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Bold and the beautiful

April 28, 2013

A thing of beauty is a joy forever Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness… Such the sun, the moon, Trees old, and young John Keats

Beautiful is Islamabad. Bold are the people of Pakistan. Spring has a hold on the Capital. It is refusing entry to summer, lying restlessly in wait to descend. Flamboyant chinar blossoms, petunias so pretty, roses in full glamour, creepers yellow, white, cream and pink — enough to take the breath away, greet the road traveller whichever direction he turns.

Take the winding road laden with pines and flowering shrubbery along Lok Virsa and you feel transported into God’s little acre. You pass idyllic picnic spots on the way to remind you that time here stands still. Islamabad is ageless, you declare as you look around the pastoral undulating hills and vales.

Ahmad Hassan Dani comes to mind. An authority on the Neolithic era also known as the ‘New Stone Age’, he told me years ago in an interview that the Potohar region was a treasure trove for archaeologists. Literally buried in our backyards around Islamabad were artifacts, millions of years old, he said. Dr Dani discovered a pre-historic human footprint imprinted in sandstone near the Margalla hills.

The Rose and Jasmine Garden, one of the oldest remnants of Islamabad when it was built, sits majestically ensconced among ancient pines and cypress that have faithfully stood sentinel. Among the rites of spring is a flower show held at this garden each year. Men, women and children packed on motorbikes crowd the roads after the show is over. Holding cotton candy and balloons, happiness radiating from the kids and equally from their moms and dads is an open declaration of love for life. The beauty that I find in kids and the beauteous grace that I see in their mothers is in abundance.

Earlier at a private club, as old as Islamabad itself but evolved in keeping up with the times, I see our young boys and girls, men and women dressed in the latest fashions you’d find at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. Comfortable in their skins, confident in their carriage, this class of people is beautiful and bold. The road they walk is wide with the world before them; the cars they ride are four-wheelers, big and bulky; the academic credentials they carry are equal to any Ivy League in the US.

“Pakistanis are a handsome race”, declares my companion who is visiting from America. “Women here are natural beauties”, she says. “Look at their dress sense”, she continues. “I love the long shirts with skinny leggings [tang pajamas] most wear. They look so feminine.” I agree wholeheartedly. Pakistan may not produce many things worth mentioning; one thing we do produce in bulk is human beauty. Blessed with a many-splendoured landscape starring the sea, desert, plains, and mountains, the physical features of Pakistanis too vary in colour, physique and anatomy from Karachi to Khyber — each a profile of raw appeal or rugged magnetism.

Attractiveness aside, we are an alive nation. A bold people. Neither terrorism nor rampant corruption can silence the ode to joy that I see around each living moment. Regardless of class, wealth and privilege, everyone, yes everyone, appears on a roll. Left out on the fringes are the poor below the poverty level, forgotten and forsaken. [Even America according to the presidential candidate Mitt Romney has 47 per cent losers, takers and underdogs who should be quarantined!]

Pakistan’s metamorphosis flowering in the midst of poverty, political upheaval, sectarian killings, religious extremism, brutalisation and mass confusion must seize the interest of a social scientist or an anthropologist. I am neither. As an interested observer who has returned home after two years abroad, the change among people in all spheres is palpable. In many ways, Pakistanis have left the mass media behind. Their universe is the social media. They have gone ahead to carve out a life of their own where individual freedom, friendship, happiness and work are given currency. They are free souls who refuse to be drawn into the vicious cycle of gloom and doom pandered by the TV pundits 24/7.

Unlike television anchors comprising a crop of celluloid young females and not-so-young males with chalky white powder, black pencil-liner circling the eyes and boot polish black hair thickly gelled making one or two [I can’t name them, but you can guess] look like Count Dracula, the critical mass cares a whit about raunchy talk shows where the language used by senators and ex-parliamentarians is crude, vulgar and gross.

To up their ratings, competing television channels devalue ‘breaking news’ cheapening and dramatising it. Why turn the channel into a ‘gutter press?’ News, if echoed repeatedly as breaking news with bhangra dance music turns into a bhangra! No wonder, discerning viewers dismiss this type of news as parody. To top it, an advertisement showing a TV anchor announce breaking news and then go on to say that a ‘mother’ has chosen xyz cooking oil as her election symbol shows how we have degraded the value of ‘breaking news’.

Dinner party guests rarely bring up politics. Two years ago, when I lived in Islamabad, politics was our staple diet in every discussion, big or small. Airing views often involving heated debates was the norm. Not today. People don’t even take the banner headlines containing edicts from the learned judges seriously. Why? Because orders against institutions and individuals are full of sound and fury but signify nothing. Why get overly excited when the next day is just another day of judgement.

And this is my gripe with reporting. Why are readers not informed about the outcome of multiple judicial orders passed daily accompanied with thunder and lightning by the eminent bench? Piling up in the record room at the apex court must be stacks of judgements that are news today, but forgotten tomorrow and resigned to the dark dominion of history as yesterday’s news.

Why then should folks waste their time reading the full text of a certain judgement when they know that action is not imminent nor guaranteed? Politicians were one species of humans not taken seriously. They were known as geckos that change colour [read party affiliations] when convenient. Sadly, over the past two years, there have been additions to this list. Judges, generals, intellectuals, journalists and human rights activists have swelled this list.

The good news is that the common man has wizened up phenomenally. He or she has matured politically preferring to form their own independent viewpoint and opinion rather than be swayed by grandiose statements coming from powerful circles of the executive, legislative, judiciary, media and defence. Masses are more intelligent and worldly wise than we care to give them credit. Some are even better informed than the reporters/anchors of media houses.

Recently at a fundraiser, a veteran TV personality whose forte is a marriage between humour and seriousness was invited to entertain the audience. English was his preferred language, he said, because there were some diplomats in the crowd. He thought he was being very funny when he began to lampoon Pakistanis. Half way, the laughs withered as the unappreciative audience sat stiffly hoping the fellow would take off from the stage. But the ‘fellow’ continued merrily, not caring about the rising discomfort level around the tables. Unable to take it anymore, suddenly a voice from among the crowd shouted “Stop it!” Pin drop silence. Moments later the stunned TV guy asked the people ‘Do you want me to continue?’ All shouted ‘No!’ Why wash our dirty linen in public?

Vive the bold and the beautiful.