By Ross Chacha
Pakistan’s politics repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce. So, while you may initially be inclined to shed tears over it, a better reaction, I humbly suggest, might be to enjoy the absurdities for what they are. It is the greatest comic show, better than anything you could find on Netflix. And it certainly will take your mind off the weepfests that pass for drama on our entertainment channels.
Don’t believe me? Look up what any government ever in Pakistan has said about the state of the economy it has inherited from their predecessors. Put another way, nobody ever came into power extolling the virtues and financial brilliance of the people they replaced. Sometimes I feel we only have coups, summary dismissals of elected governments and engineered elections in order for an age-old tradition to be fulfilled, almost as if too long a period of stability would upset the space-time continuum in which Pakistan’s economic position can be periodically categoriSed as ‘fragile’. And we are nothing without our traditions.
This is, of course, not to say that we’ve had any geniuses running our economy in the past. I mean, if there’s one thing nobody has ever accused Ishaq Dar of, it’s genius.
This year, in order to fulfil the demands of tradition and to illustrate just how precarious a position we were in, we auctioned off some cars and buffaloes. This may not have made a dent in the economy but it did speed up the elevation of Minister of State Murad Saeed into a full minister. Mr Saeed has a reputation for speed anyway, first acquired in the examination hall where he managed to take three (or was it five?) exams at the same time, but he reinforced it this year by attempting to osmose through a glass door. Nobody begrudges him his nose for speedy shortcuts.
As if that were not enough, to reinforce that we are passing through uncertain economic times, we managed to destroy thousands of markets and livelihoods across Pakistan in the name of anti-encroachment drives. Because nothing helps revive the economy better than lots of people out of work and pocket. As long as it’s not well-heeled encroachers setting up housing societies for the well-heeled.
On the flip side, the government announced cheap helicopter rides and the premier told us about chickens and eggs, phantom gas which could power Pakistan for 50 years or not at all, and Chinese trains running at the speed of light. The latter, if the principles of physics are anything to go by, would result in time flowing backwards — which might not be the best of things for Naya Pakistan but would certainly help in putting us on the path to greatness, since the road to greatness is apparently paved with U-turns. Ask Hitler or Napoleon if you have any doubts.
But if the government’s material is ever lagging, we always have the opposition to take up the slack. Is there anything funnier than Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Jamaat-i-Islami’s Siraj ul Haq struggling to remain relevant? One keeps trying to organise ‘All-Party’ Conferences that nobody attends, the other rains fire and brimstone about a previous government he was part of, hoping nobody notices. Then we have Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif whose biggest concern seems to be how to adopt his famous one-finger-on-his-cheek pose while shuttling between prison and parliament. His apparent hope is that if he were to keep not saying anything remotely critical of the establishment, that he will be allowed to adopt his favourite pose in the future.
Meanwhile, brother Nawaz Sharif seems to be on a Monopoly board, where he owns Mayfair thanks to some rather generous Qataris but keeps drawing the ‘Go to Jail – Do Not Pass Go’ card. If nothing else, this year offered Pakistanis a geography lesson about the significance of little old Panama. Asif Zardari on the other hand, has maintained his reputation for saying things that only make it worse. This year the former president of the Islamic Republic wondered what the problem was in creating fake bank accounts. He called it “normal business practice.” And he also called an alleged killer of more than 400 people in fake police encounters “a brave kid.” While others tell each other to ‘get real’, Zardari opts for ‘get surreal.’
If you still want more, I can point you in the direction of Canadians and Egyptians who’ve had their Twitter accounts threatened for allegedly contravening Pakistani narratives while Pakistani sleuths rise to the challenge of mythical 5th Generation Warfare with hammer and tongs in hand.
But in terms of ratings, no show this year has beat The Dam Show. We may never reach the longed-for funding target through crowdfunding and random enforced contributions by land-grabbers hoping to have their cases quashed, but at least we got good memes out of it.
The writer is a pseudonym
How does one deal with the absurdities that often characterised the past year? Perhaps by laughing at them. Eos recruited some notable humourists to cast a satirical look back at 2018...
The Big, Fat Weddings
This year has been great for celebrities who got married. We are way more excited to see their wedding pictures releasing than their movies. And celebrities definitely know how to cash in on even their weddings. Who would know that better than DeepVeer who had their wedding in Italy — which seemed more like a top secret mission where guests were not allowed to take any pictures because the couple was going to make the official release themselves. And boy, how we waited for those pictures! Good thing that their family didn’t ruin it for them. If it was my khandan, they would be the first ones to leak the pictures kyun ke kisi ki khushi bardasht nahi hoti.
