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Double click: The desi factor

If you want to convert an atheist into a believer, I’d advise bringing that person to Pakistan. This country is a great testimonial of divine existence, a view strengthened each time I pay a visit here after a long absence.

Running on next to zero governance and rising inflation, Pakistan’s existence belies all rules of economics and management systems. Who but the Almighty could be running this machinery.

There are many things to marvel at and many more to shake one’s head at in this dusty land (once allegedly pure). Survival continues on auto pilot for those fit enough — bodily and monetarily — to brave the heavens and hells created in little pockets everywhere.

I counted four new malls within a five mile radius of where I stay since I was last here two years ago. Economy — say the economists — is at an extreme low, yet, these high-end malls are teeming with people readily spending on exorbitant wares. Where’s the money coming from? Ok, let’s not ask that stupid question. We know most of it is not white. And while the begums fight to get their hands on the new designer lawn suit, the lower classes struggle to buy flour for their daily meal. Some princess in one of the many mansions in Clifton will perhaps have the same ironic answer; ‘why don’t they buy cakes instead!’

Speaking of cakes, don’t the rich ever cook at home? The cafes, restaurants and countless food courts that tag Rs1,000 per head are packed to capacity. I see neither shortage of rations there nor any restraint on the calorie intake. And there is one stark difference from two years ago. The desolate and fearful look in the eyes of the gentry which I had noticed when the current government had just begun its rampage, has been replaced by a strange tranquillity. Their mood seems to say, ‘evil is here to stay, might as well embrace it!’ The fury that the degenerate government had evoked earlier has been acknowledged as the inevitable and the wicked deeds of the rulers are now merely fodder for crude political humour.

Acceptance might be a strong word here so I’ll say sufferance, is what the people have towards the current regime. Thievery is here to stay, I suppose and the philosophy is, ‘can’t beat ‘em, so might as well join ‘em.’

But all this is an old lament. Nothing new in the disparity that divides the classes. Homecoming, however, does have a melancholic flavour and the sights and sounds of the native land are strong triggers that rouse many passions. Coming from a region where relationships are as cold as the climate, one wants to embrace the warmth that still exudes from the soil, a treasure which no decrepit ruler has yet been able to steal. The rich communal element that still holds the social seams together in this part of the world is incomparable. I’m proud to say that I’m a total desi at heart and there is no land like desi-land, broken, corrupted and incongruent though it may be.

There might be no immediate solution to fix the ills of governance, get rid of poverty or end insecurity. But there still might be some way of preserving the good, which those living here cannot appreciate but an outsider can. Not the good which can be measured by the number of malls, glamorous food streets or branded wares. But the good which makes the people smile in 40 degrees centigrade despite power failure; which makes the shopkeeper in Zainub Market offer you a cold drink because you look thirsty; which breaks the gloomy aura of a ravaged landscape when the beggar children begin playing in muddy puddles on the first drops of rain or that which prompts the man on the bus, who barely has standing room, to make place for a fellow traveller. That is the good which our social fabric still retains and which can never be found, at least in the cold, cold climes where I now reside.

In a recent spate of violence in Karachi, when some random killings claimed lives near Tariq Road and businesses shut down for a few hours to resume at the same pace a day later, my friend Rabeea remarked that the city resembled the Wild West, where cowboys would come on horseback, have a casual shootout in the tavern and then gallop away coolly and then life would resume in the tavern just as casually. It was a funny allegory but did ring true. The people of the Wild West were also a resilient lot who lived under lawlessness but eventually educated their children who now thrive as part of the greatest nation. Can we dare to hope for the same?