“Amy: I have bitten my tongue so long, it looks like a dog’s cushion. But no more! You have made it impossible to do this job. You have two settings – no decision and bad decision. I wouldn’t let you run a bath without having the Coast Guard and the fire department standing by, but yet here you are running America. You are the worst thing that has happened to this country since food in buckets and maybe slavery! I’ve had enough. I’m gone.
Selina: (as Amy walks to the door) Well, I guess she’s finished with her little…(Amy walks back to her) oh, nope, look at that, there’s more.
Amy: You have achieved nothing apart from one thing. The fact that you are a woman means we will have no more women presidents because we tried one and she …. sucked. Goodbye, ma’am.” –Veep, Episode 5, Season 4.
Both the quoted lines above and the title of this piece come from one of the finest American political satires immortalised by the stellar performance of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tony Hale, and later inimitable Hugh Laurie. Let’s be honest. The wall-to-wall stellar performance is so memorable that name-dropping of any sort will do it a disservice. The harsh language takes some getting used to but once you get over it you cannot help but be impressed by the whole thing. They say another sitcom 30 Rock has the most jokes per minute. But even if that’s true, Veep has the largest collection of political zingers. And clever ones too.
I hope that’s enough of a homage to this wholly remarkable work. But while reading or watching a political satire usually is great fun, living in one is not. And one of my biggest beef with elders is that they did not welcome me into this world with a clear mention of the terms of reference. Something to this effect: welcome to a mediocre sitcom, you tertiary character, you!
Even if one did not believe it, the last three and a half years provide ample proof that we are cursed. That whatever we touch turns to manure. Go figure, King Midas.
The first arrows that one received during this time were from what one called like-minded friends for the last thirty years. One has always believed that there exists a pro-democracy constituency in this country that holds democratic values supreme. But to understand what happened to this constituency I will have to take you on another arduous journey of metaphors.
Music from another room is an underrated but beautiful rom-com. Starring Jude Law and Gretchen Mol, it is a story of a hopeless romantic who returns to his childhood town to fulfill the dream of marrying the girl he once said he would marry. But she has grown up into this morality and a duty-obsessed young lady who thinks she cannot afford romance. Whenever they come close unfortunate things happen. Law decides to give up one day and leaves for the railway station. Realising the love of her life is fleeing the city, Mol follows him and accosts him at the terminal. He is about to leave. After entreaties and his rebuttals, there is one unforgettable dialogue. “What have I done to you? ….. What? ….. You sound just like me”. Listening to your pro-democracy friends spout the same nonsense you grew accustomed to from the anti-democracy fanatics was a constant heartbreak.
In some cases, it was legitimate if personal angst. If you have been accused of “35 punctures”, hounded, and abused, I grant you it is not easy to forget or forgive. Likewise, if you blame one particular party for your job displacement it is not easy to forget in earnest. But when a grievance is manufactured just because you are too politically aligned or simply hate an individual it becomes impossible to make peace with it. Just remember many of us also went through hell in the past ten years but then we got over it. Life must go on.
But that wasn’t the only tragedy. The PTI supporters also turned out to be a remarkable bunch. We knew that when you have spent over twenty years being pushed around and ridiculed for your political outlook you are bound to have developed brittle edges. But this brittle exterior takes one year of being in power to dissolve. Then it is business as usual. But in this case, perhaps because there are too many aspirants and too few jobs, the party’s structure has taken the shape of a coliseum where plotting against your own, grievance politics, and machinations never end. The vacuum left behind by hierarchy is filled by unquestioning cultism. What chance then an outsider has in this space? Fresh vows of fealty become the passport to any room you want to enter.
But a quick question. What does it all remind you of? What do Imran Khan’s language, politics and attitude remind you of? Of Nawaz Sharif’s politics in the 1980s-90s and Bhutto’s politics in the 1960s. What else is common? All three favourites of the permanent institutions of the time. All of them used abusive language against their rivals (Bhutto against Fatima Jinnah, Nawaz Sharif against Benazir Bhutto, and Imran Khan against Bhuttos and Sharifs together. All three declared their rivals (Mujib, Benazir and Nawaz respectively) traitors. All three tried extra-constitutional methods to extend their stay in power. The first two fell from grace and the third one is on the fast track to doing that.
What? Cognitive dissonance? Can’t see the point? The country’s permanent institutions seriously need to revise their criteria meant to separate the wheat from the chaff.
There is also a need for revising the foreign policy criteria. Independent foreign policy means you expand the circle of your friends. Expand means gaining new ones while retaining the old. It should not mean that you go dance at the wedding of the exes of your ex. Because then you will invariably be late to every party.
Finally, in the time of transition, it is difficult to remind people of the rare episodes of decency. A recent incident prompted this reminder. The exchange of harsh words between Fawad Chaudhary and Matiullah Jan. Your politics is your lookout but during the upheavals of the past three years, three people who were remarkably decent with me in the otherwise exceptionally trying times are Chaudhary, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Dr Moeed Yusuf. Thought I’d put it out there because we Pakistanis are so fond of conquering and subduing our own. Especially when they are out of power.
As for the so-called cablegate, a part of my heart wants to see more evidence to surface. Because otherwise, this seems like the remake of Wag the Dog. And that would mean the last three years were irretrievably wasted and nobody would probably want to experiment with a third-party candidate ever again.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2022.