WHILE we get rulers of various types, one constant in their performance is that their dog and pony show contains the same act without fail.
Whether it is those who went to Oxford — notice how ‘went’ is used as a synonym for ‘studied’. Or those who ‘attend’ the military academies, their contempt for their countrymen is always on display.
The most brazen form of this despicable attitude is at display while insulting the collective public intelligence at press conferences. The most frequent chicanery is comparing prices at home with indices elsewhere.
Even the canonised were not immune to this malady when at the helm of affairs. This writer’s initial first-hand experience was in Tokyo. The then prime minister, Benazir Bhutto was holding a briefing for a gaggle of Pakistani journalists who were flown along with her on the official plane and expected a daily dose of hand-holding during the weeklong visit. At least one among them surely did not have access to her back home, hence flew all the way to Japan to ask her about the rising prices in Pakistan. She launched into a price comparison of everyday food items between Pakistan and Japan and zeroed in on the comparative prices of meat and melons in the two countries.
Why compare prices at home with indices elsewhere?
Meat and melons, really? For the uninitiated, Kobe beef or Wagyu is considered a special delicacy even in Japan. The cattle are raised in the Kobe region. We have all heard of the horses supposedly fed apple marmalade at the PM House. The Kobe beef farmers raise the bar a tad too high in feeding and grooming these animals. Kobe beef is said to derive its buttery taste and marbling from a very special feed and gallons of beer given during the summer months. Some breeders also opt to brush or massage the cattle with sake, the Japanese alcohol made with rice, but this is only for aesthetic purposes as no taste benefits result from this practice. Can you imagine comparing its price with that of camel meat — or is it ostrich — that we buy from the corner shop?
The Yubari King melons are a completely different story and require a separate piece, suffice it to say, because of the meticulous care that goes into growing this particular variety of cantaloupe in Japan’s hilly region of Hokkaido; it has attained a status all its own. The price can range between $200 to a record-breaking $45,000 for one melon.
Not a single journalist raised the question of the differential of per capita income between the two countries which stood at $45,000 for Japan and $450 for Pakistan in those days. A whopping hundred times purchasing power differential between the two countries. The only reaction from the journalists came from a witty guy who thanked her for giving them a cue to bring bag-loads of melons the next time they accompany a prime minister to Japan.
To be fair to her, she was not at all the pioneer of such bamboozle. It was around before her and sadly continues till date. Complain about oil prices, and pat comes the reply ‘it is much costlier across the eastern border’. Rue the prices of gas, electricity, foodstuff and medicine, and you can rest assured there will be some corner of the globe where it is sold at a higher price than here. Forget about the parity between the currencies and every other detail that goes into such comparisons — what does the public know? If it did, would it continue to elect rulers who dish out these apples to melons comparisons?
A sideshow is always that of a self-righteous finance minister getting all red in the face feigning indignation when his numbers are questioned. Recently, the finance minister held a masterclass in manners and civility when a journalist questioned his numbers regarding the price comparison of fuel between Pakistan and India. He accused the journalist ad nauseam of calling him a liar to his face with so much emphasis on the latter part of the sentence that one wished for someone to ask him if he would prefer to be called one behind his back.
Another gentleman who gets paid to be the government’s mouthpiece recently took it upon himself to explain the intricacies of the dollar’s rise against the rupee at a rally. It is all very good to inform and educate the public, however, there is such a thing as qualification. This gentleman is frequently heard telling TV anchors to let him complete his argument and to add gravitas to his appeal, says he makes it “dast-ba-dast” which means hand-to-hand combat. The Urdu phrase he seeks to impress the audience with is ‘dast-basta’ which means ‘with folded hands’, a metaphor for humility. There was a time when spin doctors were wordsmiths; now the only qualification is lack of respect for everyone including themselves.
The writer is a poet and analyst.
Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2021