Saturday, 24 November 2012

Once Upon A Hangman

I have not yet met a mother who would want her son to become a promising hangman although hangings prevent bad marriages by transporting men from the promised rose-garden of ‘till death do us part’, without a decent stopover, straight to the ‘valley of the shadow of death’.

Think of any Pakistani film and recall how stereotypical hysterical tear-jerking mothers always wish their over-grown sons would become either doctors to serve sorrowful humanity (dukhi insaniyat ki khidmat) or a high ranking official (bohat bara afsar); there never was a middle ground. Even with sixty-five years of Pakistani freedom, such wishes did not and will not change in our rural areas although urban mothers have switched to wanting the apples of their eyes to ripen as foreign bankers or as IT experts punching away at computer keyboards.

Bright future in a dark continent

During school days, whenever excessive monsoon rains caused flooding in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), the West Pakistanis ended up paying Flood Relief Tax on film tickets. Swaziland was recently flooded but with applications for the sensitive post of a hangman.

Many years ago, their veteran executioner left for the heavenly hanging gardens, leaving his shoes quite empty. A Swaziland official admitted, “Eight prisoners on death row await the hangman. We have not found someone who has what it takes.”

Indeed, the long wait for death is worse than death itself. The Swaziland officials require that the executioner be ‘classically trained and very courageous’. Courageous I can understand, but classically trained to admire Plato, Bach, Dante, or Leonardo Da Vinci? Their minister also claimed to have ‘all the required equipment for executions that must start immediately’ without realizing that all the precious equipment one requires is a rope, a sandbag, and a bottomless pit for putting disturbed men to eternal sleep.

In Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe some men await to be executed since many years. While the hunt for a decent hangman is on despite a 94% unemployment rate in the country, the fifty condemned men treat the hangman’s long absence as a favour from God.

“It appears the toughest part of the job is not about ropes and levers. It is about conscience. A hangman should never have second thoughts; if he does he should be retired”, claims a jail official.

There is no hope of seeing their last executioner emerge out of retirement to report on duty. The official complains, “He was a reluctant hangman, always extremely remorseful about his job.”

Death by any other name would smell rotten

One need not bring hi-tech to a job that has essentially remained low-tech throughout history. Although the world is grateful to the French for their toasts and fries but their deadly French guillotine will not gladden any heart. Advanced death technology really does belong to the west—may God have mercy on America for her penchant for electric chairs, gas chambers and lethal injections. With that nation so in love with ordering food ‘to go’, one can imagine their executioners enquiring, “Hey buddy, what’s it gonna be? Today's special injection is lethal, with onion and double cheese.”

Our Godless ‘friend’ China places thousands before the firing squad each year; the criminals’ body organs are then made available to those who can afford transplants in this billion-dollar industry Pakistan does not require lethal injections for condemned prisoners because we already have free ‘recommended’ Polio shots. In any case, the use of lethal injections here will create more problems than it would solve. With an increasing number of men in white coats all over Pakistan injecting wrong medicines into patients, the practise of malpractice will suffer a major setback. And how, when genuine essential drugs are hard to find, will our prison officials be able to procure genuine lethal injections? And even if we were to allow death by lethal injection, the reduced potency of adulterated injections will bring to life apparently dead prisoners during burials. The list of such nightmares is endless.

Pakistan has been fooled into becoming the ‘frontline state in the global war against [t]errorism’ but we cannot be fooled some more into accepting American hi-tech innovations in the field of death, considering we already have their drones and Black Water agents busy despatching civilians into al-CIAda hell. We, in the developing Third World, will do just fine with hemp ropes as our hangmen can easily devise even cheaper extermination techniques given half the chance, a shoe-string budget and official patronage.
The Indian poor sell kidneys

The Breakneck Clan

Before we delve into the darkness, meet Tara Masih, the Pakistani head-banger who obeyed miscarriage of justice brought about by military usurper General Zia-ul-Haq of Black September fame and who obeyed his handlers in tightening the noose around the neck of an elected Prime Minister. Allegedly all Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto wished to do was to set up a factory for manufacturing shoelaces made out of the moustaches of conspirators in uniforms.

