OPINION | IDIOCRACY*

If ever there were loud-mouthed arm chair warriors anywhere, we, the Pakistanis would definitely take place of state. We take glowing pride in having a (re)sound(ing) opinion about everything under the sun. From the state of our own politics (our most favourite Topic of Rants) to how India should conduct itself within and without its borders, right down to how the emancipated Pakistani female should laugh in public – they’ve already unashamedly ripped through the first part of the sacred social canon of “not being seen, nor being heard” and now to actually hear them having a good time publicly! Qiyamat ki nishani hai bhaiyon! (1)

But i digress, as i tend to do when the feminist within kicks in. The point is that in our closeted but unceasing admiration of the West, we have taken to exercising their First Amendment rights to a whole new local level; Article 19, its Pakistani constitutional counterpart with its myriad crippling pre conditions, be damned! We have, over time, and encouraged by consecutive unscrupulous, corrupt governments, made voicing any kind of an opinion, synonymous with unrelenting whinging and griping. This antagonistic view has indeed, also been sublimely perpetuated by our overly-seasoned politicos. This intrepid lot, in their unceasing efforts at survival, have about-faced so many times keeping with the widely opposing mandates of varied administrations, that to transform a previously defended sacramental truth into current State treason, takes but a heartbeat….and of course the quintessential quality to be passionately gloomy. This has unerringly and copiously helped to paint an overall negative picture of the Republic, many times less maligning facts notwithstanding.

Our elected leaders are like the communal Fathers of the State (if you see an insidious pun in that, i rest my case). And to emulate ones paternal elders especially, is considered a righteous duty in our part of the world. So it is quite unremarkable that the Pakistani body politic following their administrative patriarchs, regurgitates as terrifying a mix of factual and concocted postulations as their varied and many social interactions allow.

A recent example is the PIA pilots’ fake licenses issue that has blown up not only on our own beleagured soil but indeed globally. (As of now, our national carrier has been banned from a number of international destinations for at least the next 6 months). The truth of the matter is far from what meets the eye or what has made the news. Pakistani pilots traditionally, have been some of the best internationally and have not only trained their foreign counterparts but have also served to defend allied states through skilful surgical strikes (PAF pilots led successful, course-altering air strikes against LTTE* bases in 2008 during the Sri Lankan civil war).

The current May 2020 tragedy, while definitely requiring its own set of accountability and remedial measures, has been wrongfully used to malign the entire Pakistani commercial pilots’ fraternity based on erroneous hyperbole in the constant battle of our inept administration to pass on the buck. Political knee jerk, self preservation tactics have always included gross exaggeration of our shortcomings, and in this particular case that penchant has exploded in the most self defeating manner on the international stage when Pakistan is already grappling with copious other negative press.

We may be a nation weighed down by the cumulative incompetence of decades of self serving administrations, but in the larger picture, we are still an independent nation that has survived the turbulence of wars, refugees, lost opportunities and foreign right wing religious subterfuge. There are nations, at least as beset by fate and circumstance if you will; but there is an unwritten national ethical code that the last man on the street follows – in some books it is referred to as Basic Patriotism. We, the Pakistanis have it all backwards: we will always criticise our own when we can; we will dutifully pull the carpet from under our brethrens’ feet if it served to make our individual purpose minutely better; we will glorify gross tradition and quell any semblance of social advancement; we will shamelessly, consistently antagonise, sensationalise, politicise and demonise.

The truth of the matter is that the global community is not in the mood to give magnanimous benefits of the doubt or even indulgent hoists up from the knotty quagmires created by incompetent domestic governments and juvenile societies. A rap on the knuckles is swiftly followed by a myriad organised aggravations that the whole nation is then subjected to from the international collective. These range from crippling trade and travel bans, to the as yet unrecognised psychological effects of being “eternally marginalised”.

The pithy lesson here is that we, the Pakistani citizenry, need to exercise a little more pride or even just forbearance vis a vis our collective nationhood, and indulge in just a little less irresponsible State related defamation and slander. We are already sliding down the slippery sluiceway of “black listed/ high risk” nations. We then, as the body politic can and must do our part even if it is simply to make overall Discretion the better part of Valor in our daily societal interactions.

The ask is considerable, agreed, as we sit comfortably ensconced in our living room sofas, probably suffused in a euphoric post-Nihari* stupor, when the tongue is loose and the ethics looser. But we owe that bit of restraint to our much bedevilled country and the few cogs of our unwieldy administrative wheel that are still trundling away in honest enterprise.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Idiocracy: title taken from a 1996 dystopia movie directed by Mike Judge

(1) – “An indication that the end of the world is nigh, my brothers!”

*LTTE: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was a Tamil militant organisation that was based in northeastern Sri Lanka.

*Nihari: A stew from the Indian subcontinent consisting of slow-cooked meat, along with the bone marrow; mainly the shank meat of beef, lamb or mutton.

REFLECTION|Something’s Gotta Give

“Now is the winter of our discontent, Made more [in]glorious by this son of [New]York”* or by the son of any other metropolis anywhere else in the world really. The onset of the third decade of the 21st century has become a tipping point for humanity on so many fronts. All grim reminders of where we have chosen to be in our social, spiritual and ideological journeys. And our reflections in the grand old cosmic mirror are far from being reassuring, appealing or inspiring. We have insensibly, doggedly stretched the limits of our humanity and one can’t help but wonder that something’s gotta give.

