A R C H I V E S
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|Salaams from Pakistan (again)|
|06/27/04 at 01:08:19|
A fortnight since I hastily scrawled my enormous excitement onto the pages of my journal.
Fabulous, from a fable, with all its glorious gold overtones of a moral ending.
After endless blazing lights and roaring traffic and decaying bourgeois aesthetics, suddenly I have flown over the wise, winking seas and brown fields, and landed in this miraculous house, whose bare walls shimmer and dissolve so much with their elemental furnishings of light and shade I feel as though my hands might pass through them. Crouching, I run my fingers down the curving slim claw of a table leg – the only one in the house; I study the pink and gold dawn on its pale surface and the prostrating, waving blue shadows at my feet. [i]Pak zameen, Pakistan![/i]
Here, in the bare simplicities of the village, where everything is unique and nothing accidental, I have discovered what I and mankind lost in the concrete and metal cities that now stretch, roll, sigh across the world, continuing their slow consumption of it. Willing, manicured hands of the corporate machine, day in, day out, gradually wiping away the contours of primitive man’s inimitable, irreplacable face, to match the grim, black angles of the system…all of it given way to a wonderland that I never knew could exist, even in my imagination since Big Brother penetrates his insolent fingers even there.
Old Abd al Aziz the comb maker would have loved it here, but then he was content just where he was in Fez. Every day he bought and dried ox skulls at a rented place, prised the horns from them and carefully opened them lengthwise. As his tongue released soft recitation of the Quran onto the breeze, his eyes were gentle and half-blind from some obscure disease above it, while his clever God-given hands below straightened the horns over the fire without letting them break, and then, miraculous as a flower unfurled, cut his combs from them and turned boxes for antimony on a simple lathe.
“It is only a pity that today, solely on account of price, poor quality combs from a factory are preferred to much more durable horn combs,” he sighed one day, “It is also senseless that people should stand by a machine and mindlessly repeat the same movement, while an old craft like mine falls into oblivion.
“My work may seem crude to you,” I was alerted now, as surely Buckhardt* must have been, “but it harbours a subtle meaning which cannot be conveyed in words. I myself acquired it only after many long years and, even if I wanted to, I could not automatically pass it onto my son if he himself did not wish to acquire it – and I think he would rather tske up another occupation. This craft can be traced back from apprentice to master until one reaches our Lord Seth, the son of Adam. It was he who first taught it to men, and what a Prophet brings – and Seth was a Prophet – must clearly have a special purpose, both outwardly and inwardly. I gradually came to understand that there is nothing fortuitous about this craft, that each procedure is the bearer of an element of wisdom. Not everyone can understand this. But even if one does not know this, it is still stupid and reprehensible to rob men of the inheritance of Prophets and to put them in front of a machine where, day in and day out, they must perform a meaningless task.”
Of good Abd Al Aziz, slave of the Irresistable, do I think now before I begin my day’s task, trying to capture his wisdom in a net of words:
[i]I must keep my soul busy or it will keep me busy...I must wash the dishes, scrub the floor...I must study this book and that...I must visit So and So today...[/i]
I shake my head: this is not good enough.
[i]Well then, I must set my environment in Order, each thing necessary and cleverly and humbly placed as a reminder to Allah...I must gain knowledge to adorn myself and teach my fellow men...I must revive the love of the ancients for them with...with anything, and all I have. A smile. A touch. A shared meal.
A reminder that we are born to help each other on this fatal journey that we finally make alone.[/i]
I smile and rise, allow what is left to me of life to keep falling into place, gently as heavenly pure, white snow.
*See Titus Buckhardt, Fas: Stadt des Islam, trans. W Stoddart
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