There are many things you should not be if you are in the FATA lands. Well, you shouldn’t be there in the first place but if you have to and notwithstanding the brave words of our forever-travelling prime minister who claims tirelessly that the writ of the government cannot be challenged you should never be spotted with a clean shave.
Yes, it’s the best a man can get, so claims Gillette, but in FATA this could mean something altogether different. It is highly foolish to be seen wearing any kind of uniform, be tooling about in any kind of official vehicle and be wearing a T-shirt with stars and stripes. And of course as already surmised you cannot be without a luxuriant spread of facial hair. But this is all for those who may be there on business or duty, carrying out yet another barmy idea developed in what are euphorically called ‘think tanks.’ You could perhaps be anybody or any person and get away scot-free but you should not be a barber, for they have indeed fallen on luckless times. Today, while they do not speak the Queen’s English, they are the only ones that truly understand what ‘a close shave’ is.
It seems the barbers can’t seem to do anything right the minute they are spotted vigorously sharpening their trusty razors on leather straps. Clouds of suspicion soon cover the landscape. God forbid, they could be sharpening their tools to shave off unwanted growth from frowning and fearsome faces, in which case it is a few well-placed explosions, some accurate rocket fire and the barber shop along with the barbers, is history. However, if they are not indulging in what the various authorities in charge of FATA look down upon as the work of the devil, they are fairly acceptable but never above suspicion. One is not sure if the orders reach the underarm territories as well and if some foolhardy barber is cutting it close and cleaning up those areas, without having had a clear ruling on what is and what is not permissible, then I am afraid the gig’s up for the lad. On nose hairs and ear hairs I am afraid there is no authentic ruling available at the time of filing this despatch.
Barbers in the FATA lands were usually regarded, at one time as jovial characters, shooting the breeze and chatting nineteen to the dozen – or is it nineteen to four dozen considering the inflation that’s got us by the short and the curlies. They were easy going blokes, gossiping while patrons indulged in some nose cleaning exercises, trimmed nails and inspected their navels. It was an easy life and there was no tension other than unpaid bills and crucial supplies running out. The more enterprising outfits had a regular Turkish style steam bath going on the side and from the amount of gaily decorated towels swinging in the wind, this was a popular service. So this was the good life, happy customers, brisk business all conducted to the refrain of a rocking Pushto melody. No one could have asked for more, even though barbers were not exactly in the same league as Seth Abid, Haji Gold and Double Shah. But that was then. Like all good things in life, this is now the stuff of fairy tales and incredulous family stories that are low on credibility and find little response from a new breed of hardened men folk who think nothing of chopping off the nearest head they can find.
Not all violators of facial edicts are barbers but all barbers can be violators which means they cannot be relied upon. This is not a good label in a place as uncertain as FATA where yesterday’s enemy can become a new found friend. Consequently barbers are under scrutiny and quite edgy, which as all patrons will testify is not quite the comfortable situation one would like to be helplessly trapped in a rickety chair. While it is a slump trade for barbers, the many companies marketing a whole range of shaving implements are having a pretty lean patch. Selling ice to the Eskimos would be a piece of cake than selling razors in FATA. That much we all know though none of us is able to comprehend who exactly is doing exactly what in FATA.
The political agents have all but vanished, the khasdars – the boys who saw you through hostile territories for a small fee are getting kidnapped right, left and centre. If the scouts are getting abducted, what chances do the rest have? As for the government such as we have and that’s just about the best description one can manage, nothing is kosher. Rehman Malik whose suits get shinier by the day and who is travelling faster than a UFO is clearly a man who’s got his stories mixed up. When our hapless ambassador to Kabul disappeared en route to his post and was gone for weeks, it was Rehman Malik who produced him at a press conference and told eager journalists that a violent struggle amidst dire circumstances had to be undertaken before the Ambassador was freed. The ambassador when asked a few minutes later for his version said there was no such thing at all and he had been spirited out in exchange for two dozen Taliban. Whoever said truth was stranger than fiction was not too wacky after all.
Then there are the NATO forces that can’t seem to tell the difference between a wedding party and a terrorist training camp and constantly seem to be killing the wrong people without so much as an ‘Ooops sorry.’ The American drones are obviously made in Lalamusa because when they are not crashing and making a mess of the landscape, they are sending back all kinds of mixed up signals so that instead of a wall the forces flatten out an orchard. In between this lot are the FC lot who are somewhere between official forces and non-official forces. Of course the Pak Bahadur Fauj is not there at all and if they have been spotted, it is just a mirage, the kind that confounded the British a couple of centuries back.
Then there are any amount of jirgas holding forth, leaderships from different blocks and political parties also adding to the stew and any amount of people interfering and offering more advice, God alone knows to whom. The prime minister who now wears a perpetually confused look is too busy comprehending how American baseball works and Mr Zardari is planning another voyage God knows to what distant shore.
Yesterday it was the Kabul Football Club and the sight of naked men-legs that sent the Taliban into a swoon, the Music shops have been bombed with impressive regularity, the girls schools are faring no better and the barbers are at the receiving end. These do-gooders are no good and cannot hold an entire country and its psyche to ransom – we should stand up for the poor barbers and we should stand up for our country. We should tell these barbarians we are not for sale and we are not going to be cowed down. The point of course is who amongst our leaders will do this for the ordinary people of this troubled land?
The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: email@example.com
Source: The News, 20/7/2008