Our convenient bubble

January 5, 2014

Our convenient bubble

New Year’s Eve: the people in the room are apparently similar to others in this country -- and yet there is something different. They are different maybe because they are blessed in many ways. And in this land, not many think of themselves that way. But are we blessed or just lucky -- and the difference could be important. In this room there are lawyers, entrepreneurs, fashion designers, painters etc. These people are my friends and loved ones. From an objective stand point, most people would call many of them successful. Life is comfortable in this moment, with conversations in one corner and poetry or singing in another. And we all look happy I suppose. But I suspect we are not.

Maybe because this moment is not normal in today’s Pakistan. It is not normal to withhold judgment or a violent comment when someone voices a belief or practice others disagree with. It is not normal to enjoy regular power supply or think of upward social mobility. This moment then is a bubble and tomorrow it will all be different.

I am talking to a charming elderly lady and she is asking me the point of saying ‘Happy New Year’. Are we not stuck in a rot, she asks? Is celebrating this moment important or is it more important to celebrate each new turn we make, every new thing we learn, every new perspective we are introduced to. Why is this moment a fresh start and not the rest? What on earth makes us think this is worth celebrating or is sustainable? She points out the problems with this society -- bigotry, lack of responsibility, lack of empowerment, a blatant disregard for others, its tribal nature etc.

All of sudden, her conversation is reassuring. This is not a bubble. Things are not good for any of us really. We just have the luxury of pretending that they are not out of control yet.

I suppose a few in this country have enough wealth, inherited or accumulated, to pretend life is normal. They celebrate the so-called achievements of this country -- a new music band, a new fashion label, a new festival etc. But is that what life is for most people in this country? Sure, it makes us feel good but the ‘us’ in that sentence have a highly skewed way of deciphering what matters. Looking away from how bad things really are is not even a choice anymore in this country -- it is a luxury. Someone in the room says, "This is just a bad society." That is an appropriate word. It is not dysfunctional. It is something else. It is the exact opposite of good -- it is bad.

We discuss the issues with raising children in this country. It will be okay, some would say but I guess it would be okay even if you lived under Taliban rule. I mean you end up raising kids. But what are the things that you can teach them to believe in? How do you prepare a child for a life where everything from her last name to her religion, sect, choice of profession, what to consume, how to dress, how to view those who are different will define her in the eyes of others? There is no innocence here. Innocence is freedom and celebration. And the only way to raise kids in this society seems to protect them from everything that is tangible here.

If the power goes out, there will be a generator. "Things are bad" for the rich in the sense that their savings are not running into as many millions as before. And yet the most significant part of this story is the person whose savings are not just diminishing but evaporate altogether. Then he is in debt -- to educate his kids, to provide for his family, to keep the power running at night with a UPS. No, it will not be okay. Not for a long time. Not this New Year’s, not the next one or even in five years. It will get worse.

I am not blaming democracy for this. If anything, it is the only thing that could save us. But the State with all its history is to blame. Equally culpable are we the citizens. We somehow have the survival instinct but our faculties seem to have stopped there. A little charity here and there when convenient is enough but there is no ownership of the vulnerable in society. Xenophobia continues to grow but we want to blame only the rest of the world.

And when people ask me to be happy, it simply does not make sense to me in this country. I can appreciate a good song or a new band but it adds little or nothing to solving this country’s issues beyond a small moment. Holding a fashion show is not some great statement or punch in the face of the Taliban. It is no victory over bigotry. It is a bubble and if celebrating it helps someone feel better, so be it.

I guess bubbles are convenient that way. The state or its citizens are apparently clueless how to protect themselves once the enemy does decide to hit. People who celebrate a fashion show as a sign of liberalism should do a head-count of people with shockingly conservative and bigoted opinions in the same crowd. Whether you are a liberal or a conservative or a crazy fanatic, I guess if you get invited to a party: you go and have a good time.

So that is what I did this New Year’s Eve. I am not particularly happy with where we are headed or optimistic about the future of this country. But since I was invited to a good party, I went and had a good time.

And now the power has run out. So it’s time to end this before the laptop dies. I am confident that some great tragedy or repulsive actions would have been taken by next week in this country so that I may continue writing.

Happy New Year. But like she said, what is the point? Oh well, if it makes you happy.

Our convenient bubble