ESCALATION being what it has become, any conversion of an Indian value must be factored proportionately for Pakistan. V.S. Naipaul’s Million Mutinies would on a Pakistani scale become a Trillion Tyrannies.
Nowhere in the world can there be a country that makes contempt for fellow countrymen a national pastime. In western countries Paki-bashing is looked down upon as a low form of discrimination. Within Pakistan, it is looked up to as a sport — classier than cricket, higher than hockey, superior to squash and infinitely more diverting than politics.
One does not have to go anywhere special to play it. It surrounds us; it permeates our personal lives; it regulates our daily routines. The only dress code for the game is a uniform.
Any uniform in Pakistan regardless of the organisation or the rank of the wearer stands for authority. One cannot drive for example along the main road of Lahore and enter its Cantonment area without being forced like sheep to pass single file through lanes, monitored by uniformed men with dark glasses and bright torches.
Their concession to modernity is an E-Pass. No one tells you where you can obtain it or why it should be necessary. It is not as if you get khaki miles for using it. Without an E-Pass, you are relegated to the line set aside for the insignificant. One wonders why no military vehicle passing through civilian areas is subjected to the same vacuous scrutiny?
The absence of a uniform here betrays inadequacy, weakness, vulnerability. One has witnessed an occasion when a colonel was called out of his office by his staff to respond to the complaint by a civilian bureaucrat whose official car with green number plates was required to undergo a roadside inspection. After an altercation that moved gradually into higher decibels of outrage, the colonel challenged the bureaucrat: “Don’t you realise that you are speaking to a man in uniform?” To which the suited, booted bureaucrat replied: “I am also in uniform. The only difference between them is the colour. Yours is khaki, and mine is grey.”
To see an endless array of uniforms, one needs to buy a ticket to anywhere outside Pakistan. That admits one to a catwalk display that the Franco-Pakistani designer Mehmood Bhatti would give a page of his French passport for. The Airport Security Force at the gate wants to see your travel documents. It helps if you show them the right way up. Next, the Anti-Narcotics Force wants a look at the same papers. Then the Pakistan Customs assuages its interest.
Before you can join the line of fellow passengers to check in, someone from PIA checks the passport and it is examined again at the check-in counter. It is scrutinised at the immigration counter by the Federal Immigration Authority before it is stamped, and after that pored over by someone also from the FIA to confirm that it has been stamped. That is at least seven separate stations of the cross, with no hope of redemption for unperformed sins.
Islamabad airport is a separate sort of cavalry. It has undergone more changes in name than it has had facelifts. Every facility was designed to handle a population of air-travellers before we discarded the five-child policy. It is easier to find a future soul-mate in Benazir Bhutto International airport than a porter. Anyone with an arm and a trolley will take your luggage past any number of checkpoints with impunity, charge whatever he commands, and pocket the amount that should go to whichever uniformed organisation should be providing that service. It is extortion, often without a smile.
To visit where laughter no longer calls is to go to any office of any of the distribution companies — Pesco in Peshawar, Hesco in Hyderabad, Fesco in Faisalabad and Lesco in Lahore. The outer gates are locked to discourage prospective customers. Complainants have to smuggle themselves in using a name of a senior officer, or failing all else, the magic word ‘sesame’.
One moves gradually up the bureaucratic ladder of which many rungs are missing — someone had not come in as yet, another is attending a funeral of an aunt he rarely met and a third is in a meeting with the fourth. The issue is last month’s bill, inflated like the officer’s ego, beyond justifiable grounds. The huge arrears are because the meter inspection showed that the meter was ‘running slow’ because one phase has stopped. But the meter is put there by Lesco; the supply of phases is by Lesco; the meter-reading is by a Lesco employee; the inspector is a Lesco man. No argument was convincing enough.
Eventually the breakthrough was a concession by the consumer that in future he would wear his wedding ring on his right hand, not his left hand, because that was in line with the Sunnah. Multiply that sort of tyranny by every minute of every day of every month by 180 million Pakistanis, and you will arrive at a total close to a trillion.
Will our country move from the Dark Age of Tyranny to the Middle Age of Mutiny? Will anyone regardless of gender become a Pakistani Rosa Parks (the Afro-American who refused to give up her place for a white passenger in an Alabama bus), and refuse to obey orders because they go against the law of natural justice? Or must we reconcile ourselves to being bullied by fellow Pakistanis in any uniform — regardless of colour, race or creed — because they know no better?
Those of us old enough to know better may be forgiven for siding with Napoleon who himself rose from the middle class. He once said: “The most insupportable of tyrannies is that of inferiors.”
The writer is an author.