Summer grapes of wrath

Masood Hasan

Columnists or hacks as I prefer to call this band of pen pushers and keyboard punchers are no great sages who can miraculously transcend the confusion and chaos of daily life and pronounce awe inspiring judgments and conclusions that makes everyone else suddenly see the light – an unfortunate turn of phrase seeing that we have none most of the time. They are buffeted about just as everyone else is, unable to predict where the next disaster is coming from and ill equipped to warn everyone to take evasive action. This of course does not prevent the many crackpots that we seem to have from holding forth on any subject under the sun and then pontificating to a growing number of confused people. These self-proclaimed visionaries soon cash in on their ‘appeal’ and are jacked up to occupy top slots where they are able to spread more confusion. The new head of PTV is an excellent example.

‘So what is happening?’ everyone wants to know as if we have any answers. ‘I don’t know’ is not an acceptable answer. Perhaps in another country, in another time and with another race, there may have been answers to share with those genuinely perplexed, but what can anyone say about Pakistan even if one had a football field of crystal glasses? Every day, every minute twists and turns at speeds to make a rogue tornado blush with embarrassment. Take five newspapers of the day, clear the dining table, spread them all face up on page one and glance from left to right, right to left, top to bottom and bottom to top. Hang on to a chair or a nearby wall because there are bright chances of being hit by a fainting fit of high magnitude. What you see because read you cannot surely, is a large number of people making endless statements about everything. One going north, one south and most going nowhere. All around us are statements and contradictions and almost all of it is bad news.

A few days before, there was this priceless gem tucked in the left armpit of the newspaper. ‘Iftikhar to return soon,’ Asif tells Geo. Hmmmm. Salt please. ‘Punjab PPP asks its MPAs to avoid CM Secretariat,’ says another blob. This pearl of wisdom was casually tossed to somnolent PPP members lolling about in Larkana Head Quarters aka Governor’s House, Lahore. In the meantime, a posse of men disguised as lawyers accompanying Uriah Heep aka Syed Mushahid ‘Mandela’ Hussain raised a question mark over Asif’s eligibility to contest the presidential election. What they did afterwards with the question mark is not known at the time of going to the press. By the way, the government cannot undo November 3 acts because Naek has said this and added that Iftikhar’s return will create a crisis. Isn’t there one on already? What does the man mean by ‘create’? And if Asif is saying half an inch away to the left of Naek that Iftikhar is returning soon, what is Naek doing contradicting him? Hmmmm. More mysterious stuff. Holmes, please hail the nearest hansom and head here. As readers hold their heads and pop two painkillers, eight deposed judges are now in repose as they have been reappointed, re-sworn in and re-confused. Maybe we should add, ‘revile, regress and redundant’ to that re-list. Since you can still get fresh vegetables, but not for a song, five Lahore High Court judges are ‘ready’ for – yes you guessed it, ‘a fresh oath.’ These are not refrigerated vegetables please note. ‘Massive load shedding sparks protest.’ It also sparks a protest from my computer in whose memory banks this blessed word, this nightmare of all Pakistanis, this final insult, does not exist. Years from now people will refer to the current generation as ‘the people of shedders.’ But there is no need to be unduly depressed because many official handouts usually referred to ‘load shedding’ as merely ‘load sharing’, another word that causes a spasm of pain in the computer.

A bunch of do-gooders the other day on one of those infernal and unending talk shows – called talk shows because people just don’t stop talking included the cast of usual suspects. Some from the past government, some from the in-between government – the ones who were supposed to be taking care of things and some from the new dispensation. They all sat and waffled. On and on the blame game went. Hardly one single fact, hardly a well-organised and coordinated in-depth look at this latest missile that’s knocked the stuffing out a nation of straw – hardly any sensible conclusion. Everyone spoke at the same time, which is another great talk show quality and results in no one being able to understand a single damn sentence even if it is two inches long. Shouting, more shouting, more heaping of blame and the rest of that educative stuff TV is so famous for. In the end it transpired that – hold your breath (if you still have any) – ‘there will be no load shedding’. Before you break out into a song and dance routine, let me be the party pooper and add, ‘during Sehri and Iftari.’ This is just about the best news I have heard since the government denied that Asif Zardari was prone to doing somersaults on the lush lawns of his many estates. Mercifully the show ran out of time and while they were still shouting, the anchor person, without an anchor I might add, shouted that time was up and faded out into blessed oblivion.

I invoke the loony show because the front page screams, ‘massive load shedding (there’s that word again) sparks protest.’ The details are out of Ripley’s Believe it or not. Nine to 16 hours’ load shedding all over, some even more. In Sahiwal as indeed in city after city, they burnt tires which added to the heat and the misery and this is two weeks after we ‘celebrated’ our independence day with the president and prime minister locked in a cheap fight, the result of which neither spelt victory of either of them or this hapless and confused nation. Singing ‘Qaumi Taranas’ is not going to bail out anyone. Yes it is a matter of supply and demand as one learned light explained it on TV the other night. The question still is – so? The power-crisis was artfully dodged by the PML-Q because it wanted to win an election at all costs, the caretakers who certainly weren’t going to put this noose around their well-fattened necks and as for the scouts who are still squabbling over who gets what, the only power that inspires them is the one they hanker for. Mr Shaukat Aziz promised clean drinking water for all by 2007. He should be brought back and made to drink from the infested pond where the bulk of Pakistan’s poor bathe their animals, wash their clothes and drink their water. The power crisis has been coming a long time. Only those who were running our lives didn’t give a damn. Now it suffocates and strangles us and this miserable summer seems without end, but in the huge chilled corridors where the rulers roam in their light weight summer suits, it is so cold that only hot cups of coffee can prevent the freeze. This disconnect is the story of Pakistan and no need for forty ‘intellectuals’ to tell us about it. As we all read or hear in stunned silence that 379 items have been slapped with 15 per cent to 50 per cent duties with immediate effect – they slapped us earlier with 20 per cent to 30 per cent increases in the 2008 to 2009 Budget, we cannot accept it because life at the top remains blissfully removed from all this mayhem down below.

Pakistan’s leadership has to lead by example. It cannot ride executive jets and luxury limos and hold their hearts in their hands because they can’t endure the pain the people are suffering. That empathy is not going to come about. Those still in doubt should see pictures of Mr Zardari’s opulent palace in Dubai, which are floating in thousands of emails across the country. Sadly we don’t even have the courage to wage a revolution against rogue governments that are heartless and cruel. If you all see a great sweep of austerity across Pakistan, enjoy the experience.
The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email:

Source: The News, 31/8/2008

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