It is now virtually impossible to meet or talk to anyone, without one or the other moaning and groaning about the sheer volume of problems that are continuously raining down our battered heads. It is like an addiction-a fix that has all Pakistanis in its relentless grip. There is simply no getting away from it. Pakistanis may talk about space travel but only for a second and then it is back to endless stories of gloom and doom and all that resides in between. It is depressing because almost all conversation is riddled with continuous shaking of the head, pouring of the choicest expletives and throwing up of hands, because all these conversations carry that immortal line: “There is nothing you can do.” In other words, the whole diatribe and the cussing and the swearing amounts to a fat zero or tiddly crap-regretfully cannot use the other and better four-letter word. Woe is our middle name.
A friend who resides in sunnier and happier climes admonished me the other day-called me names and cussed me for being morose and bleak every week. He advised that people like me should be able to overcome all these nonsensical things that go about in the republic and have a ready and dependable sense of humour. Good advice and very impractical. Living afar you can still moan and groan about the mess Pakistan is in but then there are numerous other things to cheer you up. The sidewalk cafe is good, the breeze is refreshing, that redhead who stepped out of the car is ravishing, the coffee aroma is coasting along the wind, the muffins are fresh, and life is tough, but the breaks are there.
Above all, instead of seeing people with faces hanging down to their knees, you see quite a few folks laughing, loving, kissing-all celebrating life. Over here it is tempers flaring up at the slightest provocation and that evergreen line used more and more by people who really are nobodies-”don’t you know who I am?” You hear it at airports, against barriers, at receptions, in offices, across hotels and everywhere that is populated by Pakis. Invariably this is the line that is designed to help you break the rules down further and give you that extra advantage that really does not belong to you.
But my beef with my friend is different. I really do think we have a sense of humour, otherwise who could survive a day here without thinking of taking their own life? If you are not blessed with that wonderful quality you are in serious trouble, and there are so many fine examples of this when Pakistanis slapped in the face with stupidity, officialdom and stark madness, fall back on one-liners or a wisecrack that can, briefly albeit, light up a dark day. Recall BB’s triumphant ride into Lahore city, in 1986 I think it was-at Mochi Gate, there were hundreds and thousands of people milling about. It was a huge turnout, a sea of heads as far back as one could see. Just as is the norm, there were the heavily “disguised” security and intelligence goof squads, complete with crew cut-a dead giveaway, white “non-descript” shalwar-qameez, standard issue, chappals, also standard issue, and a walkie-talkie or some such device emitting nonsensical jargon that vaguely sounded like cricket commentary.
The Lahoris watched with bemused looks at these idiots and wondered for the hundredth time what the goon squads were thinking of. Did they really think we were all blithering idiots? (Of course they did.) However, what the goon heard when he put the device to his ear and heard atmospheric mumbo-jumbo, was the great one-liner from the Lahori standing next to him. “Paa-jee, key score aay?” (Brother, what is the score?) As many around him reeled with laughter, the goon slipped away, red in the face! That was the local way to tell the goon to stop sending fictitious reports of a handful of people and get lost.
Many years back, Allama Iqbal’s home in Sialkot, which was just about to fall given the huge care we had shown in its maintenance, two fat, undoubtedly Kashmiri citizens of the locality snoozing in the shade of a hot summer afternoon, spotted two well-dressed “Baoos” (gentlemen, in English) seemingly looking for something. When one of them got half a nod from the fat gent, he asked, “Excuse me which way is Allama Iqbal’s home?” He got a blistering look from the Sialkoti and that priceless one-liner: “Kyoun, taan aiya o?” or, poorly translated, ‘Why? Have you come to pull it down?” Here was an entire city’s collective response at the poor treatment Iqbal’s home had received from officialdom. And there are scores of stories. As our plight rises and things get more and more desperate, people who have to no choice but to take the blows as they come will invariably fall upon making fun or ridiculing the situation. It’s perhaps what keeps them somewhat sane and makes them face another day.
So the PEW Report released recently will send a wave of joy across the land because it lays it down in black and white the mess we are in, thanks to our great leaders and all those who have, in one form or another, reduced Pakistan to its current stage. It’s a bleak report and it will require a mammoth effort to see the humour in all this because it is so final in its cold sum up. Ninety percent people remain dissatisfied with Pakistan’s economy or direction (actually it is direction-less). Ninety percent! That literally means just about everyone other than Arsalan, Musa and the spoilt broods of the generals, admirals, chiefs and the civil “serpents,” as my late brother Khalid Hasan called them years ago when things were pretty good and we were in clover.
Forty-three percent Pakistanis expect the economy to get worse in the next 12 months and crime, lack of jobs, terrorism (and I would add corruption) remain the great obstacles they have always been. Violence, which is not even skin deep anymore and a complete failure of security of life and belongings-thank you, Mr Malik, for raising our hopelessness to another level – are amongst the most serious concerns. Mr Malik’s solution to all security bungling and acts of violence is to arrive there once the dust has settled down, but then why chide him? Even street urchins know why he is there, his dual-nationality and false statements a slur on our much-rubbished name notwithstanding. There is a great career in being the bagman and carrying important things to and fro.
And the PEW report goes on heaping depression upon us. The president, our Lord and Saviour, has a 14 percent approval rating from the survey conducted this year in March-April, but there he is, grinning like a rancher atop a bucking bull in a rodeo show. Elsewhere, there is killing, mayhem, power outages, spiralling prices and all the other good things of life that make Pakistan a unique-I was going to say country but wonder if that is the right word! Happy mangoes!
The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org