It was Galen Rowell, the celebrated American mountaineer, photographer and writer, who on one of his many visits here said ‘Pakistan is a country in a hurry to go nowhere.’ I doubt there has been a better one liner unless you consider the holiday brochure to Pakistan someone once planned which said, ‘Come to Pakistan. Have a blast.’ Mercifully the brochure never saw the light of day and Rowell’s gem did not quite make it to the top of Quotable Quotes. However, both sayings are dead accurate.
On every road, every lane and every by way Pakistanis are in a tearing hurry but where they are going remains a mystery. There is absolutely no respect for any rules – diluted and thinned out as they are. Rules, as there are simply too many of them but for each rule thesomeone said of Pakistan, are simply there so all of us can break them. There has never been a shortage of rules. In fact if anything,re are a million rule breakers. Thus mayhem prevails round-the-clock. Not only on the roads but wherever there are people, which in Pakistan’s context means everywhere, you can’t have 187 million people in about three provinces and not have them tripping and tumbling over one another. But for that heady mixture of chaos that is freely exhibited on our roads, enough has been written with absolutely no effect. If one vehicle wishes to turn, say right, there will be a line of others planning the same move from the left and yet another line even further left determined to do the same. If there is a fourth line, it too will soon enough plunge in and not to be left behind, the motor cyclists, the rickshaws, the bicycles, carts (not all putting the horse before them), the human, donkey, horse and bullock-pulled carts of various dimensions. It is thus not surrealist to see a 7 series gingerly making its way inching past a camel-pulled contraption. Now throw the ‘hurry-to-go-nowhere’ factor in and you could have a stew that the Macbeth witches would well give a miss.
Of course, this is not confined to just the roads. Go to any shop and while you are in the middle of buying or paying there will be another dozen shoppers butting in, asking for prices, placing their order or posing numerous questions – all this at the same time. The shopkeepers, instead of asking people to bide their turn, are happy to oblige all at the same time so that neither is anyone offended nor is anyone delayed because everyone is in a hurry. And so multitasking continues at dizzying speeds, never mind if orders get all mixed up and you get someone’s else’s change or in a chemist shop, medicines. We also know too well that hardly has the cockpit announcement begun and the entire plane is up, pulling down bags, shopping, briefcases – what have you. It seems the announcement is a cue to get going. That the bulk of them are still in the plane 25 minutes later is of little consequence. Similarly even before the engines are switched off, people are mobbing the aisles barking into their cell phones (which came on first) and conveying such phenomenal news like ‘yes we have landed,’ or ‘no I am still in the plane,’ or ‘ask Chacha Rafiq not to come to the airport,’ and the equally bright, ‘no I don’t have the luggage because I am still in the plane. Yes it has landed.’ Mobile-hoggers are coaxed into putting their infernal machines off but they continue even as the plane is taxiing. What are they saying that cannot wait? ‘No we have not taken off yet. Inshallah we will soon. Tell Chacha Rafiq,’ and so on. The same breed announces their arrival not only to the recipient at the other end but the entire planeload. You will agree that the knowledge that Mohammad Boota has arrived in Lahore is not quite the best news humankind has had for a while.
Yet the same unruly, ill disciplined and loutish lot become model citizens hardly having cleared Pakistani air space. You wonder at the transformation. Is this a mystery, this double behaviour? How can one people be two radically different species all within the space of a few hours and sometimes not even that? There is no mystery at all. The offenders all know that should they exhibit the kind of behaviour elsewhere as they invariably display in their own land, they will most certainly be caught by the scruff of the neck and kicked into order. It may not even happen but such is the fear and so complete is the belief that they simply do not take any chances. It’s as simple as breaking a rule and landing in jail or getting fined heavily and, in severe cases, being deported. No red-blooded Pakistani is going to chance it. He will meekly fall in line, the picture of docility itself.
So when it’s time to come back home, you simply ensure that the worst side of you comes into full play because deep down everyone knows that the law will never get to them. In the unlikely event it does, there will be an army of ‘influential’ uncle this and uncle that who will make one phone call and a cowering police official terrorised at what he has gone and done picking up a swarthy lout who could be the locality sweeper only to find that he is directly related to the prime minister, or governor. Narrow escape, he thinks to himself. The lout, meanwhile, moves on grinning like a deranged ape and tells everyone he knows how he’s had the cops pulled up and taught a lesson. No wonder, years ago, I think it was my brother, Khalid Hasan who wrote, ‘In Pakistan, success is relative. It depends who the relative is.’
This also explains why the country’s most infected VIPs and their offspring behave in the most atrocious way. There is a long list here and the ‘Bakery Begum’ is just one more addition. Look at the arrogance of whoever the Begum is because, while the ‘No Fear’ boys (fear them I beseech you) have been hauled in for window dressing, she has diplomatic immunity. It is another matter that a few years ago she would not have even heard of the existence of chocolate mousse let alone eaten it. A few people have questioned why has she not been hauled up since no one is supposedly ‘above the law,’ but that is a silly observation. There are layers upon layers of ‘above the law’ people. The country is swarming with them. Scions of the houses of prime ministers, presidents, chief justices, top generals, dodgy atomic bomb makers, real estate developers and the plain nouveau riche – they are the new future of Pakistan and we must shudder awhile because the future looks very, very frightening. A friend from many years who rose to positions of great influence and power told his children early on, ‘If I see you anywhere near the official vehicles, you will have hell to pay,’ and ensured his orders were complied with. That was just a few years ago; now such advice will never be given much less received.
It sometimes becomes hard to understand which species is the worst. The one that has ridden the giddy crest of power and never come to terms with ordinary life or their offspring – men and women who are even worse? It’s a tough choice but if current events are anything to go by, there is hell about to break in the next few years. Not much of a horizon to peer at, is it?
The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: [email protected]