After Tara Masih, his brother-in-law Lal Masih stepped into the shoes but retired in December 2010. He hung 750 convicts in 27 years, sometimes as many as five a day. He remains grateful for being able to sight-see ‘the land of the pure’ and having done his ‘duty’ all over Pakistan. Lal admits he was timid only at the first hanging but later became as confident as—halleluiah—the bankers and the doctors. Blessed with a great sense of humour, Lal still lives a life of a dedicated family man.

Sabir Masih, whose grandfather’s brother was also Tara Masih, has executed over 200 people in three years. Thanks to President Zardari who stayed all hangings in November 2008, Sabir is now idle although 7,000 prisoners are still on death row. He earns Rs 10,000 per month but his wage for each hanging needs to be urgently revised. Sabir admires military dictator Pervez Musharraf because many heads rolled during the khaki era.

No matter how much hue and cry is raised by the NGOs and world governments for the abolishment of punishments prescribe by God, twenty-seven offences punishable by death still guarantee employment to Christian hangmen in the Islamic Republic. If man-made laws are made to override Divine Laws, the world will be in more chaos.

Another famous son from the same Christian family is Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s Sadiq Masih (junior) trained by a Lahore Kot Lakpat Jail’s Sadiq Masih (senior). The latter resisted hanging Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on 4 April 1979 but then his uncle Tara Masih was brought from Bahawlphur in a C-130 Hercules to do the job. During the British Raj days, Tara Masih’s elder brother hung a famous freedom fighter Bhagat Singh in 1931 at Lahore Central Prison.

A Divine final notice was served to General Zia-ul-Haq and his khaki entourage at Bahawalpur on 17 August 1988; the lot perished in a C-130 Hercules airplane made-to-order crash. Also worth noting is the tale narrated by lucky General Mirza Aslam Beg, who theorizes that it was Air Chief Marshall (retired) Asghar Khan who got us in an unholy mess by sabotaging democracy, encouraging imposition of martial law through General Zia-ul-Haq, and his insistence that ‘Bhutto be hanged as soon as possible or ‘be allowed to be handed over to him to be hanged’. And on 25 June 2002, during the military dictator Pervez Musharraf’s era, Asghar Khan’s own federal minister son, Omar Asghar Khan was found hanging from a ceiling fan at home.

[Si]Tara-e-Jurrat (Star of Bravery)

Some feel, the soul-extracting Tara never received the recognition he deserved. So many Pakistan Days came and went but never was a medal (Tamgha) bestowed upon Tara by the guardians of totality. Alas, such is the treatment we mete out to industrious men that not even a children's park or a street has been named after Tara. If this were America, they would have raised a bronze statue or built a Tara Museum of Death. Imagine the business prospects of merchandising children’s T-shirts with ’I love hanging around’ emblazoned across, porcelain mugs with ’Hang them high, Tara’ or ‘Tara, you are drop-dead gorgeous’ painted on, and Tara horror masks to honour the man. But then this is not America

If famous hangman, Tara Masih, were alive today he would insist on being a cash customer and would, out of disgust for credit cards, turn the American Express’ slogan into: Don't leave Earth without it—our special privilege card for a dying clientele. Tara, if he were an electric expert, would say to condemned plunderers heading for the chair, “You’re now a chairman!”, or cry to the gas chamber guests, “It's such a gas, baby!”

And if the truth neither has set you free nor cheered you up, think of our neck-breaker’s unique birthday party where talking heads may chant:

May you have many more, may you have many more
Many hangings dear hangman Happy hangings for you!


For he's got jolly good gallows, he's got jolly good gallows
He's got jolly good gallowwwws . . . which nobody can defy.

America succeeded in putting a man on the moon; our government has failed to depute a goon to Africa. These are times of need; Africa badly needs hangmen and Pakistan more foreign exchange remittances. Who knows, a man like Tara might rid us of all foreign debt and single-handedly take care of Africa’s death-row inmates? The seriousness of the matter can be gauged from the fact that African governments are unable to select the right person for the job. Foreigners from as far away as Canada, Britain and Japan have applied for the positions while local talent appears to be non-existent.

