The city was long ago, let alone nowadays, life’s nightmare and not its pleasure as is thought. If ithad been a pleasure, it would have been so planned. But the city has never been established for luxury, pleasure, or joy. Rather, the city is a scavenging multitude in which people find themselves by necessity, as no one ever comes to live in the city for pleasure. so much as for a living, greed, toil, want …and employment, which forces him to live in the city.
The city is a cemetery for social ties : whoever sets foot in it has to swim over its waves from one street to another, from one quarter to another, from one job to another, and from one associate to another, And by the nature of city life, one’s purpose becomes self-interest and opportunism, and one’s norm of behaviour becomes hypocrisy. The Koran says ” And among the Medina folk there are ones obstinate in hypocrisy “. Thus everything needs its own material price, which city life requires. The more the city extends and develops, the more complicated it becomes and the more it moves away from friendly spirit and mutual social ties to the extent that dwellers of the same block of flats do not know one another, especially when the block of flats grows and entity becomes a mere number: The dweller is no more referred to by his name or the tribe he belongs to, but by the number of his flat. City folks do not address one another by their social or even human entities but by numbers .. you, who live in such and such flat number on such and such floor number.. owner of such and such telephone number.. and car bearing such and such registration number .. etc. Inhabitants of the same street do not know one another, because they had no chance to choose their neighbours.
They just found themselves living in a certain street, lane, or block of flats haphazardly with no connecting relationship. On the contrary, the city scatters relatives by the force of necessity and causes fathers to separate from their sons, mothers from their children, and sometimes husbands from their wives. It gathers opposites as well as outsiders togethers in the same manner that it scatters relatives and makes rivals come together.
The city constitutes a mere worm-like ( biological ) living where man lives and dies meaninglessly … with no clear vision or insight. He lives and dies inside a tomb in both cases. There is no freedom in the city … nor is there rest or peace of mind .. walls plus walls in the houses, outside, in the blocks of flats, in the street and the place of work. You cannot sit the way you wish or walk in the direction you want or even stop when you like. If it so happens that you stop to shake hands with a friend or a relative whom you meet by accident, you are pushed along by pedestrians away from them; or they may hinder physical contact when your extended hand is brushed away by a heedless pedestrian who does not appreciate the situation or is unaware of it. It is not so easy to cross the street as you may lose a limb, or even your life, for the mere crossing of the street, unless you pay appropriate attention, and take proper precaution. You look left and right several times; you may find yourself stuck in the middle of the street, where you have to stay put among the dangerous waves of the city .. with cars, vehicles, trains, cleaning trucks .. etc around you.
Social chats, whether amusing or friendly, among the throngs of the city seem to be a kind of wishful thinking; and if they ever take place, they tend to be boring at times and self-hypocrisy at other times. In the city streets, men and cats are equal… in the flow of traffic and pedestrian crossings and sidewalks. When you hear the squalling brakes of cars, you break up suddenly and say spontaneously, ” Is it a man or an animal ?” because this is what happens when one of them crosses the road in front of you. So you brake up in the same manner in order not to run over either of them.
Even the traffic policemen will warn you, verbally or in writing, of accidents caused by a man or a cat crossing the street in the city.
This is what the city is like. There is no ” after you ” but push on…push along with shoulders…push ahead with hands…push money out of you pocket…push any social consideration out… The city is ” push on ” and not ” after you “. In the city you are more likely to get support from the walls than from the people: you may lean against a wall for rest. The wall will also guide you to your destination when it has signs, instructions, directions and advertisements on it – such information being extremely difficult for a townsman or a stranger in the city to give to those who need it. If you ask somebody about such things, he is sure to say, ” Sorry, I have no time … sorry, I’m in a hurry … Sorry, I don’t want to miss my train … my bus … my car at the parking meter …etc. He may add, Have a look at the wall !” In the city only the wall is stationary, people cannot stand still as the wall does. The city would generate fumes … garbage and humidity even if it were in a desert; you would get dirty if you have a white collar job, you would get your clothes stains even if you were not a painter, a white washer or a repairman.
