Battle Songs: These Children Can’t Be Bought

by Maniza NaqviAlg_wall_st_protest_02

“I mean they’re what— all of nineteen or twenty at most? And when push comes to shove they are going to get hurt around here aren’t they? Occupy Wall Street? Taking on the police—and for what–where will this go?”

“What do you mean for what–what do you mean where will this go?” Brian looks at me in irritation.

“What are they asking for Brian?” I shout over the sloganeering and the police helicopters over head. It’s Friday late afternoon and I look at all the young people barely out of their childhood—now sitting down in the courtyard of the Police Headquarters—with their big cardboard hand made signs around them saying, “Occupy Everything,” and shouting, “We are the 99%.”

“Can’t you read the signs? They’re protesting Wall Street. They want to change the system.” Brian replies. “And that’s important.”

“So why are they protesting at the Police Headquarters—why not at 200 West Street at Goldman Sach’s headquarters? Why protest against police brutality—why not Goldman Sach’s brutality? I mean I agree with Mayor Bloomberg—these guys are doing their job and their being paid only US$30-50,000 a year. I mean the cops are part of the 99% as well! Aren't they? They are on the opposite side of the barricades but they are on the same side aren't they? They face the same issues don't they?”

“That’s not the point!”

“What is the point Brian with slogans that say “Occupy everything? These sweet well meaning kids are encamped in Zuccotti Park, right here the shadow of the Freedom Plaza which is going up over the ashes of the World Trade Towers in whose name Afghanistan and Iraq are actually occupied. Are they going to become a tourist attraction just like the World Trade Center? I mean —have these kids made the connection between ten years of war and the economy in recession and their joblessness—and being barricaded in here this way- surrounded by maximum surveillance and minimum media coverage?

“Of course they have!”

“Well where are the slogans that say that then? I don’t see them? I mean if Wall Street big wigs start paying big taxes—will that make everything alright? I mean is that what is meant by changing the system? Occupy Wall Street so we can share in the greed? Why are we here at the Police Headquarters?” I keep a nervous look out for orange mesh rolls.

“You have to criticize this don’t you! You can’t see a movement?”

“No I can’t Brian! I see a lot of really nice kids in a small park—it’s about to rain, it’s getting cold and I don’t see what it is they want? What does it mean: We are 99%? And what does Occupy Everything—mean? Isn’t that what the military does—I mean this is such an empty slogan—It doesn’t mean anything! I mean look around you—really are these the 99%? I don’t see too many African Americans here—and where are the Hispanics and the Asians? Are these people just like the tea party people? I mean they don’t like Obama either!”

“It doesn’t mean anything to you because you aren’t part of the 99%. You work for the Man!”

“A white, white haired man is telling me that I work for the Man!”

“Yes you do and you know it! You’re the hand maiden of the System—the Establishment, the Washington consensus and Paul Wolfowitz! You’ve sold out to them!”

“Oh give it up Brian! Not everyone has the luxury to be a full time activist!”

Brian shouts over the din of the demonstration and its attendant policing “Really? Well What is it that you want to be? Who are you? When do you plan to be yourself? Someday you’re going to have to decide which side you are on—are you on this side of the barricades or on the other side.”

“Why should I decide?” I retort—as I look around nervously at the growing number of cops surrounding the demonstrators. I’m looking for the tell tale orange mesh—that the police is fond of using for netting people and trapping them in before arresting them. I don’t see it. I am panicked. I have never felt this way before during a protest march in this country in the last twenty years. We are standing in the Police Headquarters, there are four helicopters above us—the number of cops seems to be growing at all the entrance and exit points—I feel like we’re all going to be blockaded in—and I’m urging Brian that we must leave—I don’t want to be arrested.

“Because those who don’t pick a side get rejected or worse by both sides.”

“So those who don’t decide prove that both sides do the same things? That neither is good the way they claim to be. They prove both sides are wrong. I’m okay with that!”

“Oh be quiet and think more deeply! You’re wasting your life trying to find holes in other people's courageous actions!” he says.

