Some idea of the frivolity that now marks most of what passes for leadership these days has been the utterly absurd tug of war that has been going on for about a month between which of the two, the president or the prime minister, would officially celebrate the nation’s independence day. The PM wanted the function to be held at the Prime Minister’s House while the president wanted it at the Aiwan-e-Sadar. Somewhere along this ridiculous road to nowhere, the PM decided that there was an austerity drive that he had officially launched, evidence of which is just about as visible as the sight of Yeti at a village carnival, and because the new powers are serious about austerity, the Prime Minister’s House has cancelled the function. However, since it is not raining austerity at the Presidency, there were no such boring compulsions to consider, so the song and dance routine, the awarding of hundreds of medals and the tinsel glitter and the pathetic pomp were on full display. Along the way, the national flag was unfurled, but like many years now for his personal security reasons, the 14th August Parade cannot be held outdoors, so this atrophied function was held indoors. Symbolically, each year when the flag is unfurled, it falls down like a limp sock. Inspiring stuff. Perhaps the Chinese ambassador could have been kind and shown the organisers of the limp flag ceremony how the Chinese made their flag flutter the other day in Beijing by assembling one with small fan motors that swung into motion and “flew the flag” gaily as thousands cheered. But that’s the Chinese and they are a nation. And what are we? Certainly no longer a nation.
As I write the weekly drivel, it is the 14th of August, which not without surprise I learnt a few years back is not the actual date of our independence, but why get into that. There is enough confusion here already to confound an entire galaxy, and we are just an impoverished country which has steadily eroded all its principles, whatever they once were, allowing greed, avarice, pettiness, corruption and sycophancy to be our guiding principles.
The nation is passing through a critical time, most newspaper editorials will tell you, but then what’s new? This nation has always been passing through critical times other than the times when it was tripping up on its own wobbly feet and falling into a befuddled heap. Not much to choose between both exalted states. Just about everything has fallen to pieces and we cannot start picking them up because there are simply too many of them.
What can symbolise a nation’s complete collapse than this ridiculous schoolboy tussle over holding the 14th of August pantomime? It simply illustrates that the men and women who ride to the top, on the shoulders of the smelly proletariat or atop an American-gifted tank, are basically shallow, immature and frivolous. Where are those highly-paid think-tanks and top brains of the country, other than the indefatigable General Qureshi who will be the last one at the Alamo, those whose job it is to instil some good sense into the empty heads of our leaders? Was there no single person of any integrity who could look the Top Commando in the eye and say, ‘Sir, this business is now embarrassing. You should gracefully let the function take place at the Prime Minister’s House and be done with it.’ ” The answer we all know and it is not even written on the wind.
Our leaders are empty vessels and their advisers take buffoonery and blind sycophancy to another level. Contrary to any sane or sensible or halfway- decent advice, they would speak as one voice and thunder support for the president and hurl curses upon those who oppose him. The same people will cite chapter and verse to establish that they are offering sterling advice. It is a great formula because the tin-pot dictator with dented sides will rise to the appropriate level of ridiculousness, buoyed by the great volumes of gas that Their Excellencies produce to keep the theatre of the absurd going ahead full steam. It’s a turf war and the president has won it, so bully for him. In fact, PTV, led by a man who could only be produced by a country like ours and then rocketed to the top slot for hosting a show of great mediocrity, gleefully prepared two separate sets for the pantomime. One outdoors if all terrorists within 100 miles had been eliminated by the night of the 13th and the other one indoors in case the former didn’t happen. Rain, of course, is also cited as the reason. So here is austerity for you, dressed up with potatoes and gravy, two sets instead of one. PTV’s chief set designer, who obviously has little serious work to do, gave wings to his unfettered imagination and was bound to produce a glitzy set that did justice to the solemn occasion as the medallists and the grovelling bureaucrats, the vermin VIPs and their like, solemnly held their hands over their black hearts and sang the national anthem. The president could even have been expected to shed a tear or two.
My driver said to me on Wednesday as we entered water that submerged our headlights on one of Lahore’s glitzy boulevards – thank you WASA; we are impressed – that he couldn’t see the point of celebrating 14th of August. “What are we celebrating?” he asked me. “I have no idea,” I said, which of course didn’t help matters too much. Far be it for the likes of me to list down the calamities that have us trussed up like a thief after an unsuccessful heist – we all know that damned list, of wheat and flour and oil and sugar and the dozens of items of daily use, all of which are spiralling up at a speed that would even impress NASA. There is no relief for the poor. They haven’t had a break since 1947. The only saving grace is that tomorrow, today’s prices would look better. Our industries are over, our Stock Exchange has more hiccups than a drunk skunk, our law (lawless) and order (orderless) situation is barrelling along on its own, suicide hits are just as commonplace as declarations of fiery independence, someone has stolen the writ of the state and skipped the border, our neighbours are increasingly angry with us, most areas are no-go areas now. Last week the only bridge between Gilgit-Hunza (and China) has started to fall apart and in Moon Market on Wednesday night in Lahore’s Allama Iqbal Town (remember him?) they were not waving Pakistan flags but collecting body parts of yet more civilians who are paying the price of our government’s flawed policies. There is nothing to celebrate. 14th of August should be a day of deep and undisturbed reflection on who we were and what we have become, but I think we are no longer capable of such reflection. This is one mirror we cannot look into.
How appropriate, then, as the president pins medals by the score on puffed up chests, to learn that Mr Mushahid Mandela Hussain who suffered grievously just as Mr Mandela did and who has sat on the right side of whoever holds the whip, should tell this nation that as he exits, President Musharraf should resign, undo the NRO and restore the judges! What a man this Mr Hussain is!
The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: email@example.com
Source: The News, 17/8/2008