The Challenge

by Javed Rashid


By Javed Rashid

Hasan professed to believe in no religion, he had a hazy idea that being a "good" person was more important than being a good Muslim. Muslim elite and middle class response to freedom, from colonial rule, was initially to equate "liberal" morals as a sign of modernity .Drinking, sex outside marriage, having permissible attitudes towards sex all were used as symbols of modernism. Comics were used as signs of belonging to the progressive modern group .Smoking cigarettes also came under the same iconology .All "in" people were supposed to smoke and drink and have liberal attitudes towards sex and subscribe to Archie's life style .He did not bother to understand his religion at all .

Partition and the creation of a new country brought about the cruelest of materialist societal structure .Corruption was the norm and very soon nothing got done without graft .This seemed to be the fate of most newly independent states. The early days of independence ,and for that matter the latter periods, brought about wide corruption on small and large scale ,with involvement of the governing elite and the common man .Corruption therefore soon became an accepted and necessary part of the social structure ,greasing of palms became essential for any thing to get moving .Hasan and his like abhorred this corrupt state of society ,they did believe in 'fair play' and progress by hard work ,these were idealistic and un pragmatic thoughts of an ineffective and powerless elite .

Hasan drifted along in his less than half baked notions, he accepted little responsibility and had little concept of money .His father, a reasonably rich man, provided a comfortable living and Hasan could maintain his detracted superior existence without doing too much.

Hasan's serene trouble free existence underwent a serious somersault .His father fell seriously sick. He was hospitalized and after extensive tests, his ailment was diagnosed as cancer of the lungs.

Hasan loved his father and he spent most of his time in the hospital, looking after his father. This required that he spend nights and a large part of the day in the intensive care unit of the hospital .Hasan, in the six months his father lived, witnessed quite a few losing their battle and succumbing to the icy clutches of death. These deaths and the subsequent demise of his father caused a lot a grief but it also seriously disturbed Hasan's world .His liberal , "modernistic" world suddenly collapsed .He felt attracted to religion , as his concepts could not help him deal or understand death .

Hasan started praying five times a day and started reading the Koran .Very soon he felt the need to understand what the Koran preached .The Koran is a fascinating divine book , it answers doubts as soon as these are raised .Hasan did find solace in the teaching's of the Koran and it also assisted him in dealing with death .

While reading the Koran Hasan came across Koran's assertion that "We provide Rizak e Halal to whosoever who seeks it " Hasan's doubting skeptical mental makeup found this to be unacceptable .He reasoned that in the society as corrupt and venal as his it would be impossible to earn a living without getting involved in some form of corruption . He issued this as a form of challenge to the Koran, he was sure that he would win as it was not possible to exist at a reasonable standard in his venal society without doing something that was religiously and or legally or morally forbidden .He made this as the test case .How could the Koran issue such a statement, surely this was an error and he felt very sure that he would be proven correct. The gauntlet was thrown and unknown to Hasan was accepted.

The trauma lessened its impact with passing time and Hasan started to revert back to his old ways .This however was not possible, as the care free days were over .His, seemingly, rich father was in reality barely comfortable .Hasan inherited some property, which however did not gave him regular income .He got involved in the business of earning a living, in this process he forgot the challenge he had issued to the Koranic statement.

The business that Hasan stumbled into was construction of civil engineering structures .This line of business was exceptionally dirty ,contractors used less than required materials , unfit and improper materials are used ,the supervising officials sought and extracted a hefty kick back .Hasan was even more disadvantages as he had very little capital .

Hasan struggled to find work for his newly established firm .The construction industry is and was dotted by large number of small and large firms .The officials who manage the contracts against which tasks are given out, mostly, expect handsome kickbacks .The main Drigh Road, as it was then named, needed a bridge to ensure smooth traffic flow over railway lines which the road crossed .Aslam Khan the chief engineer of the department was nearing retirement , the bridge contract was his last chance to create the pile he wished for his retirement .The allures of Shazia ,the buxom dancing girls ,also had demands upon the material wealth of Aslam .He ,Aslam , did not expect the usual, registered contractors to accede to his more than normal or unusual demands .To ensure that his expectation be met he required some manipulations be made to the number and class of competing firms . He managed to pre qualify a number of small firms. This ofcourse was blatant disregard of the rules and norms.

Hasan , who one morning, read the notice in the newspaper, applied for pre qualification. He did not expect any results from this .To his great surprise his firm was allowed to quote and to his even greater surprise he was awarded the million dollar contract .By the time Hasan got the contract Aslam had been charge sheeted, on a different and earlier transgression, and was sent on forced retirement, much to his and Shazia's disappointment .He was succeeded by Sharrif , an oddity in the corrupt department , he was honest . Sharrif was a insignificant looking , badly dressed man , very few people understood what he said as he mumbled at great speed but he was honest to a fault .Along with Shariff the newly formed Government got interested in the bridge contract , this being an election promise , few of which are honored , was important . The fact that there was to be a by election on the seat vacated by the incumbent, who had a heart attack the day he was to take oath, did not hurt the bridge's cause .All of this meant that Hasan ,who owned little more than a old motor car and a brief case managed to successfully complete a rather sophisticated contact without paying any body any illegal amount or resorting to corrupt practices .Hasan made a lot of money most of which he gave back to the tax authorities , who were ofcourse disappointed . Hasan after completing the contract was only a little more richer than before but in the process he had acquired and fulfilled a contract in one of the most corrupt section of the economy , without paying any bribes and without resorting to malpractices .Round one to the Koran ,although Hasan did not realize the fact at that time .

This was ofcourse not the only incident ,telephone connections , in those days , required a handsome bribe to be paid , Hasan ,for his office ,applied for two connections .Along with his application he mentioned the fact that he was working on a project of " national importance " , much to his and the telephone departments surprise he got both connections sanctioned in a week .Similarly pick up trucks were only available after paying a hefty premium or a bribe , but Hasan got his vehicles on the same day without paying any extra amount .

There were instances where Hasan paid bribe but surprisingly did not get what he wanted, people would simply pocket the money offered and not do the undue action promised, a rather unusual occurrence as there is some ethics even in thieves.

There were countless other such examples where, surprising, he got things done without any graft, which customarily required some form of palm greasing.

Game, set and match to you know what .Hasan only realized much later that his challenge had been accepted and successfully defended.

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