As a toll to living in the city, you have to accept dirt and expose your collar to the smoke and dust… you have to perspire even when you are not working, dripping cold sweat … you also find that you have acquired some word, expressions and flimsy gestures which become necessary to have in order to communicate with the people and to manage in the city. In addition, you acquire readymade replies which you carelessly give out as answers to expected questions : no problem … no problem … an act of god … hard luck…no, Uncle…no, Brother…so they said…that was so long ago…please, keep walking …. make way…keep off. But if somebody asked what you said a moment ago, or you asked yourself the same question, you would not be able to answer, nor would you remember what phrase you uttered, because that is what things are in the city – utterances are produced casually to prove the insensitivity of life which lacks content in the city: what is it that is ” no problem…and what is it that was not so?…and who is your ” Uncle !?…and who is your “Brother!”?…and what is “so they said “? and who said it?…what time…and what is it “That was so long ago”? and which way is yours in the city? “If you encountered such inquiries, you would be bewildered, unable to give any comprehensible responses. That is city gibberish…just managing to get along… a sort of pastime. City life is really a mere waste of time until another time comes to pass…time for work… time for sleep… time for sleeplessness.
The city is a pretentious style…, a cry…an attraction…, a silly fashion, deplorableconsumption…demands with nothing to give in return .. a meaningless existence…what is worse is the individual’s inability to resist in the city …townsmen are unable to resist new fashions even if they do not appeal to them …their inability to curtail wastage…and their inability to resist greedy, devastating consumption, If you were a recent emigrant in the city and not one of its aboriginal people, who got used to its life-style, you would always be the town’s laughing- stock.
If you clung to your non-urban manners and values, you would become an odd man out, hardly finding any one to associate with. But when you try to change, you become boring. In the city the son can be unintentionally the cause of his father’s death or vice-versa, when driving a truck, a car, or riding a bike at high speed. That is speed in the city.. the crowded streets of the city…the selfish spirit of the city. The son may shout at his father unawares in the city when he hustles him off in the street, or when he blurs his father’s eyes with his strong car lights. More-over, it often happens, as a result of overcrowding, that individuals, religiously prohibited to unite in wedlock, mix up in the city. No sooner do they get together than they separate with the least of concern.
Townsmen should never be blamed for such behaviour, people are the same in the city or in the village; they are the same in almost everything: in values…in morality…especially those who belong to one race or religion. It is the nature of the city itself that is to blame for the gradual modification in people’s behaviour until, in time, it becomes an accepted norm. People need to construct the city by necessity; but it gradually becomes an unavoidable nightmare for those who have constructed it and lived in it… everything in the city has its price …and every item of luxury becomes a necessity…and every price has its own material or moral claim…and that is how the dilemma of living in the city begins. The nature of the city is incompatible with that of agriculture. It is built on arable land where fruitful trees are cut down…country folks are encouraged to quit farming and turn to the city, lazing away on its sidewalks, unemployed beggars; yet the city at the same time consumes all the agricultural product and asks for more. But this agricultural product, required by the townsmen, needs arable land and farmers.
The city is against production, because production requires patience and effort, but the nature of city life is against patience, seriousness and effort. The nature of the city is such that it takes but does not give and consumes but does not produce. It extends in all directions with no limit to its extension. It becomes a parasite to everything around it and spreads its tentacles to scatter its poisons and pollute the fresh air, converting oxygen to arbon dioxide, which in turn is converted to carbon monoxide, thus marring the natural scenery and blurring the clear mirror of nature. It emits smoke, fumes and gases which stifle breathing and pollute everything and blot out the stars, the moon and even the sun. It coos…it shouts…it clamours..and it growls to the extent that it deafens the ears, causes headaches and tenses up nerves.
It extends to devour arable land and neighbouring villages to envelop them under its dirty, breath-stifling wing.
It presses its teeth in the form of roads, buildings, utilities as shoulders and finger-nails, presses them into those quiet, peaceful, small, far-away villages to become a suburb, then a branch and finally an integral part of it. Thus they are leveled down by the heavy weight of the city to change from peaceful, productive, beneficial, quiet, coherent, healthy and blooming villages to dark, gloomy and unhealthy cells…a part of a burdensome whole…sick…exhausting…unproductive…tiresome…jobless…living for nothing…existence with no purpose.
The city kills social sensitivity and human feelings, thus creating insensitivity and heedlessness, because townsmen have become used to repeated displays of behaviour and incidents which attract attention in the villages, oases, hamlets, and the countryside. In the city you do not ask nor are you asked about a quick commotion or crowding, or a slow commotion or dispersion…that is because you are used to seeing such things, and so you ask no questions as they arouse your curiosity no more…scenes such as a fight, a man crying or lying flat in the street, …a house on fire, provided it is not near your home, or walking past miserable groups, sleeping on pavements, or idly standing on street corners, or leaning against walls or tree trunks in the city, even if they accosted you and extended their hands to you in anticipation of help or sympathy …such scenes are often seen in the city and so eventually one becomes insensitive towards them. They become part of the overall picture of the city. They become by constant repetition, too familiar to attract your attention; even though at the beginning they might have attracted your attention, appealed for a solution or ontribution towards one.
