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June 10, 2018

Let’s whistle a happy tune


June 10, 2018

Let me begin with a confession: when I make an attempt to make sense of what is happening on the national scene, I get very confused. And very afraid. I am not able to fully comprehend the role and responsibilities of a columnist, particularly when one has to write about the most recent events and personal experiences. And this week was rather tough.

At the same time, a lot has happened that is truly distracting. For instance, all this fuss about Reham Khan’s book that is there and not there. Unwittingly, our talk shows are being coaxed into talking about a book. This is something they would hardly be expected to do.

It is, of course, the hint of scandal that is all grist to the rumour mill. There is no doubt that Reham is in a position to upset the PTI’s apple cart at a critical moment in its well-managed political ascendancy. The process of filing nominations for the July 25 election has begun and Imran Khan’s formidable ‘electables’ are jostling for their positions.

Technically, this would be seen as a pause in the political campaign because parties are struggling to select their candidates for specific constituencies. A great deal of home work would be necessary for this operation. Even otherwise, Ramazan should be a slow time for politics, everyone waiting for Eid to trigger a new round of activity.

But thanks to the threat – or promise – posed by the looming publication of Reham’s telltale memoirs, the political temperature has risen to its boiling point. Again, there is a lot in this issue that cannot be easily decoded. This means that I have to find a way of dealing with my dark apprehensions.

One advice that I have is somewhat classical. Let me quote John Dryden, an English poet of the seventeenth century: “I am devilishly afraid, that’s certain; but…I’ll sing, that I may seem valiant”.

This quotation, though, has revived the memory of a movie I had watched as a teenager: ‘The King and I’. It had this song that is almost a folksy translation of Dryden’s thought. Here is the first stanza: “Whenever I feel afraid/I hold my head erect/And whistle a happy tune/So no one will suspect I’m afraid”.

I think some more of the song would be appropriate for my purpose: “While shivering in my shoes/I strike a careless pose/And whistle a happy tune/and no one ever knows I’m afraid”. And just one more stanza: “The result of this deception/is very strange to tell./For when I fool the people/I fear, I fool myself as well”.

This can be a tricky exercise, to fool yourselves knowingly. I am not sure but perhaps a psychiatrist would approve of this make-believe ploy. This may become your defence against insanity. Sometimes, the reality that confronts you becomes so unbearable and threatening that looking the other way becomes a welcome option. Call it the acceptance of denial.

This is why we need healthy diversions and the ability to laugh at our own travails. Unfortunately, I am not able to repeat some juicy stuff that is in circulation on the grapevine. All this conjecture about the contents of Reham’s autobiography has also spawned a number of jokes in which our ugly political realities are recycled.

How satire and comedy can be a fitting response to unsavoury development is illustrated well by the American situation. In many ways, Donald Trump has been God’s gift for comedians and a number of humour programmes on American television have gained great ratings. NBC’s Saturday Night Live is one such example.

In our case, there is unintended comedy in many of our talk shows. I hope you are able to get some amusement out of the mindless ranting of the usual suspects. The trick is to not be bothered about what they do not talk about. This is the Pakistani media for you in these difficult times. In a sense, it hits the target by avoiding it.

Incidentally, one opinion piece I read with interest in The New York Times this week by Ross Douthat noted that “under Donald Trump, all entertainment is political and all politics is entertainment”. We may say this about the politics of Imran Khan and it is instructive how Reham Khan’s expected revelations have tickled an almost clownish performance on the part of the captain’s lead players.

What I am trying to say is that there is sufficient comic relief available, if you are willing to ignore the predominant realities. Let’s try to be valiant and make-believe that things will fall into place and not fall apart. There are bound to be many surprises as we move closer to the polling day, after the battle lines are properly drawn.

The big question, we know, is whether the beleaguered PML-N, the party of Nawaz Sharif, is able to counter the proverbial influence of the ‘electables’ that have been herded into Imran’s enclosure. There is something to laugh about in this dramatic conflict, too.

When Imran was rooting for ‘tabdeeli’, he ostensibly meant new faces and new ideas. But a funny thing has happened during the final stretch of the race. He has become the torchbearer of the status quo. And his adversary, Nawaz Sharif, is increasingly becoming a symbol of ‘tabdeeli’.

Horse trading has forever been the bane of our politics. But this time, it has become a kind of a tsunami. According to one report, at least 248 politicians have switched sides during the past four months. This score had never been reached before. The largest traffic has certainly been in the direction of Bani Gala. As I said, these defections can also be seen as a political charade. Marriages of convenience may sometimes lead to unplanned infidelities.

It is interesting – and farcical – that some prominent defections have taken place at the eleventh hour. There is a glaring touch of black comedy in how Sardar Zulfiqar Khosa, a former governor of Punjab, joined the PTI on the first of this month. And he did this with his entire family and said that his family had been promised five seats of the National and Punjab assemblies.

Then, there is the case of his son Dost Muhammad, who has a criminal record, and how some PTI leaders said that he was not welcome in the party. But Khosa insisted that his son was part of the bargain and Imran kept quiet about it. Funny, isn’t it?

The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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