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

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