• July 19, 2024

Stop horsing around!

For obvious reasons, this is a watered-down version of the joke. And I think I have mentioned it before. Two saints are playing golf. One dearer to God than the other. Let’s call him the high priest. The other saint, let us just call him the saint, hits the ball for a perfect 300-yard drive right down the middle of the fairway.

The high priest swings and chips the ball far left and lands in the branches of a tree. Frustrated he looks up into the heavens, raises his arms, and suddenly the sky darkens. A thunderclap rings out, rain pours down, and a stream rises among the trees. The ball floats down the street stream when a fish jumps up to bite the ball. At the same moment, a bald eagle flies down, grabs the fish with the ball in its mouth, flies over the green and the fish drops the ball right in, for a hole-in-one. The high priest turns to the saint with a satisfied grin as if awaiting plaudits.

The saint looks at the high priest and says “Do you wanna play golf?… Or do you wanna HORSE AROUND?!”

Scene changes. I am standing at a grocery store. An ageing man comes in. Asks about the price of eggs. As is customary he is told how much it costs in dozens. He seems to do quick maths and asks for four eggs. Before the eggs arrive, he suddenly sinks his hand into his side pocket, takes out some change and counts it. Then with a jolt, he asks the shopkeeper to amend the order. He will take three eggs. He buys the eggs and leaves in a hurry as if to avoid any embarrassing questions. True story. Happened only yesterday.

Another scene. In the late 1990s, Herald magazine published a set of ironic film posters. One such poster shows a man sitting at a dining table holding a gun to his temple. It is obvious he is about to take his life. Next to him sits his mother asking him, “Beta pehlay khana tu kha lo” (Son, take your meal first). The legend on the poster reads, “Jo ghar gaya, woh mar gaya” (he who goes home dies).

Yet another scene. Director Satyajit Ray’s beautiful film. Shatranj Ke Khilari or The Chess Players based on Munshi Premchand’s short story of the same name. The year is 1856. The princely state of Awadh is about to be annexed by the East India Company. As is evident from the title the state’s affluent are busy obsessing about chess when their state comes under attack by a handful of company men. As all of this is unfolding, two noblemen Mirza Sajjad Ali and Mir Roshan Ali flee Lucknow leaving behind their wives and escape to a small village just to… wait for it…. play chess.

And a more recent one. One day the maid hired to do daily chores shows up with her underage niece. The kid was going to a local government school which charges only a nominal fee. But money is tight and her parents cannot make both ends meet. So, she has been taken out of school and now she will help her aunt with daily chores who in turn will share some of her earnings with the girl’s parents. The maid is told that child labour is illegal. The girl is sent back home. The salary of the maid is quietly increased upon the promise that the kid will go back to school. You and I can afford to waste time on political minutiae because we do not go hungry. But elsewhere the future of generations is being destroyed because of rising poverty.

One more story. I think I have quoted this one more than once. But you make it so relevant each time. I am summarising it. It was told by playwright Ashfaq Ahmed in one of his Zavia episodes. The story of a Chinese farmer. The old man lived in a village with his son and a beautiful horse. One day the king offered to buy this horse at an exorbitant price. People came to congratulate the old man that his life is made. The old man refused the offer. One day the horse ran away. People came again, calling him unlucky. The man said it was only a phase of life, not a great tragedy. Three weeks later the horse returned accompanied by twelve similar horses. People came again congratulating the old man. He said the same thing. Only a phase of life. The story continues showing the ebb and flows in his life and how others are benighted and mistake a part of his life as a whole.

Not a day passes by without the pundits telling you who is winning and who is losing in Pakistani politics. I have a nagging suspicion that we all are losing. When a boat capsizes in the deep sea it matters little who is the strongest of those who are sinking. But sirs, in politics too do not take anything for granted.

Pakistan is facing one of its worst economic crises. It is also enduring the revival of the existential threat of terrorism. Switch on your television and browse through the news channels. Do you see any reminder anywhere of the tragic fact that over a hundred policemen were killed in Peshawar only a week ago? Or that the country’s forex reserves just dipped below 3 billion dollars? Or that the poor are all but killed by inflation? Or that Imran Khan and two retired generals’ policies are directly responsible for this mess? No? Why should you? You are not among the elite or the media’s priorities. Petty politics is.

Sadly, the institutions of the country, from parliament to courts are not helping either. The big picture is missing from every scene. The pundits who were predicting a sovereign default until yesterday in sympathy with the opposition are now arguing that default is actually a good option. Go figure.

The situation can be salvaged dear reader. As it has been time and again. If we behave like a nation. But there is a little indication it may even want to be one.

They say someone asked Faiz (poet, not the general) if Pakistan would survive. The good man said that he wasn’t worried about the country’s survival but that it might continue to survive in the same tumultuous way. Sadly, that’s exactly what is happening. Do you think the common man on the street who has been destroyed by tough economic conditions cares even a bit about your precious politics? Sirs stop horsing around before it is too late.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2023.

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