Land of louts

The Pak Banker - - 4editorial - Ma­sood Hasan

In a way, it is ap­pro­pri­ate to end the year on a note of sad and sullen recog­ni­tion that we have, amaz­ingly, slid many more me­tres down the slimy slope. Be­tween an in­ept and rot­ten-to-the-core gov­er­nance, a shame­less gath­er­ing of na­tional vul­tures that suck the last drop of life from this crip­pled coun­try, yet re­li­giously avoid part­ing with one paisa to­wards taxes. Then there is a gen­er­ous share of un­matched nat­u­ral dis­as­ters and a com­plete and to­tal break­down of all sys­tems, ethics, man­ners and the so­cially ac­cept­able norms that ex­ist par­tially or largely in many other parts of the world.

We are surely at Ground Zero, or shall one say, a few notches fur­ther down? With each pass­ing day, this bleak out­look on life here in Pak­istan sim­ply gets bleaker. Even the most op­ti­mistic amongst us have thrown in the towel.

Some­thing vi­tal, some­thing crit­i­cal has snapped within us. The ap­palling de­cline of the most fun­da­men­tal things that give a sense of hu­man­ity to our lives has now be­come a can­cer that is eat­ing into us un­chal­lenged. The an­swers are not eas­ily within reach. Why have we lost it all, driven now only by things that a few years ago we would have spurned? We weren't like this. This is a ques­tion that is raised daily non-stop wher­ever peo­ple gather. There are many the­o­ries and opin­ions, but no clear an­swers. And ev­ery now and then, when yet an­other in­ci­dent hap­pens, this en­tire process of self-ex­am­i­na­tion be­gins, but there are no an­swers. Not re­ally.

Last week, fol­low­ing the snow storms that hit Europe, a close friend was, like thou­sands, stranded at Heathrow in London, and there they stayed for three days. While most air­lines, the "white" ones looked af­ter their pas­sen­gers, the " non-white" ones such as PIA were quick to aban­don theirs, and their en­tire sys­tem went into some kind of parox­ysm. Even­tu­ally two PIA flights stranded in Europe were al­lowed into Stansted Air­port on "hu­man­i­tar­ian" grounds and pas­sen­gers boarded these with their bag­gage still at Heathrow. My friend, many birya­nis later, ar­rived in La­hore and here is what hap­pened.

In a line with other pas­sen­gers, he saw that a sin­gle girl, Paki-Brit stand­ing be­hind him, was rudely pushed by a pas­sen­ger with his trol­ley hit­ting her "back side" as we re­fer to that part of the anatomy. My friend, out of con­cern for her, of­fered her his space at which the pas­sen­ger, an­other Pak­iBrit and built like a wrestler, glared at my friend and us­ing the good-old four-let­ter word de­liv­ered in an ac­cent that Lu­ton or Leeds would be known for, told him off.

The minute my friend tried to tell the lout that he had shoved the trol­ley de­lib­er­ately at a sin­gle lady by her­self, he and his com­pan­ion (who had emerged from the crowd and seemed to be an­other wrestler) fell upon him and punch­ing, kick­ing and el­bow­ing him, brought him down on the floor.

Shout­ing ob­scen­i­ties, they threat­ened him with more dire things to come (We'r gunno kill yer, you muther f...g baystrd). My friend got up - not a sin­gle pas­sen­ger out of hun­dreds there so much as lifted a fin­ger or told the louts off, or helped my friend. He walked to the dozens of men in var­i­ous uni­forms who throng our air­ports and asked them to help him but they all said it was not in their "ju­ris­dic­tion."

They di­rected him in one di­rec­tion and he fol­lowed their in­struc­tions and was told to go in an­other di­rec­tion.

He fi­nally went up to the of­fice of the su­per­vi­sor, who was lost in a cup of tea and a sat­is­fy­ing cig­a­rette and started to ex­plain what had hap­pened. The Su­per said to chill it and asked if he would like a cup of tea.

My friend said that he had been as­saulted and threat­ened openly with bod­ily harm but the Su­per said to leave it alone.

A break­down of what­ever lit­tle civil­i­sa­tion we have is fairly com­mon­place - on talk shows, in club meet­ings or in any pub­lic area, peo­ple ex­hibit the low­est lev­els of ac­cept­able be­hav­iour re­sort­ing to phys­i­cal vi­o­lence and abu­sive lan­guage, but peo­ple be­ing punched and kicked at air­ports is a new ad­di­tion - or may be it hap­pens all the time and peo­ple are too fright­ened or in­dif­fer­ent to file com­plaints. The at­ti­tude by and large now is that what­ever has hap­pened, has hap­pened and what's the point of mak­ing a com­plaint. No one and with good rea­son be­lieves that the sys­tem can de­liver.

So as we put an­other year to bed, what re­ally can we look for­ward to? Scams are so com­mon­place that they are bor­ing. It is now ob­vi­ous that we are all out here on this planet to get ahead by what­ever means, fair or foul - though the lat­ter is clearly the favoured route and that noth­ing, a deal in arms or a visit to the Holy Land, is treated any dif­fer­ently. Even mat­ters con­cern­ing your faith and your at­ten­dance in God's House are sub­jects of any con­se­quence.

It is all dirty, filthy busi­ness; the more ill-got­ten it is, the more we love it. The re­cent Haj scam is not even shock­ing. In­sid­ers say it has been go­ing on for years.

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