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Our Broken Heart Syndrome

Science has long discovered that heart break is not just emotional trauma. It has severe physiological manifestations also. This physiological condition is called Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy or a temporary heart condition which is triggered by intense emotional or physical stress.

The condition is aptly referred to as ‘broken heart syndrome’ also where emotional trauma or stress causes changes in the shape of the heart’s main pumping chamber, or where the heart muscles become suddenly stunned or weakened, compromising the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. The stress related to heartbreak is demonstrated through symptoms including chest pain, shortness of breath or fainting. Since it is a temporary condition, with time, most people recover from the physiological symptoms of the ‘broken heart syndrome’.

The condition was first identified in Japan in 1990 and has been on the radar of cardiology since. In a reel released fittingly on Valentine’s Day, How heartbreak impacts your body, according to science, the BBC has used the help of various experts to explain the ‘broken heart syndrome.’ One of the psychologists interviewed for the reel, Dr Guy Winch has explained that an individual willing to love risks heartbreak also. He has gone as far to say that one is not possible without the other. In his words, love registers in our brain like addiction. When we fall in love or risk being addicted, we also risk heartbreak and the withdrawal that will come with it if and when the relationship does not work out.

Experts would perhaps agree that the broken heart syndrome is not just brought about by trauma in a relationship between two individuals. Love and its afflictions cannot be bound only like that. Pakistanis’ love for Pakistan makes us undergo our unique broken heart syndrome. Unlike love between two individuals which in a healthy relationship should not bring on heartbreak more often than maybe once in the emotional lifespan of an association, for lovers of this country, it is akin to being in a constant state of heartbreak.

What would scientists find if a study was conducted to examine a sample of Pakistani hearts? Would they find physiological evidence of semi-permanent change to the pumping chambers of our hearts as a result of living in constant terror about the future? Or would they discover heart muscles in perpetual shock as a result of carrying ‘heaviest of burdens’ of infinite national stresses? Would they find heartstrings struggling to perform their role through immeasurable national traumas? Or journal a peculiar damage in Pakistani hearts condemned to carry fervent ideals of a better tomorrow?

This constant state of heartbreak is immortalized in the verses of famous poets and in seminal stories of our celebrated authors. It is on daily display in national opinion pieces and on television. It is reflected in social media posts and character-bound tweets. It is expressed on roads and in shops across villages, towns and cities on a day-to-day basis. It is a recurring reminder in daily life, often lamented but always taken in a stride adorning emotional and physiological tenacity of Pakistanis.

What ails us is not hard to meander. A broken governance system that is built to shield the state from citizens. Not vice versa. Apartheid is the keystone of this governance system but one that transcends race and discriminates on the basis of profession, pedigree and wealth also. This discrimination taints everything – from fundamental rights to life, equality and justice to fundamental freedoms of thought, opinion, expression, faith, assembly and association to provision of basic facilities. It is an order that does not fail to protect the privileged and punish the people despite being in shambles otherwise.

With long delays, hefty financial costs and costs to dignity, piling pendency of cases and an apparent though unfortunate impression of partisanship in the justice system, access to justice and the right to fair trial have all but become an elusive dream for citizens. The justice system was built to protect those facing the plight of excesses by authoritarians and democrats alike but its annexation, by force or by consent, has snatched even that right away from the beleaguered.

The collective heartache has its roots in political disorder as well. While the people wish to steer back the system to be led by those they should have the fundamental freedom to elect, each elected government bemoans massive limitations to even intrinsic constitutional powers after being ousted one way or the other.

There are also staggering limitations of choice for people to begin with. The limited pool to pick from includes political parties rarely dissimilar from each other that only offer themselves to be elected to represent the people without investing required energy and assets into intellectual resources that can find and implement required solutions for the governance mess. As a result, parties elected with whatever meagre powers fail spectacularly one after another in introducing even basic reforms due to severely limited cerebral capabilities.

Elections after elections, though there are nominal changes in faces here and there, the extremely limited puddle of 1170 persons elected to represent and govern 230 million citizens in the national and provincial assemblies have failed to implement constitutional demarcation of roles between state institutions, change the governance structure to serve the people instead of protection of the privileged, reform the economy and a terribly unjust tax system and repair the system of delivery of basic services to citizens.

Instead of acknowledging their limitations to serve and put in place the necessary third tier of governance through elected local governments, the elected coterie have wilfully scuttled every effort to facilitate the constitutional requirement of elected governments across the country. Citizens are not only denied the right to audit the services of their representatives due to an archaic model in place in every assembly, but they are also often robbed of the responsibility to vote out the non-performing because the decision is taken elsewhere already.

A procedural democracy, and a deeply flawed one at that, continually fails to provide effective governance and address economic and social grievances, hardships and inequality in the country. What else would this lead to except mounting public dissatisfaction and disenchantment? Yet, in this twilight it is the ‘audacity of hope’ that propels citizens to continue to believe and beseech for a bright future while nursing their broken hearts.

Aasiya Riaz, "Our Broken Heart Syndrome," The News. 2023-02-20.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political parties , Political disorder , Taxation , Pakistan , BBC