“I rest my case. C’mon Brian let’s get out of here!” I whine “And it’s not that simple now—a fine day had by all out on a protest escorted by the New York’s finest…Now they’ve been infiltrated by the CIA!”

But I stay, struggling with my instinct to leave– I don’t want to look like I can’t do the right thing. But I want to leave because I don’t want to offend the police.

I look around me—all these brave young kids—they aren’t cowards like me and I think of the war song: These children can't be bought at stalls—-Girl what are you searching for in the bazaar today. They are blessings of this land—Girl no point in useless prayers for them. These children are not commodities with which you can fill your lap, Girl they don’t come cheap — you can't just buy them anywhere at your whim. Such valuables aren’t available even for ready money. Girl you can go asking for credit but you can’t even borrow them. They aren't scared–they are unafraid. These children can't be bought at stalls—Girl what are you searching for in the bazaar today.

I want to cry. “Occupy Everything.” It makes no sense Brian!” I repeat it again. I’m in the courtyard of the Police Headquarters—there are choppers overhead and over there is the Freedom Plaza and here are all these kids—unemployed—just the right age to have voluntarily joined the army but here they are protesting the system instead of occupying another country. This is the week that Admiral Mullen has threatened to attack Pakistan. All these kids all around me sitting on the ground—and the police with their weapons and the helicopters overhead in the skies and this and that side of the barricades are all 99%. If these kids cross the line—if this police joins the kids—what’s next? Drones?

When will they call out the one percent—by name?

In the tenth year of the war enterprise, these protests have started up here and there in Pakistan there are protests as well –a considerable hullabaloo about the US coming out of the closet about its war expansion into Pakistan and dragging out with it its counterpart agencies in Pakistan as well. The resulting back and forth has been more or less a commercial for justifying the next phase of war. Including, a rather ridiculous, war anthem, recently manufactured and reported in the New York Times, an anthem from some fringe extremist group in a country where 99% are frightened by the war and violence around them and wanting nothing to do with it and are afraid of being occupied. The countering anthem no doubt from an equally obscure group would be “We will, we will squash you.”

Standing with these young Americans who are the right age for going to war and who instead would rather Occupy Wall Street instead of another country—I find myself in a melancholic mood. I think of battle cries because these kids will need them when they get hurt if and when they really cross the line—start to sharpen their messages get focused. I think of the poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz but I think also of the most popular war songs in Pakistan which were sung by Madam Noor Jehan. These are in fact anti war songs. These anti war songs convey the sentiments of the beloved for the beloved. These are songs that only a real brave heart, only a real soldier would understand.

The most of popular of these is: These Children Can’t be Bought at Stalls (Ai puttar hattan tey nahinyo vikdey). The word Puttar is gender neutral and can mean son or daughter. This song is also faith and nation neutral. In my translation I have used Puttar to mean child–in the gender neutral. The word hattan actually means wooden vendor carts in a bazaar. I use the word, stall. It is indeed an anti war—anti ideology–war anthem and goes something like this:

These children can't be bought at stalls—-Girl what are you searching for in the bazaar today. They are blessings of this land—Girl no point in useless prayers for them. These children are not commodities with which you can fill your lap, Girl they don’t come cheap — you can't just buy them anywhere at your whim. Such valuables aren’t available even for ready money. Girl you can go asking for credit but you can’t even borrow them. These children can't be bought at stalls—Girl what are you searching for in the bazaar today. The aren't scared–they are unafraid. Mothers your bodies are the gardens where such flowers bloomed. Sisters your laps are gardens where such kid brothers played. These beloved kids for whom you did all you could—these children can't be bought. You can’t buy these children at stalls. Girl what are you searching for in the bazaar today.

Legend has it that when Radio Pakistan broadcast this and other songs during the 1965 war with India—The troops on the other side of the border holding their positions who were equally homesick, scared and home loving—most of them no more than 19 or 20 years old themselves—shouted out to their counterparts to pump up the volume.

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