Four and a half questions

31 Jul 2020


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

THERE are five questions that agitate my mind this Eid. Let’s see if you can help me look for answers.

Question one is about Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari who came exploring Lahore one more time. The PPP chairman is in his 30s and not quite the rookie he was when people first attached hopes to his stewardship to carry them through the crisis. He is our current ‘last hope’ after we decided that the last ‘last hope’ had betrayed us.

The word ‘crisis’, like most politicians here, has a permanent presence in Pakistan. Unlike in other countries and other dictionaries, the crises we create are durable, even never-ending. But that’s not quite the first question in our Eid special. The question is, is it fair to have the still young BBZ deal with these senior politicians?

The chairman still has to get his unwell father’s nod. BBZ next has to sell his ideas to other parties who may not accept the new political logic because they belong to another age. Shahbaz Sharif, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the other guys the PML-N are willing to expose to the influence of BBZ — it’s a tall order. Look at it from BBZ’s perspective. He is keeping dangerous company and signs are he could learn bad habits. A change to youthful faces next to him and across the table could yet salvage our saviour. What do you think?

Question number two is about the economists. The people with a wide grin believe cheese is a luxury here and needs to be heavily taxed. The ones who formulate government policies among them have come up with fascinating figures to prove how essential it was for the country to keep business going during Covid-19. In recent times, I have come across their supporters celebrating the success of these policymakers. Smart lockdown, they called it.

These Covid-19 days have been filled with strange tension. People have been living on the edge.

But there is a little something that bothers me. I will share it with only those who promise to keep it to themselves, for it may sound cruel to some. We have lost many doctors to Covid-19, when doctors were pleading for general lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus. These lives were worth something, economically. We spent millions on them, and even if their lives may have been ‘worthless’ otherwise, did we do enough to save the money we had invested?

For question three, I’d take you on a tour of the Lahore stage. Like so many others, theatre artists are struggling to earn their bread because of the coronavirus situation. They have held press conferences and have bruises to show for their long verbal fights on social media platforms with the supporters of Covid-19 restrictions.

These stage performers appear to be losing their battle for reopening the theatres in the coming weeks since there are grave risks involved in crowds of people gathering in closed spaces. But that’s just one serious issue. Not to be taken lightly is the unwanted image these out-of-job workers are helping consolidate. The arguments are a vindication of sorts. They confirm that if, by chance, these performers have been found indulging in revealing acts previously, it may not have been done by design but because of a natural, uncontrollable urge to unveil the truth.

Seriously, do you think it was wise for these artists to declare an end to their political affiliation with the PTI? Was it prudent for these gentlemen to taunt PTI supporters right back over the fun and dance sessions that were a part of the party’s jalsas? This just made the task of those calling the artists all kinds of names that much easier.

Strange response this, but these Covid-19 days have been filled with strange tension. People have been living on the edge, wanting to go over some secret or less treaded chapters of the past, as if to relieve themselves of a burden. Also, journalists have had to be a little more innovative to get the supply of stories going, eg sport, which suffered as no games could be staged.

Many old controversies were dug up, among them the one concerning my favourite Salim Malik, the street boy who made it to the big league through a set of silky skills, before he slipped down like satin. He has been pleading for rehab after having been banned for life. Some people have supported him in his latest attempt to be allowed a role in the country’s cricketing set-up — on the premise that others who were also guilty have been allowed in.

A clean chit eludes Malik just as one of his chief accusers, Rashid Latif, Mr Clean, continues to enjoy a spotless reputation as a commentator. But wait a sec, the infallible Rashid has reportedly just tipped super-talented Babar Azam as ‘more incredible than’ Wasim Akram and Javed Miandad. Really? Already? Did Rashid actually make this statement? Can he ever be wrong? This is my fourth question.

My fifth question is a bit problematic and may require my taking refuge in self-censorship. So I might call it just half a question.

Let me clear my throat... I wanted to ask... I whisper and hopefully without too many noticing it amid the Eid festivities… I wanted to ask what it takes to be a hardcore critic of the unseen establishment? I ask because like in this latest case of you know who, they have either had their relatives residing in the same society as the powers that be at some point in time or they have themselves been a part of you know which establishment. The whole brigade of the captain-retired types who parted only after polishing their English so that they could write their pinching accounts forever in a deep state of denial to our ideological requirements — I dare not tread their path until I get a confirmation. My elders were part of Humayun’s lashkar. Do I qualify?

The write is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2020