The red that eludes us

Updated November 22, 2019

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The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

PEHLA AADMI: It is time I reminded you: the tomato is undergoing a status correction. They taught us back in third class that it is a fruit.…

Doosra Aadmi: Third standard you mean….

PA: Yeah yeah… whatever. They told us it was a fruit and a few days later, we got a gift of tomatoes packed and delivered to a patient at the hospital. That was 1975. The goodwill cost us less than a rupee.

DA: With tomatoes at Rs400 a kilo, the patients today are likely to be found next to a bunch of grapes. So out of reach, man and fruit, leaving sourness behind.

PA: Grapes? Man? This is nonsense coming from a forever suspicious common man. Can’t you let me finish….

DA: Finish what? This ode to tomatoes? Look at the bright side. Someone is making money out of it and you do not look underfed at all….

‘A critical patient ambling from Lahore to London, someone whose life was said to be in danger....’

PA: Stop! You have no business food-shaming me. It’s a national question. Pakistanis cannot live without their chicken and their tomatoes. They have some rights in this county or no…?

DA: Sorry. Rights. Yes. But surely you have been having your fill. Look, there are other topics to talk about. Maulana Fazl’s ‘Plan B’ has collapsed. The PTI government has tripped over a banana peel of its own design…

PA: Now we are in for a harangue about Imran Khan’s follies. Let him give it a try at least. He tries to reform health, doctors are upset. He seeks to introduce some decency in the media, and journalists react as if it is something that concerns them. He decides to tax shopkeepers, they angrily pull their shutters down. He makes an impassioned plea to the judiciary, and we have a judicial objection which is going to be sustained by the legally inclined.

DA: I don’t have to agree. Does this mean we are left with tomatoes as the sole subject worth our while? There are so many other debates. There is this image of the Sharifs flying off. They leave the poor Pakistani doctors to experiment on patients stuck up in the system here, until they are good enough to save lives which are worth saving.

PA: Oh please. If Allah has blessed you with money, you would want to spend it on your medical treatment. What else is money for? Take a round of the top-notch hospitals in Lahore. They are overflowing with prosperous patients willing to pay for their treatment. What do you want? That we throw out all these patients in private healthcare facilities and replace them with those who fill the space in public-sector facilities with their weakened bodies and unending complaints? We would do that if this new batch of aspiring private hospital patients could promise to pay hospital owners more than the lot you apparently believe must summarily be discharged.

DA: You paint a fancy picture of privilege and entitlement and dip it in the pathos of the ordinary and the ignored to make it look like you are speaking for the commoners. It is like exploiting two girls and their comrades to lend a revolutionary touch to Faiz 35 years after his departure from the scene.

PA: Now you are going to stir an altogether new debate. My topic was the tomato’s rising status and its repercussions on the status of a common man.…

DA: Yes ‘laal laal’. Ripe for a revolutionary. I can see through the pulp. You can’t have your elite make merry behind this façade of the red. Laal laal. Hosh thikanay — this new ‘commie tarana’ of yours to woo people to the wayward path. O bhai, people came to their senses long ago. It has taken you many years to reclaim this little space in an event named after Faiz. It is as elitist as a privileged someone going to Harley Street for a few cortisone injections. Did you see Nawaz Sharif leave Pakistan and land in England? On his feet, walking normally.…

PA: What was wrong with that?

DA: Nothing wrong? A critical patient ambling across from Lahore to London, someone whose life was said to be in danger…

PA: Well, I can only pity the ignorant with a wild imagination. I have seen patients of immune thrombocytopenic purpura. It is not that they have to go about it with an unwell man’s distant dazed look in his eyes. They can walk up to the hospital bed, no problem.

DA: Indeed. Did you see that footage of him hugging God knows how many on his way to the hospital bed you say this patient can walk up to…?

PA: So what? It is natural for one to show positive emotions when one meets friends. Mian Sahib does remember and does acknowledge. He even thanked Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and Chaudhry Shujaat for helping him go abroad for treatment…

DA: Flee the country you mean…

PA: Call it what you may but the Chaudhries know. They know since they are essential to all setups; they form the base that you must have to concoct all kind of recipes…

DA: You are losing the plot.

PA: No I am not. You have just given me an example to forward my theory about how tomato symbolises indispensible, basic and binding material in everything we do. Actually I could alternatively talk about how you can’t have a setup here without the Chaudhries of Gujrat and how the gents exist almost unnoticed up until the season when they are most sought after.

(The conversation to be continued over the next seasons of shortage of food items and surplus production and export of politicians.)

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2019