Being susceptible to panic before examinations meant suffering from horrendous dreams about the paper the night before and a mind as blank as a blackboard in a ghost school. It may be hilarious when it happens to Mr Bean but it’s the stuff of nightmares. One tried to ease the flapping of the soul like a bird trying to escape the cage of expectations, but in hindsight there was one particular episode that really stood out in that sea of horror.  

The exam question which flummoxed one required writing an essay based on the phrase: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” How can there be change, yet there is no change? Despite wracking the brain, the logical mind refused to verify the accuracy of the phrase so one had to let it go and lose marks.

 If only one could take that paper today, how easy it would be to write an essay on that topic! Living in the Land of the Pure has truly opened one’s eyes (including the third eye) to the wisdom of the saying. Let us refer to that classic film Groundhog Day featuring Bill Murray as the misanthropic big-city weatherman who has to relive the same day over and over again when he goes to the folksy town of Punxsutawney to report on their annual Groundhog Day. A brilliant story of redemption, once Murray finds the answer within him, he is able to step out of that time loop and resume a normal life.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

 Here’s the thing. One is perpetually stuck in Groundhog Day and there is to be no redemption because who has the time to introspect and evolve? In Ramazan the same debate ensues on the spellings and pronunciation: Ramazan vs Ramadan; sehri vs sahoor; namaz vs salah; Allah Hafiz vs Khuda Hafiz, etc. One would think what’s in a name especially when it is not in your mother tongue? But the quest to become Arabicised at supersonic speed is a deadly earnest one.

One attends Quran and dars classes seated on white, pristine sheets draped over Persian carpets in the shadow of chandeliers and marvel at the tales of simplicity of the Prophet’s life. After a sumptuous iftaar, one shops at the glittering malls. After all, one has to keep up with the Joneses.

Television transmissions with the likes of the rapidly shrinking Fahad Mustafa throwing presents into the crowd who snatch them to great cheering. There are motorbikes on offer which the winners clamber on with Mustafa in the driving seat. At such times, the abaya or hijab is of no hindrance to girls in snuggling up to the TV host in the Ramazan spirit.

Amidst televangelists, there is Orya Maqbool Jan who somehow manages to juggle bureaucracy and religious instruction in any sphere known to man. As is common with all men of religion, there is an abiding interest in women and their activities.

Amidst televangelists, there is Orya Maqbool Jan who somehow manages to juggle bureaucracy and religious instruction in any sphere known to man. As is common with all men of religion, there is an abiding interest in women and their activities. Other analysts with similar proclivities discuss matters of great importance such as why the divorced Reham Khan had the audacity to attend a party at a journalist’s house before she married Imran Khan.   

Then there is Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf supremo Imran Khan executing U-turns faster than a driving instructor on a main road. Unending dharnas, party stalwarts who take pride in slapping and throwing glasses of water at opponents, lectures on morals and justice and the quest for a good wife who keeps her mouth shut. While Benazir Bhutto did not take any step without consulting her Pir, Imran Khan is dependent on his Pinky Pirni. Nawaz Sharif remains marooned in the quicksand of great expectations and mistimed manoeuvres which backfire. Back patient Musharraf is still abroad and debating when he should return to his country.  

 Family dynasties are thriving with the progeny of leaders standing for election; political parties who never hold internal elections, but insist on democracy being the best system of government for the masses. Just like being a self-proclaimed great democrat, but denying the leader who wins the election his right to become the prime minister.  

In the courts, women battle judges who reward criminals and harass victims as in the case of the valiant Khadija.  

 In the courts, women battle judges who reward criminals and harass victims as in the case of the valiant Khadija. The Chief Justice, whether Iftikhar Chaudhry or Saqib Nisar, takes suo moto notice of anything and everything and claims not to be interested in entering politics.

That only time will tell. One can only say with confidence: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The columnist is a freelance writer. 

She tweets @MaheenUsmani  Email: maheenusmani25@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, June 24th, 2018