Plumb­ing the depths

The Pak Banker - - Editorial - Kamran Shafi

ARE­CENT visit to Eng­land and Europe has con­vinced me even more that we Pak­ista­nis have missed the bus so very com­pletely. From the time that you ar­rive at a Euro­pean air­port (de­spite trav­el­ling on the quite fright­en­ing green pass­port), one finds noth­ing but ef­fi­ciency and or­der.

From the ar­rival pro­ce­dures, which as pointed out ear­lier are length­ier for Pak­ista­nis than for other South Asians for rea­sons we all know, to the col­lec­tion of bag­gage, it takes no more than 30 min­utes to be out of the air­port and on your way.

Nor is this or­der and ef­fi­ciency limited to well-run air­ports. I stayed a few days at a small dairy farm in Bavaria, whose own­ers had con­verted the up­stairs of their liv­ing quar­ters into an apart­ment which they let to vis­i­tors. It was a small farm with 30 head of cat­tle, run by a farmer and his wife and their 30-year old son. The point to note is that the apart­ment had all of the mod-cons you would ex­pect in an apart­ment in Mu­nich or Frank­furt; London or Mi­lan or Paris.

Mi­lan re­minds me: I have long held that the English coun­try­side is one of the most beau­ti­ful in the world, but that the Almighty took ex­tra time mak­ing Italy!

Who can re­main un­moved by the stun­ning Tus­cany coun­try­side? Lit­tle vil­lages cling­ing to steep hill­sides; their church bells sweetly sound­ing the hour of the day; their wind­ing streets with friendly fam­ily-run bars ex­ud­ing the heady and de­li­cious smell of strong cof­fees, and restau­rants and lit­tle shops sell­ing top fash­ions you would see any­where. It is heaven, is Italy, its quite hand­some and warm-hearted peo­ple so much fun to be around. (Let alone its vast art trea­sures; Florence and Rome and Lucca and As­sisi, about which an­other time).

But back to the farm in Ger­many. The clean and potable wa­ter in the tap had the same pres­sure as in any large mod­ern city; the In­ter­net con­nec­tion was as fast; the elec­tric­ity was as steady and strong. The cen­tral heat­ing was as warm and ef­fi­cient and civic ser­vices such as the timely col­lec­tion of garbage as good as any­where in Europe. The lo­cal buses in­vari­ably ran on time, and were as spot­lessly clean as the red buses in London.

Whilst the farm was a small one, it was fully au­to­mated with hy­gienic milk­ing ma­chines; clean vats for stor­ing the milk at a cer­tain tem­per­a­ture un­til the milk col­lec­tion lorry came by; and its own cream­ery which made some but­ter and cream too.

The out­stand­ing fea­ture of the farm was that it was noise­less, and that ex­cept for the low­ing and the moo­ing of the cat­tle one never heard the sound of ma­chin­ery, trac­tors et al. Far more than any­thing else it was as clean as a cat­tle farm could be. What a joy it was to be there.

Com­pared to Europe noth­ing works in the Ci­tadel of Is­lam. Just as soon as one touches down, one comes down to earth with a jar­ring thud. Whilst the im­mi­gra­tion agents and the cus­toms in­spec­tors do their jobs ex­tremely well and ef­fi­ciently, one just has to step into the bag­gage hall and then out­side to see that we are where we were many years ago: dirt ev­ery­where; peo­ple smok­ing in no-smok­ing ar­eas; the lug­gage tak­ing hours, lit­er­ally, to ap­pear on the squeak­ing carousel; bro­ken trol­leys; thou­sands of peo­ple crowd­ing the ve­randa.

A quick aside: it is good that the Is­lam­abad air­port is now charg­ing some money (I am told it is Rs20) per head for peo­ple com­ing to re­ceive trav­ellers in ad­di­tion to the money charged for the ve­hi­cle. A sug­ges­tion while the ve­hi­cle should be charged for park­ing, the driver should be ad­mit­ted for free. The rest of the re­ceiv­ing party, which can ex­tend to 10, even 20 peo­ple (!), should be charged at the rate of Rs100 per head.

Maybe that will help in con­trol­ling the huge num­bers at the air­ports, par­tic­u­larly the small BB In­ter­na­tional at Rawalpindi/Is­lam­abad. For it can take up to half an hour for a ve­hi­cle to just en­ter the air­port some days when there are, for rea­sons best known to the Civil Avi­a­tion Author­ity, five in­ter­na­tional flights ar­riv­ing/de­part­ing within a space of two hours.

We were not like this, how­ever, in days gone by. Our air­ports too, though small, were well-run. Also, the ex­am­ple of PIA which was once one of the lead­ing air­lines in the world comes straight to mind. Can any­one be­lieve to­day that Pierre Cardin once de­signed the uni­form of our air hostesses, and which soon be­came the fashion for young ladies in Pak­istan and In­dia? Can one be­lieve to­day, that PIA helped set up Emi­rates Air­lines now it­self one of the lead­ing air­lines of the world? And Malaysian Air­lines and Singapore Air­lines and Air Malta and Alia, the Jor­da­nian air­line? Can you be­lieve any of this, reader? Our daily lives too are be­set with prob­lems which are the di­rect re­sult of our own ap­a­thy and the in­com­pe­tence of the civic au­thor­i­ties, and the gov­ern­ments concerned. Just look at our cities and towns and vil­lages. Garbage on ev­ery street corner; plas­tic bags fly­ing about; dirt and filth ev­ery­where. Look up and you will see a ver­i­ta­ble jumble of ca­bles and wires, tele­phone and elec­tric and won­der how any line­man can make sense of it.

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