WHEN the output of goods and services is outstripped by the printing of money, you get inflation. One does not need a rocket scientist to explain this. Yet this is exactly what an exploding rocket scientist was found doing during an interview recently. Elon Musk then went on to enumerate all that was wrong with the banking industry all over the world, but that is a subject for another piece. While on the subject of inflation, he asked if the printing of money was the solution; why not make everyone a trillionaire?
We will return to Mr Musk’s rhetorical question later. For now, let us try to see if there are telltale signs of systemic failure that other countries ignored at their peril. For anyone in their 50s, the earliest recollection of a society in disarray and chaos brings back memories of black-and-white television footage of that erstwhile Paris of the East, Beirut. The fighting militias, no-go areas, the colour-coded lines separating Muslim and Christian localities, brides clad in the all-white wedding dresses ducking rockets and gunfire. Occasionally, one would also see emaciated Barbary lions, too weak even to pant in the zoo.
Fast forward half a decade and the scenes started repeating themselves in what we loved to consider as ‘our backyard’; only unlike Lebanon, in Afghanistan, it was not just the proxies but the Russian, and eventually the American, boots that stomped the ground for decades, while the list of Mujahideen guest appearances was longer and more ‘inclusive’. The zoo animals too suffered longer and worse privations than their Lebanese counterparts. Besides neglect and hunger, they also had hand grenades lobbed into their enclosures.
In the land of the pure, while the white elephants survive in the name of national assets or ‘family silver’, the regular pachyderms have not had a good run. First, it was that tragedy involving the Sri Lankan gift to Pakistan, an elephant named Kaavan whose neglect and ill-treatment right under the nose of the federal government in Islamabad Zoo drove the poor animal to insanity. As a sign of things to come, a court of law had to intercede which led to Kaavan’s rescue by an international animal rights group in 2020. The team of vets, who flew into Pakistan to help with Kaavan’s evacuation to Cambodia, took pity on a pair of Himalayan brown bears whose condition was also deteriorating in the same zoo and relocated them to another country. Before disclosing their destination, allow a little digression.
Societies that fail to manage caged animals descend into chaos.
Decades ago, a friend from a Middle Eastern country made the mistake of comparing his ‘tiny-little, strip of a kingdom’ to the only nuclear power in the Muslim world. After a proper dressing-down, the gentleman and his country were put in their place. Who would have thought then that one day the proud owners of the ultimate deterrence would be unable to even take care of animals under their ward? The bears were relocated to Jordan. Sincere apologies and eternal gratitude to Jordanian friends.
A little after the Kaavan episode, during the same fateful year, a lion died of suffocation when its cage was set on fire to move it out in a horrifically ill-conceived plan to transfer it from Islamabad to Lahore Zoo. When the female elephant in Karachi Zoo was named Noor Jehan, who knew that a fate as painful as her namesake’s awaited her? The Mughal empress too died in captivity. Though it is doubtful that Noor Jehan the elephant ever had it easy in zoo, her end has been particularly painful. An animal as majestic as she deserved much better.
One hopes that by now a pattern has been established to prove that societies that fail to manage caged animals properly, soon descend into chaos and anarchy whose first casualties are always the rights and liberties of citizens as the state metamorphoses into a ‘prison of nations’ whose ultimate fate does not differ much from the caged creatures. George Orwell’s Animal Farm does not bear an apt analogy, as those deemed ‘more equal than others’ will not escape their comeuppance this time around.
Going back to Mr Musk’s question, ie, why not make everyone a millionaire? His interviewer interjected with a loud protestation “Oh! No. They did that in Venezuela and ended up eating the zoo animals.”
Sometimes one need not look at the human development indices, year-on comparisons of GDP, debt ceilings, international oil prices, and the impact of pandemics and wars on global supply chains; just pay a visit to the local zoo. If it is in a bad way, its inmates may yet have some hope as the world community has not run out of compassion for the four-legged animals. It is the two-legged variety that faces a zoological end.
The writer is a poet. His latest publication is a collection of satire essays titled Rindana.
Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2023