The barbarians may be at the gates – some of us would say they are very much within the gates.

Winter leaves

By Ayaz Amir

“Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds” – Emerson

Some time ago, when the weather was still a bit hot, I was bemoaning some of the things gifted to us by the Raj – such as our preference for certain types of fiery liquids. And I had said that if we had been colonised by, say, the French or the Portuguese our tastes in these matters would have been different.

That was then. Now that the weather is turning a bit cold, although winter has yet to set in fully, I have to confess that I was wrong. May the furies forgive my wrongheadedness. For the cold season namby-pamby liquids just won’t do and the only thing permissible is that part of our inheritance which is now a national habit with us.

Railways we have managed to destroy, with a thoroughness that must command admiration. The canal system still functions but it could do with a whole lot of improvement. There are so many other things which are rundown. But the particular inheritance I refer to – and please forgive me for not being more specific, on account of our self-censorship laws, the censorship that we impose on ourselves and on which editors are always so keen – survives in all its pomp and glory. Behind closed doors of course but its very surreptitiousness gives it an added zest.

When Pakistanis who can afford this kind of entertainment – their number, Allah be praised, not small – gather in the winter season their choice is only one, Pakistan’s unofficial national drink still the same. May it always be like this.

The barbarians may be at the gates – some of us would say they are very much within the gates – but we should cherish what we still have. Three years back on a visit to Kabul, and staying at the Intercontinental Hotel – once a place of great magnificence, now gone to ruin – helpful souls from the embassy suggested that of the stuff that may have been consumed at night – to ward off the cold of course, the month being December–-the empty bottles should not be left in the rooms.

Just imagine. This was the Taliban effect. We are still not there, and thank heavens for that, but it just shows how far this extremism thing can go.

Kabul used to be such a delightful city, a stop on the international hippy trail…so relaxed that one wanted to linger there forever. This was just before the Taraki coup (1978) and much before the ‘mujahideen’ and the Taliban. And even though the Americans have been in Kabul for the last 12 years it’s no longer the same city. You can make out the change in the air. Educated girls once upon a time did not wear the hijab. Now no girl in Kabul, even anyone wearing jeans, is without a hijab.

So let’s be grateful for what we still have in Pakistan although the kind of awareness that we should have about extremism and sectarianism – the twin monsters that have made nonsense of any notion of Jinnah’s Pakistan – is still missing. The change of outlook that should happen not only in the political class but in the military has yet to occur.

I think we need to be more introspective and study our history a bit more, to see how we were in 1947 and where we are now, and the process and the blunders that have brought us to this pass. If only we could eschew some of the nonsense in the name of ideology that we continue to cling to. We have enough of ideology, enough to last us for all eternity. But what do we do about our physical space? How do we manage the country? About this we don’t have much of a clue.

We all know about our national airline, where it is and the depths to which it has sunk. But Masood Hasan’s piece in this newspaper on Sunday about where the Emiratis and Qataris are regarding their airlines – that really hit me about where the world is going and the holes in which we are stuck. A few days back there was a two-part article by Nadeemul Haque, formerly of the Planning Commission, about how we have neglected our inner cities. Take Karachi, as another example….the kind of work that Arif Hasan has been doing for so many years. Listen to him and things you hadn’t sensed before come into view. And sometimes, although not often, such good stuff gets written about the economy.

I am just pointing this out to show that we have people who can think and analyse. Despite what we have done to our education system we have a competent educated class. But why aren’t such ideas getting into the policy-making process? Why aren’t such ideas influencing national policy? Why are we so bad at priorities? Why is the governing process so dumb? Why are our political forums, including parliament, so bereft of ideas? Go visit the National Assembly and Senate and a sense of despair is bound to come over you, so pathetic the level of discussion on any given day.

So there is a disconnect between the thinking and idea-generating world and the practical world. There are people who know what Pakistan’s problems are and then you come across persons in authority and you think these guys haven’t come across an honest or a decent idea in their lives. How is this divide, this gulf, to be bridged? I don’t know.

There are people who can talk so sensibly about terrorism and the extremist threat we face. Then the political parties meet at their all-parties’ conference and come out with a package of such outstanding stupidity that you think that if our collective political talent is capable only if this there cannot be much hope for a nation this talent presumes to lead.(A class of under-graduates from a reasonably good college would

be able to write a better resolution.)

And as I have pointed out before there is so much good stuff being produced in the arts, music especially. Gosh, some of our young people have so much in them. A nation with so much star power cannot be lost. Yet, to repeat the earlier point, why isn’t this talent, this gift for creativity, touching or influencing the higher direction of the state? Why do some of our singers sing so well and why does the generality of our leadership look like such morons? Why can Malala Yousafzai conduct herself so confidently and with such poise in the Oval Office while some of our leaders – no names, please – can look so out of their depth, so ill at ease? There has to be an explanation somewhere.

Regarding achievement, there is something I want to touch upon although I have to be careful about my editors who, given the climate in this country, see a trip or a trap where there is none. Let me put it a bit gingerly. Murree Brewery is part of our history. It’s also close to my heart, the ruins of the old brewery in Ghora Gali being just below Lawrence College. To put it delicately, this establishment specialises not only in the stuff of sin but also soft stuff of which anyone, not just certified sinners, can partake. With this much of an introduction let me just say that one of its latest products, to do with barley – again, no names, please, we must be careful – is a work of genius, fit for the gods. Whoever I have introduced it to has gone wild.

One thing I can’t help repeating: when will the ban on YouTube be lifted? What’s with our governments? If they can’t take a decision on such a simple thing how can they tackle more serious problems?


Courtesy: The News

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