But life in the city does not allow such philanthropy: He who concerns himself with such matters, cannot manage to live in the city; because of the frequent repetition of such things. If he involved himself every time they happened, he would be very busy indeed. Due to the ever-increasing number of people in the city of different groups with different social and cultural backgrounds; and as social ties and relations tend to disintegrate under the living conditions in the city, where the neighbour hardly knows his neighbour, because they are busy and change houses and have no choice to choose one another… therefore, this fellow in the city with whom you may sympathise, or share in his happiness and sorrow, or you are interested in his welfare… such fellow is but one of many, who do not care for you; so why should you care for them? It is for this very reason that responsible city boards are set up to tackle such matters. Fire is none of your business; it is the firebrigade’s. This is enough justification for townsmen not to concern themselves with fires blazing away here or there. It is the job of the firebrigade…I am not a fireman…I am busy. Also street beggars are the responsibility of charity organizations. If I gave every beggar I met in the street, I would spend all I have on beggars who are there in every street.
Therefore, pay them no attention.
On the other hand, who knows if the beggar is really poor or needy. He could very well turn out to be a sluggard or a rogue. So do not let appearances deceive you, as the city is but a deceiving appearance, showing a different picture to the one it hides. Street fighting is the responsibility of the police, I am a policeman to keep the peace and separate brawlers. Townsmen do not seem to care at all even when honour is flouted in front of their eyes. That is the job of the preacher, or the job of the public morality police squad or that of anti-wrong doing societies. If you stopped at the fire, the street fight, the beggar, the one who is crying, complaining or suffering and other reoccurring daily scenes in every part of the city, would you then, be able to get where you want to be? Or would you have the time and ability to look into such matters and go back to your home?
That is how, little by little, insensitivity grows in the city towards such matters leading to the conviction that it is none of your business….On the contrary, it would even seem so silly to behave otherwise, absurd as may be, in any other city in the world. Any employee, leaving his place of work to give first aid to somebody run over in a street accident in the city, would run the risk of losing his job: he could be accused of leaving his place of work without permission or interfering in the responsibilities of others such as the police and the ambulance-men. All such city departments would show little gratitude, if you did their work for them as helper or volunteer, on the contrary, they would feel jealous and take exception to your well-intentioned help, because you would seem to be competing with them in the sphere which justifies their bread-winning job in the city.
This is the city: a crushing mill to its dwellers, a nightmare to its constructors; it makes you change your appearance and alter your values so as to take on an urban character, which has no colour, taste, smell or meaning …a worm-like life ( biological ), which compels you to inhale other people’s breath without caring for them, though. If you sought their protection, they would not protect you, nor would you protect them. The city compels you to hear other people’s voices even when you are not addressing them and inhale their breath without asking them for it. You hear the noise of engines, motors and hammers in full swing even though you have nothing to do with it.
As for the children, they are more dejected than the adults. They move from darkness to darkness; from the three dark stages ( mentioned in the Koran ) to the fourth one… the houses in the city are not homes, rather, they are holes and caves enveloped in intermingling draughts raised by the heavy traffic on the streets and lanes of the city. People in the city are quite the same as snails in their shells, which protect them against the waves and the pressure of the sea. The city, too, is a sea with currents, waves, scraps, dirt, foam, and snails. The snails are the people and their miserable children, who are oppressed by everything in the city, their parents press them inwards…inside the shell for fear of the street current, which is useless to cross, as there are other snails, caves and petrified shells on the other side of the street. So where are you going, innocent children? Those are other people’s houses…you do not know them… The people, who were there, have left. Those are new people. On the other hand, the street is not only for you. It is for pedestrians and wayfarers as well. The street, my children, is not for play !
The street, too oppresses children. Yesterday a young boy was run over in that street as he tried to play there, and last year some fast moving wheels ran over a little girl as she was crossing the street, and crushed her body into pieces, which were bundled up in her mother’s cloak, another one was kidnapped by professional kidnappers. They kept her for sometime and then released her outside her house with one of her kidneys missing. And yet another young boy was bundled up into a carton by other street children only to be crushed down by a motorist, who had no idea that there was a poor boy in it. Go back inside…to the darkness…to the filthy, hot dark rooms… May Allah help us ! The city is so filthy…so don’t play on either side of the streets….they are full of dirt and rubbish.
