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Friday, October 28, 2005

An apology for the last post ...

I admit that, as two of my friends have pointed out in separate emails, my last post was an insensible diversion. Bushisms are everywhere ... so, why, they demanded, did I have to waste someone's server space to repeat them here.

All I can say in response is that I'd just wanted to (may PAWS pardon the expression) kill several birds with one stone: Collect, in a single post, some personal favourites from among Bush's Bloopers; make Sabeen and Insiya laugh some more; put up a picture of the US President pretending to be in Communication with God, Who, if Syedna Bush ibné Bush is to be believed, is probably Hovering in the area just outside the photographer's lens, Dictating the co-ordinates for their (His & his!) next strikes.

But, mainly, it was just a move to take my own mind off the earthquake tragedy and an unimaginable aftermath that has even led one of my 'bravest' friends, Salima Hashmi, to end her last mail to me with: "this may be the undoing of all of our lives".

And, in any case, one often gets tired of being sensible.

While the Indian TV stations and print media - which are mainly what I had access to for the past fortnight - did devote time to the earthquake, the reportage and stories, by and large, referred to areas that were 'theirs'. Natural disasters, however, do not differentiate between 'ours' and 'theirs' and show no respect for 'Lines of Control'.

I am reminded, here, of how, years ago, in Singapore - then under the dictatorial hold of a prime minister whose name sounded to me like the message he conveyed to its citizens ("Leak On You!") - I had visited a classroom and was amused to see 2 maps of the world displayed on the wall: one showing physical features - mountains, rivers, seas, oceans - the other showing political divisions. Beneath the maps some kid had scrawled the captions God's Map of the World and Man's Map of the World.
Unlike those horrors that Man frequently unleashes upon Man, these calamities are oblivious to differences of Religion, Caste, Creed, Colour, Gender, Age, Social Status, and - contrary to what some soul-less souls would have us believe - even to issues of Morality and Sexual Orientation.

Masjids and Mandirs tumble as easily as Synagogues and Churches, during Earthquakes. Tsunamis lay low Places of Worship and Centres of Commerce with the same ease and non-chalance as they do Child-prostitution Centres and Gambling Dens. A hurricane blows away a rich ranch-owner's Cadillac with no more effort or concern than it spends on a poor hawker's cart, unaware of the 'respect' even the former's chauffeur 'demands' of the latter. The ultimate distinction we insist upon making, that between Humans and Animals, also disappears in the wake of such catastrophes.

Despite the fact that the Indian media, when reporting what was happening on the Pakistani side, primarily stuck to faithfully reporting that the death toll and suffering were much higher across the LOC, it led a rather peeved Indian at a party to tell me (I guess my choo∂idaar pyjama and khaddar ka kurta had fooled him into assuming I was an Indian, too) that "by constantly saying Pakistan was worse hit, India was almost acknowledging that it had given up the claim to the territory that was rightfully its own". I presumed he was referring to the "disputed" territories in and around Kashmir, but was completely baffled when he added, "And my statement covers the entirely illegal state that was wrested from us in 1947 through the stupidity of Gandhi and the connivance of that liberal, Nehru." So, I guessed, he was referring to my entire country. Oh, well. We never did claim exclusive rights to insanity, did we? Self-preservation raised its head and, politely indicating that my glass was empty, I headed toward the general direction of the bar, while he continued to mumble phrases that cast serious doubts on the parentage of some of the most brilliant men and women India had given birth to. All I could murmur under my breath, as I slunk away to safety, was a suggestion I would have liked to make to him more loudly, had he not been bestowed with a 6'4" frame ... a suggestion he could only follow if he were a contortionist.

The only time anything more about Pakistan, than just the mounting death toll figures, got into the Indian news was when Pakistan's 'acceptance-rejection-conditional_acceptance' ping-pong, with reference to Indian offers of aid, was being discussed. Or when NDTV decided to embarrass me and other visiting Pakistanis by repeating audio clips of our slightly uneasy and tired sounding Foreign Minister, trying unsuccessfully to shake off the persistently pursuing Barkha. (Incidentally, on my return to Pakistan I discovered the 'acceptance-rejection' story to actually be perceived and reported 180° differently from the Indian version. Aaah. Never the twain shall meet!)

That aside, my own understanding of the situation in "Pakistan's quake-hit territories" - if these distinctions must at all be made during such large-scale human disasters - was also poor because I had little or no access to 'independent media' (hahaha!) most of the time. QTV, the one channel available at the place I stayed, is not my idea of a news source, because some of the beings who appear on it outfox Fox. Also, by then, I had decided to 'play ostrich', unwilling to let this gigantic source of depression aggravate my health problems. I had turned my focus, by now, to obtaining much-needed comic relief, for example, by reading The Apocalypse of John, always a fun read at such times and a work that cries out for a joint illustration project by Hieronymous Bosch, Salvador Dali and Gahan Wilson.

Back in Karachi and watching our numerous TV channels for just 2 days in a row shook me completely. I was overwhelmed by the images that were shown, although some reporters occasionally discarded all sense of decorum and insensitivity by taking away a dying victim's last shreds of dignity.

Not making things easier to handle were the numerous first-person accounts and reports from volunteers at the frontlines, many repeatedly entering everyone's email boxes because of that dreadful "Forward' button. Loaded with an anger that increased in the narrator with each experience of frustration and helplessness, these - as often as not - used the opportunity to push forward their own political agenda. Some even took the kind of liberties with Truth that were once the domain of marsiah writers alone. One email ended with the self-righteous author adding a rather tasteless blurb — Qeematoañ mayñ zalzalah angayz kamee! — for the quilts his company manufactured, promising to ship the product, without additional charges, to charities of the donor's choice.

All this was topped by a 'silent' meeting with my colleagues, the first after my return, one of whom has lost an incredible 29(!) members of his family. Another has lost 7, and fears worse news as more villages become accessible.

So, entirely motivated by not wanting to go mad, I just decided to send in a mundane post. To my two friends (and any others) who found my frivolity at this sad juncture unbecoming, I can only offer an assurance — that this was not, in any way, an effort to belittle the gravity of what we are going through — and sincere advice that they, too, need to laugh if they wish to remain sane.

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Blogger the olive ream said...

No need for an apology (in my view). There's a REAL need for a distraction these days and that is why your previous post not only holds relevance but gave us all a chance to laugh again.

Understandably, most Pakistani blogs are concentrating on the subject of the EQ. For you to break away momentarily from the norm and bring much needed respite via a humourous post was a good thing to do. Well blogged, Sir!

29 October, 2005 08:59


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