THE Promised Land is within sight.
Shimmering on the horizon, it beckons the believers to shuffle ahead one step at a time with hungry eyes fixated on the ephemeral prize. “There it is,” howl desperate voices as they crane their necks and point with lethargic glee. “There it is.”
It is there indeed. Here, there and somewhere, within sight but beyond reach. Peer into the confines of infinity, sniff at the air of resigned hope, feel the contours of lengthening shadows, and imagine the gradual unfurling of endless possibilities. Ah! To be alive in times like these and submerge oneself in the radiance of dizzy anticipation.
There is magic in the air.
But what kind of magic? The one that conjures up things from thin air? And then makes them vanish in a puff of smoke? The wonderment of such enchantment is truly heady for citizens dying to believe in something, anything — anyone. In the land we live hence, time is upon us to believe. But can you believe in magic?
In the government, many do. Look at the colossal amount of £190 million appear out of sheer nothingness and shower down on our land like blessings from the heavens. To whom did this monetary blessing belong? How was it earned in Pakistan? How was it transferred to the United Kingdom? Why was it frozen in accounts? What was wrong with it? How was it tainted? Why was it given to the state of Pakistan and not to the owner? What was the role of the Pakistani government? Why is it being used to settle an individual debt to the highest court if it does not belong to the individual? Why is the government not answering questions? Why is the opposition not asking questions? Why is the media not asking questions?
Behind this colourful spectacle of spells and illusions lies another land hidden in the shadows of gloom.
Because there is magic in the air.
See the wizards weave their spells: Wingardium Laviosa! Housing will appear like magic. Poof! Dollars totalling 200 billion will rain down on us like magic. Whoosh! Ten million jobs will grow out of our fertile soil like magic. Bam! Jesters jump up and down and clap with unrestrained and unvarnished glee as wizardry swirls across the land like a kaleidoscopic cloud of yearning.
Let the magic show commence. Here comes the amazing magician who will make the current account deficit dissolve into toxins of contentment. And look, there he is, the powerful sorcerer who will make the growth rate grow like Jack’s beanstalk. Don’t miss the grand act of the incredible wizard who will sprinkle fairy dust on Punjab and make you believe you are back in the Shahbaz days. Voila! It’s all happening here folks, so don’t go anywhere. The fun is about to start.
But behind this colourful spectacle of spells and illusions lies another land hidden in the shadows of gloom. Here inside the foliage of darkness, magic ferments in malice. Something stirs yonder. The air is heavy with aching. It smells of fear.
Hush. Speak not.
Dark arts grow by the day. Yearnings are lock-boxed, thoughts are straitjacketed, ideas are handcuffed. All roads must lead to one road and one road alone. That much is settled. There is one way out and no other way. The path to salvation is linear, narrow and straight. Deviate and you plunge into the bottomless ravine of lost souls.
What do you then, what do you do? In a land of magical hopes and menacing tones, how do you wrestle with sabre-tooth contradictions? How do you — the lonely citizen — fight off the storm that darkens by the hour? Run, hide, cower. Grope in the dark and find the torch of your fundamental rights to light up the way out. Unpack the armour of your constitutional rights and hold up the shield of due process. There may still be time to fight the good fight.
And yet how do you outbox shadows?
In the Promised Land, nothing is what it seems. The mirage of despondency dissolves into an illusion of utopia that fades into a fantasy of aimless joy. Today this is launched, tomorrow that is launched; today this is inaugurated, tomorrow that is inaugurated — people going through the motions with blank eyes and expressionless faces. Everyone is busy delivering delivery, no one wants to deliver deliverance.
In the end, magic is what we end up believing in. Magic, you see, is so easy to believe. It just happens. Now you see ‘em, now you don’t. The rabbit just pops out of the hat. It doesn’t sit inside waiting for a committee to decide, or a parliament to legislate or a public to debate. You don’t really want to know how the rabbit jumps out of the hat as long as it does so and makes you go, “whoa!”
Whoa indeed. Magic is in the air.
But all shows — however enchanting — must come to an end. The magician will pack his bags, his hat, his rabbit and walk away. The audience will clap, whistle, get up and go home. The lights will switch off and the hall will go dark and silent. There will be no magic left within those quiet and lonely walls — just memories of a spectacle ebbing away like gentle waves.
That is when the Promised Land emerges from within the mirage of hopes and into the un-magical light of piercing reality. So unfurl the banners of institutional equilibrium and hold them high against the blue sky. It may be time to walk away from the Ministry of Magic.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2019