When all ways and means come to a dead end before the children…usually in a frightful way…from being crushed to death…to being torn to pieces…or to being kidnapped and having their limbs amputated…in this case the easier course of prohibition is dirt and rubbish….It is much less depressing than boredom in confinement to dark houses. But the outcome is one and the same – It is death by a different means. In fact, the sea of the city, like any other sea, has pitfalls, whirlpools and dangerous creatures…so how can children live in it ? But they are there. What can one do, then? The only way out is to put pressure on the children, punish them, compel them not to come out of their shells, dejected, spiritless…nip their natural growth in the bud….deprive them of light and fresh air. This is what life is like in the city….a queue….an ‘open-close’ car…none of the people outside your doorstep is a friend of yours….
The kindergarten is queuing, formalities, undertakings, and so is the school, the market, the hospital…they all ask you to open…push…close….stand in the queue…make haste. The child in the city grows up biologically, but he is the receptacle of all these restrains, repressions, and factors of rebuke and reproof. He is the model of man with psychic disorders, inferiority complexes, depression, and regression. This is the reason for deterioration of human values, social ties, indifference to others, lack of friendliness, cordiality and jealousy.
As for the village and the countryside, that is another world, different in shape and substance. There is no need there for repression, reproof or opposing pressures. There is encouragement and appreciation for blossoming and enjoyment of light. There you may imitate the birds and the flowers in freedom and opening up. There are no streets, no rubbish.. and no unfamiliar faces. People in the village, the hamlet and countryside are united in the bonds of neighbourliness, in all material as well as spiritual matters. There are free children of nature…of merriment and night talk… children of the sun and moon…children of the breeze and strong wind. There is no fear of enjoying freedom…there are no currents…there is nothing to open, nothing to close….everything is open by nature, much as there is no need to close anything either, because in the environment in which children as well as plants grow, there are no restrains…and no people with psychic disorders.
O, wise people…kind-hearted people…humanitarians, have mercy on children…do not deceive them by making them live in the city…do not turn your children into mice, flitting from hole to hole…from pavement to pavement. People in the city practise hypocrisy on themselves and on their children as well when they show love to them,…. because at the same time they set up breath-stifling barriers and cages to keep off their children’s lovely voices and keep them away from them, and consequently separate the children from their parents – This is because the parents’ living conditions, being fashioned by the city, compel them to get their dear ones out of their way and play tricks on them. In order to withstand the nightmare of life in the city, parents look for, create and even spend on occupations which ‘neither nourish nor satisfy hunger’ … insincere occasions…affected evening parties, faithless friendships. This is where children hold their parents back from practising such activities, while they try hard to get used to, overcome, and come to terms with the hellish living conditions, which the city imposes on its suffering inhabitants. Take nursery schools, childcare centres, swings and slides, children’s parks, kindergartens and even schools for example, they are just a trick to get rid of these innocent creatures, a modern means of burying children alive.
How hard the city is ! And how insipid it should be to its helpless inhabitants, whom it compels to accept unreasonable things, to forcibly swallow them, and to digest them as if they were natural and reasonable.
There is no better proof of that than the insignificant interests, which the city imposes on the inhabitants. One may see crowds of people watching a cock fight; let alone, sometimes, millions of other people watching twenty-two individuals, no more, running after a small melon-like sack full of air in meaningless movements. In similar absurd city manner, almost the same crowd come to listen to just one person, repeating before them in a parrot-like fashion twisted and sometimes inaudible utterances accompanied by a noisy instrument, which most of the audience do not comprehend. Someone, who happens to be drunk or insane, may clap and the audience, unable to comprehend, follow suit to show that they are enjoying the performance, which is, of course, untrue…unnatural modern hypocrisy, which people in the city have to practice. On the other hand, hundreds of people may sometimes watch a fierce fight between two seemingly fully grown-up sensible men, but they never exert themselves to separate them in order to stop the bestial fight, which they could do.
But the city life does not allow that because such unreasonable fierce blood-letting fights are sought for their own sake in this barbaric way to complement the living conditions in the city. For instance, the abuse of animals in exhausting races, and exploiting their blind animal instinct to fight ….also the torture of people, hurting them, using them as a source of merriment, and betting on them…. all these things are ways of false entertainment in the city. Fighting as practised by wrestlers and boxers can in no way be justified. Investigations show that there is no enmity among them; but this is what is wanted and relished in modern city life.
Excert From “Escape To Hell And Other Stories“.