And so it came to pass that the anticipated tsunami was a belated spring breeze and not much more, bringing a small measure of relief to summer’s battered evenings. The speeches of the so-called inner coterie of the Great Khan were lack-lustre, repetitive, full of empty rhetoric that was almost as disappointing as the badly conceived whimper which ended the entire episode. The Leader himself smiled sheepishly as he looked out at the teeming thousands who had gathered to greet him, but with Great Expectations falling by the wayside, a miserable promise to invade the territory of the Great Mustachioed Man was made at the end of a faltering, fire-less address.
The fact that the Great Khan translates his English speech into Urdu, without regard to the relevance of expressions such as “woh haath mein haath hain” (they are hand in hand…) and the priceless, oft-repeated “elections chori ho gaye hain” (the elections have been stolen) still does not make his speeches riveting enough to wake up the jaded, the tired, the milling millions who really don’t care who colludes with who to steal which election; after all, the story of the lives of most Pakistanis is about theft, large and small, national and international, criminal and unforgivable.
So why is it that the rulers of the day went into overdrive to stop the dharna-varna-marna from becoming the success that it wasn’t? Why is it that the twin brothers separated by a couple of years and many miles of aptitude felt so insecure that the local administration in Punjab received instructions to stop public and private transport from plying the route between Anywhere, Somewhere and There?
Why were the license plates of private cars noted down, regardless of the fact that many of the riders within may actually have been headed to Chaklala to ensure that the wheat harvest is not drowned by unseasonal rain? Or perhaps some of them where headed for Wah Cantt to visit the Ordinance Factory or some just to picnic in the Potohar or the scenic spots at Kalar Kahar?
What was this anxiety about, this restlessness on the part of the local government in Lahore and Faisalabad, the next stop on the Route to Justice? Did the DCOs of these respective cities have nothing better on their minds than to scuttle the “Husn-i-Jamhuriat”, the Beauty of Democracy: public protest?
Here are some of the things the local government in Punjab could have been amusing itself with, had the Great Khan not appeared to be larger than life: the DCOs could have counted the trees on the Lahore and Faisalabad canals and decided which ones were to be chopped or pruned for the next elevated metro-bus highway. They could have put the local administration to worthy tasks such as raiding department stores to ensure that tomatoes were indeed being sold at the fixed rate of Rs16 per kilo on that particular day. They could have had their sanitation workers scour the ganda nalas for dacoits on the run who are known to plunge into drains when being chased by the police.
They could have ordered the arrest of 12-year-old adolescents who dare to head jirgas which are outlawed but which continue to decide the destiny of the less privileged. They could have picked up “eve-teasers” dawdling outside girl’s colleges in the hope of making eye-contact with that formidable force whom they deride with every other breath: educated girls.
But that was not the case.
Instead, the Khadim-i-Aala, the Man of Vigorous Finger, donned a Baloch turban and a Sindhi chador, and launched into a quavering speech full of platitudinous clichés: “What would the Man in Chilly Canada know about the heat of Lahore which falls on the back of the poor man who treads bare-feet on the rough road to prosperity, his back hunched over and feet blistered?” Had I not known that the entire health budget of the Punjab equaled the cost of the Jangla Bus, that other departments had to cough up their budgets to please the Master, I would allowed my eyes to brim with tears. Instead, I almost fell of the sofa laughing so hard at the sheer irony of the posturing and preening of the Khadim whose subjects largely have no idea where Canada is located on a map.
At the end of the day, when the bus company owners dared to climb out of their hidey holes, when the detritus of hubris was cleared from D-Chowk, when the Khadim had removed his garb and returned to the normal scolding and chiding of lowly minions, I switched off the telly but not before the mind-boggling shock of watching Zubeida Apa sell her soap, literally, so that all of Pakistan can become a pale, ghostly mindless mass, for if nothing else, we have a collective ability to turn truth into lies, up into down, right into wrong, and black into white without the slightest qualms of conscience.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 18th, 2014