A RECENT visit to England and Europe has convinced me even more that we Pakistanis have missed the bus so very completely. From the time that you arrive at a European airport (despite travelling on the quite frightening green passport), one finds nothing but efficiency and order.

From the arrival procedures, which as pointed out earlier are lengthier for Pakistanis than for other South Asians for reasons we all know, to the collection of baggage, it takes no more than 30 minutes to be out of the airport and on your way.

Nor is this order and efficiency limited to well-run airports. I stayed a few days at a small dairy farm in Bavaria, whose owners had converted the upstairs of their living quarters into an apartment which they let to visitors. It was a small farm with 30 head of cattle, run by a farmer and his wife and their 30-year old son. The point to note is that the apartment had all of the mod-cons you would expect in an apartment in Munich or Frankfurt; London or Milan or Paris.

Milan reminds me: I have long held that the English countryside is one of the most beautiful in the world, but that the Almighty took extra time making Italy!

Who can remain unmoved by the stunning Tuscany countryside? Little villages clinging to steep hillsides; their church bells sweetly sounding the hour of the day; their winding streets with friendly family-run bars exuding the heady and delicious smell of strong coffees, and restaurants and little shops selling top fashions you would see anywhere. It is heaven, is Italy, its quite handsome and warm-hearted people so much fun to be around. (Let alone its vast art treasures; Florence and Rome and Lucca and Assisi, about which another time).

But back to the farm in Germany. The clean and potable water in the tap had the same pressure as in any large modern city; the Internet connection was as fast; the electricity was as steady and strong. The central heating was as warm and efficient and civic services such as the timely collection of garbage as good as anywhere in Europe. The local buses invariably ran on time, and were as spotlessly clean as the red buses in London.

Whilst the farm was a small one, it was fully automated with hygienic milking machines; clean vats for storing the milk at a certain temperature until the milk collection lorry came by; and its own creamery which made some butter and cream too.

The outstanding feature of the farm was that it was noiseless, and that except for the lowing and the mooing of the cattle one never heard the sound of machinery, tractors et al. Far more than anything else it was as clean as a cattle farm could be. What a joy it was to be there.

Compared to Europe nothing works in the Citadel of Islam. Just as soon as one touches down, one comes down to earth with a jarring thud. Whilst the immigration agents and the customs inspectors do their jobs extremely well and efficiently, one just has to step into the baggage hall and then outside to see that we are where we were many years ago: dirt everywhere; people smoking in no-smoking areas; the luggage taking hours, literally, to appear on the squeaking carousel; broken trolleys; thousands of people crowding the veranda.

A quick aside: it is good that the Islamabad airport is now charging some money (I am told it is Rs20) per head for people coming to receive travellers in addition to the money charged for the vehicle. A suggestion while the vehicle should be charged for parking, the driver should be admitted for free. The rest of the receiving party, which can extend to 10, even 20 people (!), should be charged at the rate of Rs100 per head.

Maybe that will help in controlling the huge numbers at the airports, particularly the small BB International at Rawalpindi/Islamabad. For it can take up to half an hour for a vehicle to just enter the airport some days when there are, for reasons best known to the Civil Aviation Authority, five international flights arriving/departing within a space of two hours.

We were not like this, however, in days gone by. Our airports too, though small, were well-run. Also, the example of PIA which was once one of the leading airlines in the world comes straight to mind. Can anyone believe today that Pierre Cardin once designed the uniform of our air hostesses, and which soon became the fashion for young ladies in Pakistan and India?

Can one believe today, that PIA helped set up Emirates Airlines now itself one of the leading airlines of the world? And Malaysian Airlines and Singapore Airlines and Air Malta and Alia, the Jordanian airline? Can you believe any of this, reader?

Our daily lives too are beset with problems which are the direct result of our own apathy and the incompetence of the civic authorities, and the governments concerned. Just look at our cities and towns and villages. Garbage on every street corner; plastic bags flying about; dirt and filth everywhere. Look up and you will see a veritable jumble of cables and wires, telephone and electric and wonder how any lineman can make sense of it.

More than anything else, we ourselves are most to blame for this state of affairs: so long as our own house is swept clean we don't mind if the street on which we live is a garbage dump; when we slaughter animals for Eid we dump their innards on the street. That small farm in Bavaria wasn't clean only because the local government was efficient; it was clean because its operators kept it clean.

The less said about our civic authorities/governments the better. Let alone electric loadshedding, we now have gas-shedding. How much lower will we descend before we have well and truly plumbed the depths?

kshafi1@yahoo.co.uk

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