Over the top - Masood Hasan - Sunday, February 13, 2011

Source : http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=30977&Cat=9&dt=2/13/2011

The great thing about Pakistan is that the excitement never stops. Just when you think you can finally go and fetch yourself a glass of water – rumours are not true. Water is still to be found. Wham comes another bone-breaking, mind-bending bombshell and the glass is forgotten as news starts to break. Of course it is another matter that the news is predictably bad all the time.

Living here is more and more like living in space with millions of small and large meteorites flashing by dangerously. Some hit, most miss. The fall guys are predictably the common folk and the big boys are strolling through ECL lists, boarding flights or simply just staying put and through well-oiled connections, carrying on regardless – i.e., making illegal money, running rings of corruption, promoting terrorism, compromising, and showing not a shred of decency. Life further chokes the general public, which has already been dead awhile. In another week or so, no one will be able to recall who in the devil’s name was a deranged lunatic called Qadri as more gunpowder goes off – Davis, PIA, Pakistan (Steal), cabinet in and cabinet out, AZ’s purported marriage... Gosh, the list is long.

In Islamabad, the PM said a tearful and emotionally charged Oscar-winning farewell to his outgoing cabinet. Insiders say that it took three days for the outgoing cabinet to go out, but being the custodians of our well being they did so with dignity and in alphabetical order – those who could read, that is. The PM – who wept copiously throughout and was unable to finish his laudatory speech where he recalled the golden age of public-welfare ushered in by these selfless men and women – had to be helped off the stage. Even the imported suits gave him little confidence in facing what must have been a terrible decision. A picture of him addressing milling crowds was not the protestors in Cairo but a wide-angle shot of our cabinet. A minute’s silence for the dearly departed. The PM summed up their performance in most poetic terms – ”your performance since March 2008 remained very satisfactory” – recalling the words President Zardari used to describe Ijaz Butt’s romp through Pakistan cricket. The president had somehow found Ijaz had done a wonderful job.

The mass cabinet resignations have been staged to help the country meet its financial obligations, though no one has so far explained how this is actually going to be achieved. A cut of 50 per cent in government salaries has also been decided, though the PML-N has rightly asked that the president, the PM, all ministers and government employees are part of this without exception. Won’t happen, Mian Sahib. Not in a month of Fridays. If a skeleton crew of 22 or more are now envisaged to “run” Pakistan, what were we doing with that obscene sperm whale for three years? Were we not in dire straits then? But Pakistan was created so that everyone could become corrupt and inefficient. And it is not just the “bloody civilians” who have been having a ball – and will undoubtedly continue to do so – but our great defenders too.

A friend who was asked to make a presentation to a gathering of top defenders ended up with a shrink because he believed he had been to heaven and returned to tell the tale. He blubbered on and on about what he saw, and claimed that the opulence and style was the kind that even kings could not have imagined. Six security guards alone inspected his car – not a 7 series BMW, but a humble 1300 cc local job – and himself. Another four starched men then took over and marched them through a series of lavishly appointed anterooms where another three awaited the guests. They were appropriately deposited in a room and sat twiddling their toes while in an adjoining room many more staffers tucked into a lavish spread. It was not someone’s birthday but just a routine middle-of-the-week activity. Finally they were “cleared” and led into a huge room straight out of a designer magazine. On getting used to the subdued and discreet lighting, they found a dozen and more sofas with one strategically placed separate from the rest where rested the big man, deep in comfort.

There were obviously no tables and upright chairs (who needs them?) and presentations were expected to be made from sofas to more sofas. Trophies and trappings of grandeur hung from the walls, and, although not in use, there seemed to be more air-conditioners than sofas. A posse of waiters slid about silently with highly polished silver trays bearing food fit for the gods. Sandwiches of a most delectable kind, hot, off-the-skewer kebabs, succulent samosas and patties with appropriate sauces and Ramsey Gordon styling, seductive pastries, assorted biscuits and confectionaries. Juices, light drinks, teas, coffees and lemon grass hot liquids were on call. While the hosts tucked in most enthusiastically, the visitors, clearly baffled by this mid-morning romp, politely declined to join in the Greek revelries. Their refusal was greeted with dismay. They were informed stiffly that “Elevenses were a part of the army’s traditions, and an honoured tradition, at that.” The presentation, when it finally took place, was a bit of a disaster because the food had played havoc with an attention span not quite the kind you’d find with Steve Jobs.

This was no special lair of VIPs but another mess, and there are dozens of them built in grounds where pilots can land 747 aircraft with eyes closed. These messes don’t look like they are part of Pakistan, and while in this case it happened to be the army, I personally know the same holds true of the air force and the navy. The Brits may have long gone but, by golly, their hallowed traditions are observed ritually across the length and breadth of Pakistan, and all their great virtues forgotten or simply discarded.

In civilian setups, the grandeur is not of the quality and class that is perfected by the armed forces but fairly close in many details. Such presentations are made to either a room full of dozy heads and people in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s, or they are made to the big man himself who has no more than three seconds to hear all that you might have put together for the past four months. Once, during the days of Shauka Aziz (I have been told by his friends and fan club that he was an honest, industrious and humble man whose wife drove a battered car that could barely move; I stand corrected, and may God forgive me for judging the man so wrongly), a friend’s company was asked to travel to Islamabad and present in 30 minutes a comprehensive global plan that would overnight turn our tarnished image into rainbows. When they protested that such a fantasy was not possible – a suicide bomber had killed dozens that very morning – they were told to get on with it, or get out. They got out. The “image” caper set the country back by many millions and joyrides galore later. All was shoved under a bulging carpet – the dustbins were already overflowing. Life continued.

But these days it is safe and sad to accept that life does not continue – it simply limps along painfully, each day more excruciating than the previous. A country that could have gone places has gone nowhere and become adept at begging for alms and making appropriate meaningless gestures that solve nothing.

The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: masoodhasan66@gmail.com

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