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



21 Jan, 2022

Emergency rumours

ISLAMABAD is once again in the grip of rumours. The latest issue finding traction revolves around a mysterious...
TTP attack
Updated 21 Jan, 2022

TTP attack

MONDAY night’s assault on a police party in Islamabad, which left one cop dead and two injured, marks a ...
21 Jan, 2022

Murree suspensions

ON Wednesday, the Met Office issued a red alert for more heavy snowfall in Murree over the coming weekend, and...
20 Jan, 2022

Too great a divide

THE government’s offer of talks to the opposition on electoral and judicial reforms is a welcome development in a...
Military inductees
Updated 20 Jan, 2022

Military inductees

Giving preference to military personnel for appointments in civilian roles is exposing them to unnecessary controversy.
20 Jan, 2022

Suu Kyi charges

MYANMAR’S ruling junta seems determined to spin a complicated legal web around Aung San Suu Kyi to ensure that the...