This year, three fellow comedians got married too, probably just so they have more material for their stand-up. I mean I’d do that too in case I think I’m running out of jokes.
Actor/comedian Faiza Saleem got married — you heard it right, Danger Dadi is off the market. She was seen making a grand entrance with her Dhinchak moves on her mehndi. But I guess people wanted to talk more about Jibran Nasir for his killer moves to a Govinda song. You really don’t get to see that every day. After watching that, we definitely need Jibran for president!
Then came the Wedding of Endless Events: #Aineeb’s wedding, which sounded like a third person named Aineeb was getting married. I think someone might want to check if there are any more events left, like ‘The First Time He Took Me To Dinner’ event.
Then, Amir Liaquat jumped on the bandwagon but he didn’t have too many events because the Second Time Round a person doesn’t make the mistake of spending too much on their wedding. But Liaquat definitely made the most of post-wedding public appearances on TV morning shows. And who better to cash in on that than morning shows. The highlight of his marriage has been his wife calling him (pyar se) ‘Panther’ … after which the jungle kingdom started a protest. Yeah, you might want to take consent from the animal before you start calling your significant other after it.
How can we not include the Bollywood–Hollywood milan courtesy Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas, where people made beautiful memes of Priyanka’s dress looking like pencil shavings. I haven’t watched Game of Thrones so I don’t know any Sophie Turner jokes. Sorry if I’m missing out on that.
Then came the Grand Ambani wedding where we saw what ‘Paisa phaink tamasha dekh’ literally means. Beyonce was flown down to India to perform at the wedding. I guess that was the best present for all the bride’s single friends; they could shake to ‘Single Ladies’ and not feel like they’re missing out on getting hitched this year. It was a celebrity-packed wedding, where we saw Salman Khan and Ranbir Kapoor not in the limelight but just down to background dancers, and where Aishwariya Rai and Aamir Khan served food. Seeing all this, I guess they booked Imran Hashmi for the wedding night just to fill up the background.
But the year is about to end and, with it, so is the wedding season. Can’t wait for the next wedding season — because who doesn’t love dressing up, dancing to Bollywood songs and eating free food! And, oh, stalking celebrities’ wedding photos.
The writer is a stand-up comedian, theatre actor and part of the improv group Khawatoon.
She tweets @NataliaBaghdadi
FREE AT LAST
By Farid Alvie
For the first time in our history, we are witnessing the blessed and festive days of December bring this year to a close. With the last vestiges of 2018 becoming vapour as a result of the warmth generated by the unprecedented levels of goodwill, bonhomie and camaraderie permeating our entire nation, we bow in gratitude to those whose sagacity and wisdom have brought us to this magnificent pass (once again).
This national euphoria is making its presence felt in a myriad ways, chief among them being the total, utter and complete freedom to express one’s opinion. Citizens, especially those belonging to the print, electronic and social media, can’t believe their luck. Journalists have never felt this free and liberated. In fact, many have felt so free that they have gone and involuntarily liberated themselves from their jobs, columns, television shows and Twitter accounts. Chants of “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” have been ringing ceaselessly from press clubs across our glorious republic.
I, for one, can’t breathe with excitement. Gone are the days when one would think twice — or even three or four times — before running a potential story idea by one’s editor to gauge their feedback and approval. Fortunately, we now live in a different world. The strength and confidence true freedom gives one is indescribable. There is no stopping me now when I consider story ideas that have a profound and lasting impact on the political and social fabric of our society… ideas which demand answers to deep, important, even searing questions, such as:
• What do state-owned buffaloes think of being auctioned?
• How does owning a green Samsung phone cover impact the social lives of women named Zubaida Bano?
• How many Anjums does it take to change a light bulb?
• Do some people from South Waziristan shun mainstream media because they are Amish? Or does the mainstream media shun them because it is Amish?
• Is the light of speed brighter than the sound of silence?
• When will braided beards become a trend among Generation Xers?
• Do the wealthy and powerful have a conscience? And if so, what planet do they keep it on?
• Why are red M&Ms better than all other M&Ms?
• Why must we look both ways before going to bed?
• Who do you think stole your lunch money in grade 4?
• Does the establishment know you are rebelling against it when you wear loud, multi-coloured socks?
• How much sohan halwa does your expatriate khala buy when the rupee is unexpectedly devalued?
• What would it take to get Supreme Court advocates to wear red pants in court?
