Pakistan, the illusions of a glorious past and kafan chor

Published: June 5, 2014

Someone declared quite decisively that Pakistan’s ‘best era’ was during President Ayub Khan’s regime while another disagreed.

Times don’t really change much over the centuries. Or so I felt after reading one of the aphorisms or ‘hikayaat’ of one of the medieval times poet and thinker, Sheikh Saadi. It goes like this…

Once upon a time, there used to be an evil, wretched man in a small town, who used to steal ‘kafan’ (white cloth used as a shroud to wrap the dead bodies) right after burial from the local graveyard. His means of income, therefore, involved opening up fresh graves, desecrating the dead for a meagre amount of money that he would get by selling the white cloth in the market several miles away in a bigger city.

Many people in his hometown suspected him of this crime. Some even tried to capture him red-handed but he never really left any trail or evidence. Days went by and one fine day, in his old age, while on his death bed, he called for his son.

To his son’s surprise the old thief was sobbing uncontrollably. The son asked,

“Baba what is it? Why are you crying like this?”

The thief replied,

“My son, all my life I stole from the dead, robbing them off their right to a dignified end and now that I am near death myself I can only imagine how people will remember me. To them, I would always be ‘a wretched soul’, an evil man who did not deserve any praise in life or after death.”

Upon hearing this, his son replied,

“Baba, don’t you worry! I give you my word that people will always remember you as a better person and praise you even after you are long gone.”

The old man could not believe his ears and as fate would have it, he died the same evening.

After his death, his son continued his ‘tradition’ of stealing from the dead but with a little ‘creative twist’ from his side. After looting the corpse, he would leave the bodies in an obscene posture, with a big stick shoved up their backsides. In the mornings, when town folks would discover these bodies in such a sorry state, they would cry out in despair.

“God, there is no shame left in this kafan chor… his father was a much better person. At least, he never did something so evil or barbaric with the dead.”

This, my friends, is our tragedy too as a nation. Each time we get (read ‘elect’) a new leader, very soon we find ourselves saying,

“Yaar iss say acha to pehle wala hi tha!”

(The previous one was better than this one!)

Recently, I realised something while sitting with a group of people who I did not know at one of the dinner parties. Let’s just say that this was perhaps the host’s idea of playing a social version of Russian roulette, where you place random strangers on one table with hopes for an interesting, intense and well, futile debate about the current situation of our beloved country.

While I was busy trying to pick the last samosa on the table in the most tactical way, someone declared quite decisively that Pakistan’s ‘best era’ was during President Ayub Khan’s regime. Maybe the trigger for this sudden feeling of nostalgia was the Indian movie Bhaag Milkha Bhaag or some old YouTube video.

Someone else dropped the shaami kabab on his plate, and said while looking visibly annoyed,

“How can you say that? Of course, it was in Bhutto’s time.”

Another guest with an unkempt beard and rolled up jeans at the ankles said,

Lahaul wala quwat!  Never in the history did we enjoy respect and admiration from America as in President Zia’s time.”

Ironically, I had a piece of mango in my mouth at that moment.

Someone included Benazir’s era as an example of Pakistan’s glorious time while another talked about Musharraf ‘giving back to international reporters’, in press conferences as ‘the highlight of the last half century’!

The imaginary spinning bottle pointed towards me while I was lost in thoughts (the fruit salad was delicious) when the host asked,

“What do you think? What period in time can be named as our nation’s ‘glorious era’?”

Aware of the fact that everyone was looking at me, I replied,

“The period in which Pakistan television gave us some of the greatest dramas and TV shows.”

Some people brushed this comment aside as a light joke and moved on.

In that moment, I realised that this dilemma of ‘previous hakim (ruler) was more sincere and efficient than the current one’ is typical of any and every nation where people are lazy, poor are corrupt, rich are insensitive, artists are brokers, preachers are sinners and leaders, well, leaders are ‘kafan chor’.

