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- Sunday, July 07, 2013 - From Print Edition

Over the top

It would be foolish to expect Pakistani society to know that curious four-letter combination that appears at the end of most invitations – RSVP. A society discovering Hot & Sour Soup is unlikely to spend too much time researching the meaning of this strange – and the only decent – 4-letter word known to mankind.

The demise of the fountain pen and writing paper and the arrival of le mouse have led the happy hordes to altogether abandon the RSVP culture. A new replacement has been found. It’s called ‘Looking forward’. Never mind if it was and remains grammatically incorrect. Who really cares?

There was a time when this very country was happily civilised. People invited you to a meal by actually writing to you – often on special paper. You responded likewise. I recall seeing a tiny two-inch square creamy card enclosed in an envelope and opening it to find an invitation that went like: ‘Hello girls. I have baked some ginger biscuits. Afternoon tea 4pm in the garden?’ And of course the ‘girls’ were well into their 50s and this was very much a popular way to spend an afternoon. Pakistan was young then.

My late brother, Khalid Hasan was deep down old-fashioned in many ways. Once, inadvertently, I emailed him and his family ‘Merry Christmas’ and got rapped on the knuckles by Mr Hasan. He wrote: “If you must wish anyone at a festival like Christmas, you don’t email the greetings. That’s in poor style. Rather you should take the trouble of selecting a card, writing out the message and the address and then posting it. Not emails please. It’s crass.” That won’t do now, will it?

The disappearance of the RSVP reflects a decline in all that was good here. One can only lament the passing of that time. Ill-mannered people are incapable of the smallest courtesy. When was the last time someone opened a door for you or gave you a broad smile? The right of way? Returned your call? Now if you do and the person is not available you are told to call again. If you do with the same result you are given the same message. I asked once, how many times was I to call? And could the gent not call me because how could I sitting in another city find out when he would be free and seated next to the phone? To all this I was told, ‘call again’. This is a sad decline.

The leadership for whom many have waited five years seems to be happy chasing things of no consequence and avoiding all things that can actually make a difference to the people. Instead, the CDA – bless its black heart – has floated tenders to build a new driveway at the PM’s plush house in Islamabad. Considering that he is not going to live here, one can only wonder for whom this gleaming metalled marvel is being built.

We are broke and on the street with our begging bowls but look around. Does this country look like it’s actually tightening its belt? It’s business as usual. The cynics are grinning like apes and holding up placards that read, ‘We told you so’.

We can only hope that these are nasty rumours like the metro bus project being gifted to Karachi and the bullet train to the residents of Muridke who will witness the blur at least twice a day, like the M-2 which is now groaning under mounting debt (it is simply not viable and never will be). Lahore’s metro bus and the impending train are pure disasters but no one ever learns. The GT Road did not save Sher Shah Suri’s dynasty from fading away forever and neither will the metro bus cast the Mian dynasty into the light of perpetual glory.

Every time a metro bus moves, it loses money. It is already a mounting loss and recovery is getting more and more difficult. I suppose feasibility studies based on fact not fiction are simply out of fashion just as RSVPs. No one is going to stand up, clear his throat and tell the Mian Sahibs that what they have in their hand is not an avocado peach but a lemon. But when was truth ever in fashion? And who will tell Mian Shahbaz that Lahore may be in Punjab but Punjab is not in Lahore.

The new government looked like a breath of fresh air because the former ones were a bunch of petty criminals. Even Jack the Ripper looked like the Pope in front of the motley crowd that comprised their leadership. Their sole achievement – and one they pinned on their chests and strutted about – was their five-year-term completion. That this was an unmitigated disaster that finished Pakistan was never mentioned. But the breath of fresh air is beginning to smell because people’s tolerance is zero. The odds are stacked mile high against the PML-N and their electorate and nothing short of a generous miracle from the Maker will see us through.

It looks like that is not going to happen. The disillusionment has set in, although it’s just a few days since the party came into power. So far, the gestures seem more symbolic than meaningful. I don’t think anyone is really impressed that Mian Sahib is not sleeping in the PM’s House. In another time it would have impressed everyone. Now it only evokes amusement. The feudals are not in the tax net and the business boys are sharpening their knives for the party ahead.

In the meantime, the poor and the miserable who have had the misfortune to have been born here, are gnashing their teeth and paying through their noses (how can they actually do that?). Their goose is cooked except they don’t have a goose or anything to cook on or cook with. The reason they are having such a great time is that their beloved PPP blew trillions of rupees in a few minutes and loved every moment of it. Now they have all melted into the sunsets rubbing their hands with glee. More money in their accounts spread worldwide, plots, licenses, limos, perks forever – all that and more they already had and now they have more.

No education, no genuine degree and no clue about what they are supposed to do – this is a powerful combination and a sure guarantee of success. In Pakistan expect the most bizarre things to happen and they will.

Into all this marches the Commando, a man who redefines the word ‘cocky’ and gives it a new twist. He arrives here because, hey didn’t you know? – the people love him. At least 26 people showed up at the airport, which is a phenomenal turnout. The Commando is moved and in tears. A few acts later, he is cooling his heels in his illegal farm house and watching the ducks go by. Being in what is called a sub-jail, he paces in his three bedrooms and reminds himself that after all he and Nelson Mandela have a great deal in common.

There is talk of a trial and legalities flow fast and free. The number of theories breaks new records, the most popular one showing the Commando dragged into court in chains and then sentenced to various punishments starting with hanging. He is then banished to the Attock Fort but as he is getting to know the land, he is whisked away to a waiting aircraft and sent to a lonely but luxurious exile in the desert – the nation’s honour safe and sound as the fix goes through.

What can we do? ‘Looking forward’ seems the only option!

The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: [email protected]