Land of louts
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.