Sadly, only men may become members of this elitist gender-biased group; the Hangers’ Club is not about providing equal opportunity to all. Thank heavens this is one right which the testosterone-injected feminists will never wrestle out of men’s hand.
 The hanging of two participants in the Indian 'Rebellion' (1857)

Minimum qualifications

You would be lying to yourself if you have never considered hanging a vicious boss, never wished those ahead of you in office dead, or never fancied anything gruesome in life. Because deep down most of us are natural-born thrillers, let us now closely inspect an exterminator’s life.

First, say aloud the word HANGMAN to feel how it sounds. Agreed, for polished office-going executives the designation may not sound just right but then adding IVE to execute gives us: Execute-IVE. Now say this new word aloud. Does it not have the potential of sounding respectable in high society which regards executioners as men who do an immense favour to the increasing population? Remember, to get this job family connections are important; it is the same key that unlocks for unqualified people sensitive offices in the country. One need not be an MBA or something equally useless. This job is simplicity itself and which requires no money in the pocket, zilch foreign training, not even a fake educational degree, all it begs for is sheer guts to turn criminals’ heads around.

With the basic qualifications taken care of, let us now focus on the perks of a hangman, such as: the ability to intimidate foes, the power to scare nappies off grown men, and to get away with murder in broad daylight. It is really quite similar to being in a position of great influence such as leading a violent sectarian religious or a political party. A hangman's job has no defined limits, the potential bottomless, and it comes with a carrot marked ‘someone must do it and that someone just might be you’.

Your cup of tea?

A hangman, instead of starting his day like a regular office-going married man, will always miss his morning cup of tea to dash to work. He gets up early not because he likes to but because the system wants him to. He has no time to brush his teeth like an obedient schoolboy or kiss his children off to school. Agreed, rising early does benefit one’s health but it means nothing to a condemned person who knows necks normally break before the break of dawn.

A hangman wears no uniform but before proceeding to knock the living daylights out of a doomed person, he dons a conical hood a ‘la Ku Klux Klan member. And like someone who must hide from creditors, he hates being recognised. But there is truly something in the way he moves. Upon arrival at the gallows, he checks the knot—if the rope fails, all hell breaks loose too. He calculates the ‘drop’ according the condemned person’s weight—too little travel and the neck will not snap, too much of it and the neck might sever off the body. A lean person gets more air travel through the trap door while a heavier much less; there is no such thing as a frequent flyer programme in this business.

Next, he firmly covers the sinful head with a black hood, tightens the knot, and then whispers into the convict’s ear, “I have nothing to do with your death; I’m only performing my duty”.

Wages of sin is death and the hangman never really knows about the client’s guilt or innocence but that does not mean he will never feel the pricks of conscience at some point in his life. Finally, when the jail official’s hand moves, the hangman dutifully pulls the lever. There are times when, due to some snag, he is asked to go under the trap door and physically pull the feet of the half-dead in order to ensure death. Under normal circumstances, the body is left hanging for at least thirty minutes or until it begins to turn blackish. And once the doctor pronounces the convict dead, the terminator pulls him down and heads home; the officials also go about their daily business as if nothing has ever happened. While stage artists frequently receive standing ovations or cries of encore, a hangman’s performance never elicits anything of the kind from the dead. To the dead we owe only truth, to the living a politician’s lies.

For those who prefer work that produces no perspiration, rest assured the labour of a pedigree hangman is environmentally clean. There is no illegal gratification involved, no late office hours and no pending files in this return-to-Sender business. One gets a fully automated office; all the manual labour is done by a pair of kicking legs and the force of gravity. After an execution a hangman sleeps like a baby for the rest of the day, his conscience clean as a whistle. Because hangings are seldom an everyday affair, the State cares for the hangman by having him devote whole weeks, if not months, to his family. While most men spend their entire lives toiling away at their desks, our man is truly a free bird, aware of death and oblivious of taxes. Once home, his wife, instead of hurtling breakneck accusations of infidelity, never fails to ask politely, “Where've you been hanging out?”