Samir Tariq

Samir Tariq

A Strategy and Business Transformation Manager for one of the leading banks in the Middle-East. He lives and works in Dubai. A literature lover and a writer by hobby he mostly writes fiction inspired by true life events.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Racer

    What the hell did I just read?Recommend

  • Lahore wala

    Excellent article. With all due respect, Mohtarma’s take was $1.5 billion. Mr.10%
    take was $1.8 billion, and ameerul momineen’s take, to date, after two innings, is
    $1.6 billion and counting. This does not includes Khadim i Aala, and other sycophants
    and yes men who are just paltry millionaires [US $]
    Ayub, Zia, …and subsequent strongmen were in a class by themselves.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    “A nation where people are lazy, poor are corrupt, rich are insensitive, artists are brokers, preachers are sinners and leaders, well, leaders are ‘kafan chor’.”

    Chaa gaye sahab!! Wonderful depiction of your thoughts. Funny enough, my best memories of Pakistan are related to the people of the nation, and the land itself, not so much the political side of things. Pakistan’s best era is yet to come.Recommend

  • Naila

    You sir, have witnessed a piece of art.Recommend

  • Feroz

    If the past is always better than the present, the nation is moving in reverse gear. Tomorrow will only be better if we believe it will be and slog our butt off to make it better.Recommend

  • Information Age

    Interesting read, enjoyed a good blog after a long time.Recommend

  • KDP

    On this line of thinking one can go back all the way and state that one nation under British rule was the best time!!Recommend

  • Raza Rashid

    i think we have just experienced the worst nightmare in form of ppp tenure..simply nothing can be worst than that so just for a time being let us enjoy the state of being in utopia where atleast some kind of progress is happening .Recommend

  • no names

    excellent article…Recommend

  • A. Khan

    Kafan chor story is quite old and has been previously related decades ago by Khalid Hasan. Sigh…some things never change in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Santanam Samantan

    Just Love this Samir Tariq…Wah!Recommend

  • Lunacyassailam

    Well done, superb writing.From Bharat.Recommend

  • Abdul

    Excellent work. Applicable to this side of the border as well.Recommend

  • Moiz

    Well written especially the little story at the startRecommend

  • Samir tariq

    Thanks a lotRecommend

  • Samir tariq

    Thanks a lot nailaRecommend

  • Samir tariq

    Thanks )Recommend

  • Samir tariq

    Thanks moizRecommend

  • Samir tariq

    Thanks abdul..and yes sadly things are same…though i wud still dare to say they are much better on the other side Recommend

  • Samir tariq


  • Samir tariq

    Thank you santanamRecommend

  • Samir tariq

    Yes khan…its an age old hikayat by saadi..but possibly quoted in several scenarios and stories Recommend

  • Samir tariq


  • Parvez

    You can’t shame the shameless……..but that was a good try.Recommend

  • Hamza

    I hate this government and NS in particular… but on a serious note, this government is perhaps the best one since 1977. :)Recommend

  • Anwar Kamal

    Thanks a lotRecommend

  • Umar Farooq

    I think best tenure was that of Ayub khan but he was elected as president after defeating Fatima jinnah through rigging. PPP tenure is always a hindrance in the progress of Pakistan. Zia ruled Pakistan on the basis of Islam but he didn’t implemented islam.Tenure of zardari and musharaf were worst in the history of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Farooqi

    Excellent article, well defined “kafan chor” :D

    I’ve shared your article @ the virtual university. Recommend

  • Moiz Omar

    Pakistan’s golden ages was during the 1950s and 1960s. After that things got really bad and then briefly got better in the 1970s but got worse again later. And since then have never really been good.Recommend

  • Jahanzeb

    “A nation where people are lazy, poor are corrupt, rich are insensitive,
    artists are broke, preachers are sinners and leaders, well, leaders
    are ‘kafan chor’.” Beautifully pieced….Recommend

  • kashif khan

    Interesting article! I will shareRecommend

  • Khalesha, Lahore

    Every President or Prime Minister is great in their own way. Ayub Khan gave a chance to military to learn how to topple elected governments. Bhutto achieved Prime Ministers post even by dividing the nation. Benazir looted the country along with her husband. Musharraf sold the country to US.Recommend

  • Karachiwala

    Recently, and very often now, i got catch in similar situations now. where a group of peoples trying to solve Pakistan’s problem with one go.. its always ends up funny/hilariuos/ futile … then of course i hear the about golden times of past. Your article gave me a good canon the story about kafan choor. indeed its very relevant as a metaphor to our current situation.Recommend