The unrelenting sequence of chaotic events that has befallen our little blue planet in the last six months has been almost eerie in its timing, tenacity and reach: From the bacillus extremis doing its plunderous tread around the globe, to inexplicable, calamitous plane crashes, to catastrophic bushfires, wildfires and devastating floods, to the snarling, salivating maws of colourism, racism and ethnicism finally distending wide enough to drag entire nations into their ugly depths. The annihilation of our collective psyche such as it is, continues unabated as our benumbed, handicapped spirits slowly awaken to the fact that there may be a deeper essential meaning to all this disruption and carnage. But Existential perspectives can also go two ways; a pawn-in-the-hands-of-fate approach where we remain gripped in our current status quo, or to take that leap of faith and hold up a mirror to ourselves to see the mere wraiths of humanity that we have become. It is a difficult choice, because “better the illusions that exalt us than ten thousand truths”.*

The way i see it though, (and the cringe-worthiness of cliches be damned!) is that the truth shall set us free! We are arguably at the end of an epoch; in fact by most counts, we’ve overstayed our welcome. If this then, is the beginning of the end, let us make it count. Let us listen to the voice of our collective humanity and do what we instinctively know to be right. Let us do away with the concept of the “Billionnaire” – the person who cannot possibly spend his fortune in his lifetime. Let us do away with Monopolies which bolster a few by disenfranchising a million others. Let us do away with Unhindered Profitability which bankrolls some and indentures/ encumbers a billion others. Let us do away with divisive religion, pernicious doctrines and archaic institutions. Let us rip asunder everything we have known to be “true” for the last 5 centuries.

I have a funny feeling in my bones, and it has nothing to do with the weather or the inept clairvoyance born of our disenchanting world. It is like the low frothing of a tsunami, the premonition of something big and dangerous just over the horizon, the portentousness of being changed forever.

Yes, it feels very much like something’s gotta give.

It feels very much like it’s time to start over.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Quote adapted from Shakespeare’s play “Richard III”

*Quote from Alexander Pushkin.

OPINION|The Reluctant Martyrs

The “ill-fated” Pakistan International Airlines flight of May, 2020

As this pandemic rages on, the truth of things, the bare bones architecture of our flawed sensibilities and ethics are rattling like so many skeletons in our collective closet. It is almost an embarassemnt to be a part of the human species in this, our very own alternate Earth reality. Yes, it helps to believe that there are other universes where our little blue planet is faring copiously better on all human levels!

And so i feel constrained to give my two bits worth on the tragedy that befell scores of families who lost loved ones in the “ill fated” PIA commercial flight en route from Lahore to Karachi on May 23rd, 2020.

“Ill fated” – words full of the promise of a clean getaway; of insidious lies; of crass insensitivity; of cruel heartlessness; of passing the buck. Words that are used as copiously and as mindlessly as are the sacrosanct verses intoned 5 times every day to the Almighty. Somewhere along the way, our inner voice, our conscience- our very humanity was cast off as a burdensome, inconvenient companion, while the optically grandiose rites and rituals have marched stridently along with us through the ages.

Worse than the Covid 19 pandemic, is the ethical and moral pandemic ravaging our humanity, our sense of community and our work ethic. We have become insensible to all manner of injustice, lack of incumbency and the flagrant flouting of any semblance of a civic sense. We have lost not only our capacity for, but also our moral awareness of what it means to be compassionate, dutiful and responsible.

Worse than the tragedy of the event itself is the tragedy that there will be no definitive, resolute consequences to this incidence. It has already been accredited to fate and martyrdom and therein lies the sum total of the analysis, diagnosis and fix of a catastrophe that killed close to a 100 people, leaving families – children, parents, siblings, friends and relatives, bereft and shattered.

I can’t help but compare the almost negligible call to some kind of answerability in this calamitous incidence to the recent case of Dominic Cummings, Chief Advisor to the British PM. The man stepped out during the lockdown to seek childcare for his 4 year old son while both he and his wife were displaying Covid symptoms; an act that’s arguably open to some manner of interpretation as per the country’s Lockdown guidelines. And so, they could have/ might have exposed the public to the infection. There was no actual death or destruction wreaked; but the mere probability of harm embodied in the act of leaving his home during lockdown, was a culpable offence. Cummings was consequently subjected to a harrowing series of brutal questions, loud clamours for accountability and insistent calls for justice and even his dishonourable discharge by the state, the media and the body politic at large. While we, the self proclaimed stalwarts of our faith and of its copious prescripts on “Huqooq-ul-Ibad*”, have summarily dismissed a 100 fatalities as yet another act of God. The God that we are so adept at putting front and centre of all our duplicitous, corrupt and brutish actions.

Maybe if the state institutions, our political overlords and the general powers that be, began to think of this nation, first and foremost, as a Republic of Humankind rather than a bubbling, imploding cauldron of divisions and differences, there would be some hope for our humanity. And since we’re all such champions of liturgy, labels and nomenclature, maybe this change in our national identity would also have a more profound impact on how we conduct ourselves socially and morally. And maybe, just maybe, this vicious cycle of ‘copious cause and no personal consequences’ will break to allow just a little more conscience, answerability and justice to pervade the various “ill-fated” streams of our lives.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Huqooq-ul-Ibad: the responsibility/ duty every Muslim owes to the rest of his fellow beings, regardless of the others’ faith or spiritual leaning.

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