Indeed the State always encourages such men to live happily ever after by allowing them to be all they can be. Always in good spirits and in perfect health, a hanging a day keeps a hangman’s doctor at bay. The police do not hurt him, and he never dies in a broad daylight fake shoot-out staged in the middle of his own city. Our man is a step above Superman with the angel of death, if not God, on his side. Two steps short of being a judge, jury and hangman all rolled into one, he is a model law-abiding citizen who respects the courts’ decisions and hence never receives contempt notices. As Alexander Pope wrote:

The hungry judges soon the sentence sign
Wretches hang that jury-men may dine.

Death and taxes

Hanging is better for a reason, the electric chair method the worst. Our waterless powerless WAPDA (Water and Power Development Authority) will not last a single lunar day if, Watt forbid, we were to start utilizing electric power for condemned prisoners. Imagine unannounced load shedding occurring in the middle of an execution ceremony with a half-roasted prisoner screaming for pain relieving Volts.

But why waste so many Amperes electrocuting criminals when queuing in the sun for long hours to pay inflated utility bills in Pakistan will do a better job at population reduction? Tax, surcharge, additional surcharge, Neelam-Jehlum surcharge, PTV fee, all being state-sponsored terrorist acts that go unpunished every month. Now only if people were given gallantry medals or pieces of real estate, nobody would mind embracing martyrdom fighting unholy utility bills sent by unbelievers.

If you are a jobless man about to become a militant extremist, abandon bombs and suicide jackets, get a work permit and settle down in Swaziland or Zimbabwe as a hangman; the supply of fresh necks will not last forever. The job and its privileges are all yours for the asking locally too if you would care to apply in person at the nearest central prison.

Never contemplate committing suicide because it can permanently harm one’s health, dream about the profession of putting ropes around the scum da la scum of the cream of society. It is true, many apparently decent men we see today occupying high places strangled kittens when they were young; now they strangle with loud desk thumps the economy, humanity, utilities, religion, public opinion and whatever is left in life to silently weep over.

©Tahir Gul Hasan, 2012

References and acknowledgments
I finished writing this original article on 19 October 1998, but now have almost entirely re-written it. I thank the dead and the living for the hair-raising inspiration.
It is not known where Felice Beato took this picture in 1858: The hanging of two participants in the Indian Rebellion of 1857
BBC News (11 October 1998) ‘Hangman wanted, no experience required’
The Guardian (13 April 2010) ‘Hangman for Zimbabwe prison’
Pakistan Today (5 January 2011) ‘Confessions of an executioner’
English hangmen 1850 to 1964


Ayesha Zee Khan said...

Very Informative article tgh, Zabardast!

TGH said...

I knew you would comment on this article, AZK, but not on the previous three articles about Malala. God, if you did, you could lose a lot on your international forum! They don't spend all that money for nothing on the participants.
Your one line comment here sounds very synthetic. People in the mainstream media just don't have it in them to expose evil the way it deserves to be exposed.
Good luck with the dogs.

Ayesha Zee Khan said...

Tahir Gul Hasan sb, you always assume things on your own without giving the person in front of you to tell why the previous articles couldnt be read.

I suffered an injury on my left shoulder which has kept me away from many things, after taking extensive physio therapy I have finally been able to come online. Even now, I have been advised by the doctor not to use the computer for more than 20 minutes.

By the way, before you assume anything further; this message has been typed by my daughter. Good Luck to you now!

Ayesha Zee Khan said...

Furthermore, for you Malala and her dad may have some significance but for me, traitors stand no chance. Why would I waste my time on reading about moles like Malala? I fear no one so hence I speak what I understand of an entity, end of story!

TGH said...

AZK sahiba, you did grace the walls of Faceless Book with normal activity, LOLs and the rest of it, hence, I 'assumed' many things. I assume your daughter was interacting on FB while you recovered?
You do recall promising you'd read the said articles and 'comment upon returning' from some place? Don't treat this as a war of words; you owe me nothing but everything to the deceived people of Pakistan.
I understand from your comment (‘why would I waste my time on reading about moles like Malala?') that you dislike the idea of even reading the said articles, leave alone commenting on them for the sake of posterity!
Ziauddin and daughter are important and I know what you're implying here with 'for you Malala and her dad may have some significance'.
But then labelling them as 'traitors' and 'moles' in this article's comments section means you're at the wrong address!
I hope your cold shoulder quickly turns into a warm one for your own good.