• How many cups of water does it take to fill up a dam?
• Can auctioned, second-hand cars be turned into universities?
• Is it true that 75 percent of female penguins in Antartica are addicted to ice?
• How many calories does positive reporting burn in a day?
The significance of these (and other such) stories will become clear in the coming new year. One’s free, completely unencumbered, liberty-laden shall dance with glee and speak with abandon of everything one’s mortal heart desires. From braided beards and light of speed to Amish Waziristanis and cups of dam, 2019 appears a year that is destined to set our media free and rid it of the unnecessary accoutrements of credibility, import and veracity. Inshallah!
To quote from hazrat George Michael’s 1990 hit single Freedom:
“All we have to do now, us take these lies and make them true somehow.”
Farid Alvie was born. He currently lives.
He tweets @faridalvie
Journalists have never felt this free and liberated. In fact, many have felt so free that they have gone and involuntarily liberated themselves from their jobs, columns, television shows and Twitter accounts. Chants of “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” have been ringing ceaselessly from press clubs across our glorious republic.
Anti-establishment journalism isn’t what it used to be. You would have noticed the whining of the anti-establishment journalists/activists about censorship and jobs, etc. The whole revolutionary glamour associated with going against establishment is rapidly diminishing. Also, many have stopped drinking to slow ageing. Now even the anti-establishment types want to live longer, look younger, make more money and have a secure life. I have started to suspect that it’s so much easier to just become pro-establishment instead of treading this thin line. This, then, is my first attempt at positive reporting: a round-up of 2018 news.
We got to know this year that 75 percent of female students of schools in Islamabad are addicted to ice. This is such great news because ever since Breaking Bad, the Lyari-maarka adulterated crystal meth called sheesha was selling for 3000 rupees a gram. So, many students affording that or more means our per capita income isn’t as bad as some would make us believe. Also, the fact put paid to the gender discrimination nonsense because in comparison a paltry 45 percent of boys are using the drug.
This year also brought the anti-establishment and pro-establishment forces to the same page over anything. While, the two groups have traditionally struggled to agree on what kind of a state we want to be, with what sort of relations with which country, there’s finally agreement over the need to be united against the Higher Education Commission, since it took so long to attest young Mazari’s degrees, upsetting mother and daughter alike.
While ICC is well within its right to go after users of performance enhancing drugs, it always puzzled the more sensitive souls what its beef was with recreational drugs. At most it should concern a country’s board if a player is underperforming because of drugs. I too was of this view, but 2018 proved how wrong I was when Ahmed Shehzad got caught in a random dope test and remained banned throughout the year.
This year was a godsend for op-ed editors of the country. The censorship and positive reporting thing worked for them like a charm. All the boring op-ed pieces which they couldn’t refuse, because either they were by ‘senior’ journalists or sons thereof, now are respectfuly told their piece can’t be published because of its explosive content. Later, when it gets published on some website with a note that this couldn’t make it to the newspaper because of draconian censorship, it works beautifully for all parties: the writer, by massaging his ego, and the reader who gets to know in advance that the piece is a dud.
The WWE wrestlers not only visited Pakistan twice this year but also went to the Wagah border once and chanted ‘Pakistan zindabad’ along with the passionate crowd. Some of them allegedly also hurled abuses at the Indian soldiers. This was a resounding slap on the face of people who thought we were facing isolation in the world.
After the acrimonious general elections, and the bad taste in the mouth of many when the party head of the (now) opposition party was incarcerated, the ruling party and opposition displayed great sportsmanship by supporting each other when a minority member of parliament attempted to table a bill to ban liquor across-the-board since no religion (including his own) permitted consumption of alcohol. The ruling and the opposition parties, in a beautiful and bipartisan display of tolerance for minority religions, voted the bill down without debate.
Earlier this year, when the dollar price hiked in the previous government’s term, Miftah Ismil, the then finance minister, had said that it would help our export. It’s heartening to see that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, after coming into power, is continuing with the better policies of the last government.
This was a particularly good year in many other respects too. Sadly, the word limit doesn’t allow me to go any further. Can’t wait for 2019.
The writer is a singer/songwriter, journalist and a documentary-maker.
He runs the vlog ‘Ali Uncensored‘ on YouTube
By Haseeb Asif
Hi, how are you? I’m doing well too. Should we start, or would you like some water? Okay then.
So I’m sure you heard that earlier this year a very famous musician was accused of sexual harassment. It was very damaging to his career, the poor guy is doing Mobilink ads now, I feel so bad for him.
