What’s in a name?

It is quite common in many countries to name roads, buildings, parks, airports and educational institutions after public figures. It is not unusual in our country to rename the roads after a particular public figure falls for grace. Those in the business of giving new names try to select politically correct ones and not repeat their past mistakes. There is no guarantee that they are right the second time over. I don’t think the public cares any way. The Peshawar airport has been named after Bacha Khan and there has been no opposition at all. At one time Ghaffar Khan wasn’t kosher, he had sided with Gandhi and hadn’t espoused Pakistan’s cause. Now that a lot of water has flown down the kabul River and that the common people have forgotten about his political ideology, he not only has the airport in Peshawar but also a public square in Quetta dedicated to his memory. There is also one road in Islamabad celebrating the troublesome Faqir of Ippi, who had fought the Pakistan Army in Wazirisitan not long after the independence.

At one time Shahinshah of Iran Raza Shah Pahalvi and his consort Farah Deeba were very popular in Pakistan. During those halcyon days when Pakistanis prided themselves for their close relations with the ruling Iranian monarchy, they named a number of roads after the king and his beautiful queen. After the Iranian revolution and the fall of the Pahalvi dynasty, these names were hastily changed because the government did not want to annoy the ayatollahs. So Murree Road, the main artery connecting Rawalpindi to Islamabad reverted to its old name. It still commonly goes by the same name but I won’t be surprised if the official name is different. Surprisingly Lahore’s famous cricketing venue still clings on to the name of the former Libyan strongman Gadhaffi – sadly no more because he was lynched by his own countrymen. Chaklala international airport holds on to the name of Benazir Bhutto even though PPP is no longer in power and the new airport near Fatehjang is still referred to as the New Benazir Airport. Although one would ardently wish that it becomes operational soon than merely remain new and unused.

I personally think that there is nothing in a name. If a utility is delivering optimally, whether it is called Rawalpindi General Hospital or Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Hospital it really doesn’t matter. If the entire system is broken down and the poor patients aren’t getting the services they deserve, it doesn’t really serve the memory of Benazir Bhutto well. I also don’t know if her heirs are playing a role in running the hospital that certainly needs a lot of help to achieve the status it deserves as the leading hospital of Rawalpindi. It seems they are merely content with the name that the hospital accidentally got when a mortally wounded Benazir was rushed there after an assassin shot her after the political rally at nearby Liaquat Park – incidentally named after the first Prime Minister, who was the first political figure to be assassinated there in 1951. Unfortunately the hospital did not have a trained pathologist to conduct a post-mortem to determine the cause of death of Pakistan first female prime minister, a formality that the widower wisely chose to ignore.

I had long believed that among other things, libraries are urgently needed in our country. Only 10 per cent of our schools have libraries and the ones that exist have certainly seen better times. I have personally sent library books to places as far off as schools in Naltar, Gilgit, Fairy Meadows, Shandur and Machch in Balochistan but I really don’t know if the teachers there encourage their children to read these books or not. It is my personal dream to take donkey loads of books during a summer break and move along the valleys in Kashmir and read the books to children along the trail and donate some of these as I move on.

Recently, someone that we know promised to donate a library for our charity school to honor the attorney, who had successfully fought and won his case and got him out of prison. He had spent much of his incarceration in solitary confinement in maximum security prisons. None of us believed in his cause nor were proud of what he he had allegedly done but we did appreciate his sentiment to say thank you to his benefactor in a meaningful way that benefited children studying in our school. Naturally my wife and I were very excited. A lot of effort went into the entire project. Painting the room, decorating it, equipping it with books during the hot month of Ramzan was difficult but a very thrilling experience. All of us were quite pleased to see the library becoming a reality around Eid time. For us it was like a miracle. Before the inauguration we received a plaque from the donor bearing the name of the attorney and stating that the dedication was made by her former client. We didn’t see anything wrong in installing the plaque, more so because we had to pay Rs 11,000 in custom duty. To our utter dismay we soon realized that some relatives living abroad weren’t happy. They thought it politically incorrect and naïve on our part. Since those, who were objecting were among the donors they thought that they should have been consulted before installing the offending plaques. There is no such policy and honestly we carry out a lot of activities in the school without seeking anyone’s permission e.g. my daughter and a friend of hers organized a puppets for peace program from a funding they got from Colombia University and we are about to get a container from Germany with school furniture. I have been making the rounds of the Income Tax office to get custom exemption but to no avail but that is another story.

Any way the calls to remove the plaques became so incessant that I got the impression that I was being harassed. To cut a long story short I had to personally remove the plaques, particularly after a really sharp explanation call. The caller did not want to be identified with a lost cause. He was worried, rightly or wrongly that it would cause him harm in his adopted homeland. I thought the demand was patently unfair and smacked of paranoia but my explanations fell on deaf ears. I know Sir Syed had danced to raise funds and accepted money from prostitutes to build the famous Aligarh University, so in my opinion there was no harm in accepting money for a library from a person who had served time. I gave in at the end because I didn’t want anyone to be harmed.

Whatever we have done so far has been out of a sense of obligation. We do not ask for money but when someone donates we keep a record of it and are very careful of how to spend it. There are regular audits. A lot of our time, money and effort go into something we believe in. In a small and modest way we are paying back to the society that has given so much to us. The government doesn’t help and we only end up annoying people. What are the options before us? Step back, as advised and have a fresh look at our strategy and policy or keep on doing irrespective of the consequences including the annoyance of donors and the possibility of reduced donations. I am certainly having a re-look at things but I hope there will be ways to keep on doing what we think is good for our country.