many wounds are destined for the dying?
How many wildernesses still to be crossed?
How many more arrows in assassin’s quiver?

Today is the day of debasement
Today is a day, a day such that
Old wounds from long forgotten hurts
In processions all converge on the heart
If on your chest your hand is placed
Every bone in the cage cries mercy! mercy!

Dont ask, don’t ask today O friend
When ragged insignias of your blood
Will be hoisted on blazing sun of Judgment Day
From end to end, horizon to horizon
When with your stamping feet
The ocean of blood, wave upon wave
The agony of this dark day will wash away
All torture, all torment, all abuse.

How far is that awesome Judgment Day
Dont ask, don’t ask today oh friend.

Dr. Syeda Hameed is a former member of the Planning Commission of India, and Chancellor of Maulana Azad University.