Then a teacher was accused. Then an artist. Then another teacher. Then a women’s hockey team coach. Last year it was a cricket selector. You get the idea. Women are calling out every man they meet for harassment.
Now I’m not a misogynist but, if this goes on unchecked, there will be no men left to work with. All men cannot possibly be sexual harassers. Certainly not me. I’ve never harassed a woman. I don’t even know how to spell the word.
I have so many female friends. They’ve never said anything.
Who said that? On what group? Well that’s not right. I am very cordial with them. And I don’t know about everyone else, but my mother is a woman too. As is my sister. As are my colleagues.
So? I have a crush on a colleague, yes. No, I just follow her on Twitter. And Instagram. And Facebook. Wait, not Facebook. She never accepted my friend request. I wonder why. She probably doesn’t log in very often.
Er, the what the who now? It’s because I make her uncomfortable? What are you talking about. Did she tell you this? What else?
I sit too close to her in meetings? I’m always right behind her waiting for the coffee machine? But it’s because there’s a very small area at the office. Often you have to squeeze past someone.
This personal space idea is such a hipster obsession. When I was growing up, anyone could sit wherever they wanted. Well no, they couldn’t sit ON someone. How is that relevant? Look if you’re there to make money you should be professional about these things. It’s like they say, naukeri ki tou nakhra kya.
Haha, what! I’m always asking to share her lipstick-laden cigrattes? Well, sometimes, but I always forget my pack at home. Is that a crime now?
You should read some of the other opinions too not just feminists’. Many of our public intellectuals have noted how confusing sexual harassment can be. Like Hamza Ali Abbasi. He tweeted to ask isn’t this the same thing as flirting? After all where does one draw the line? What was that, on the woman in question? So very funny. Not.
Don’t you see how it’s confusing. You have a few drinks, are relaxing on the sofa and suddenly find yourself in the neighbour’s house grabbing someone’s something or the other. It happens.
It’s all harmless, isn’t it? A friendly caress, a few whispered words of appreciation. Other than subjecting someone to bad breath, where’s the harm in that?
If I see someone who’s dressed a certain way I know she’s out to have fun and flirt a little. It’s just casual. That’s why I always end up asking her if she sees us having kids together.
And who’s to say she doesn’t enjoy the attention? Certainly not the woman herself. What would she know, she’s not a man. I think. I hope.
Next thing you know, you’ll be telling me it’s not okay to comment on her dress at the work place. Or ask her to wear black nailpolish, because it suits her. To tell her to dress more feminine. Make her stay at work late to chit chat. Insist she sit next to me in the car, discussing how feminists are ruining society these days.
These women who want to be equal with men but can’t take the stress that comes with it. Sitting behind a desk all day ordering tea, then complaining about how bad it’s made then send a man to go get some biscuits. The worst days are when I have to sign things without reading them.
Also ... oh, sorry, was that my hand on your knee. The chair is just so deceptively close to me. I’ll sit back down instead of hovering over it. By the way, you should come to my dinner next week. You won’t need to bring anyone along, you know most of the people there.
Flirting is healthy, isn’t it? Well, no, not that kind of healthy. You can’t lose weight by flirting.
You know what I mean, you meet a lady and she’s super attractive and she comes close to greet you and you let your hand linger on her back for a few minutes. Even when she walks into another room. Any room. Other than the restroom. I’m not a pervert.
Basically, women should have thicker skins. No, not like a labourer’s hands. Then you lose your feminity...femininty ... am I saying this right? Anyway, smooth and supple skin but thick on the inside. I know there’s no skin on the inside. I’m trying to make a point here.
Would I be okay with my sister flirting with someone? Well, no, but that’s different. I would worry that she meets the wrong kind of guy. Like me? Oh, come on, I’m a perfect gentleman. Oh, sorry, there’s the hand again.
Do you think men should start a #MeToo as well? Like the ones who are unjustly accused?
You do??? Oh, you mean for the men who HAVE harassed a woman. Like: I did it. Me too.
I don’t think I’ve gotten through to you at all. Say why don’t you drop by the house later tonight and we can discuss it over some wine? Sound good? Hello, why are you walking away? Does this mean a no?
Okay, we’ll forget the wine and just watch some movies. I wonder what’s gotten into her. She’s the best therapist I’ve had. It’s her own office she’s walking out of.
Really like this chair...
The writer is a freelance journalist.
He tweets @haseebasif
Published in Dawn, EOS, December 30th, 2018