The descent

Published December 23, 2019
The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

WHEN I was being driven to school as a child (much like cattle, but in a nicer car), there would always be a character my schoolmates and I would encounter on our way.

With long matted hair and a beard, often walking around completely naked this man, who was visibly insane, would be seen on the early morning streets of Karachi’s Saddar area, yelling abuse at the unopened storefronts and occasionally spitting at passing vehicles. We learned to keep our windows rolled up when passing the streets he would frequent and soon enough he just became part of the scenery, a cautionary tale as to what awaited us if we let go of our admittedly tenuous grip on reality and sanity, or it was taken from us.

It is a sign of the times that, decades later, that unknown, anonymous madman seems remarkably well-adjusted and normal. After all, isn’t it insane to be sane in a world gone bonkers?

Each day brings a new farce. One that is more farcical than the farce that preceded it, and will undoubtedly be out-farced by the subsequent farce. It is enough to make one long, for the farces of yesteryear.

Rest assured we won’t have to wait long for the next faux pas.

First we are told of the ‘pain and anguish’ the Musharraf verdict caused, as if it were not a judgement against a largely irrelevant individual but instead against the country’s most powerful institution. It was an emotional statement that inadvertently (?) confirmed already present suspicions and didn’t quite play well in the court of public opinion, with many counselling that silence would have been a better expression, at least until the detailed verdict came out.

Now it’s one thing to have a well-placed farce, but we have them where there is no call for them. For example, in the midst of what is undoubtedly a historic and unprecedented judgement, is a call to drag a corpse and hang it for three days in D-chowk.

While our outrage cycle is short (there is so much to outrage about, after all) the net effect of the incredible para 66 has thus far been to eclipse the rest of the judgement and provide much-needed ammunition to those who want to declare the entire case and verdict against Musharraf as a vendetta.

You can talk all you want about how that single paragraph must not overshadow the judgement, or that it is in fact the opinion of a single judge but none of that answers the simple question: ‘why is it there in the first place’? Was there no one who could predict the consequences?

One can’t even pin this on shadowy forces bent on derailing the case as that would require too great a leap of faith. It would also be comforting as it would mean that there is some omnipotent institution, individual or group of individuals calling the shots.

The likely reality, that there is in fact no method to this madness, is far more terrifying. The other equally terrifying reality is that we will not have to wait long for someone to outdo para 66 with an unbelievable faux pas of their own.

In the meantime, it’s all about damage control and we are told to remember that this ‘hang ‘em high’ discourse is particularly popular with the leading lights of the PTI government such as the inimitable Faisal Vawda and Murad Saeed (as if to say ‘hey where was your outrage then, hmm?). But this too is a flawed strategy to begin with, as one is not sure who is being insulted more by the comparison.

Essentially, in an effort to salvage a ‘hero’, you end up equating him with your ‘villains’. And here too is madness without method, action without thought.

The effort is unnecessary in any case, as this football match won’t be won by playing better than the opponent, but simply by scoring fewer own goals than them. And rest assured we won’t have to wait long for the next faux pas.

Because here in Pakistan we are bearing witness to the only puppet show in existence where the puppet master frequently feels the need to pop his head out from behind the curtain to make sure we know who pulls the strings. Best of all, the puppets themselves have no issues with this thinking as they do that their thin shackles are in fact ornaments.

One is compelled to ask why the fig leaf exists in the first place, if it is to be taken off with such regularity, leaving the state in the same state as the crazy man of Saddar — yelling abuse and spitting at passing cars — something to be viewed with a degree of fear, but mostly with pity and disdain.

And in the midst of all these hurt feelings and duelling hashtags we have Junaid Hafeez being sentenced to death, almost as a footnote to the year. Soon, the cycle of farce will start up again, and as the tired performers look to the audience for applause they will find it lacking. Because how hard can you laugh when the joke is always on you?

The writer is a journalist.

Twitter: @zarrarkhuhro

Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2019

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