As we welcome the New Year, my thoughts go back in time to take stock of where we stand as a nation. What I see is not encouraging in any sense of the word,for I see a peoplesuffering from multiple disorders of mind and character. I have, in ardent pursuit of exposing the truth and showing the proverbial mirror to the nation, been subjected to scathing criticism. I can understand this sentiment as seeing one’s own ugliness, accepting it and then carrying out self-rectification is perhaps a saintly virtue.

I once wrote a column wherein I narrated a story about a venerable old lady, who claimed that if one wanted to judge someone’s character one had to simply watch that person eat. One just has to stand in a safe corner and watch as perfectly respectable looking wedding guests turn into voracious animals, when dinner is announced. I have often come away from many such feasts without having any sustenance and have marveled at thisbestial phenomena, which I have termed as ‘the food stampede’.

Someone once stated that observance of traffic rules was an indicator of a nation’s discipline. I can vouch for the rule’s veracity because of what happened to me on a busy London road. As I stepped onto the Zebra Crossing without paying heed to the traffic light, all oncoming vehicles screeched to a halt. I stood rooted to the spot not knowing what the commotion was about, when I received a sharp prod in the ribs from an umbrella wielding old matron with the words, “Go on young man, you’re holding up the traffic”. It was then I realized that in civilized societies, whenever a pedestrian sets foot on a Zebra Crossing, he assumes an irrevocable right of way on the road. In the ‘Land of the Pure’ however, one can stand for an immeasurable length of time on the striped crossing in the knowledge that one will have to run this gauntlet with cars whizzing past as if the pedestrian was invisible.

I don’t know what came over the Islamabad Traffic Police, when they installed a working traffic signal on the Jinnah Avenue opposite Saudi Pak Towers in the absence of an intersection. I was belonged perhaps to a ‘foolish’ group of motorists, who always stopped as the light turned red at this point and in the process drew vociferous comments from my family. My answer to these protesting voices was simple – as long as a working signal was in place I would obey it. I was however chagrined to see that a majority of educated citizens failed to stop at the point, lending logical strength to my family’s take on the issue. It was only a few days ago that better sense prevailed upon the ITP and the signal was deactivated.

Another indicator of any nation’s psyche is its sanitary habits. I happened to pass through Switzerland in the course of my professional pursuits and once again found myself at the receiving end of a concerned citizen’s ire. Walking from my hotel in Kloten (a Zurich Suburb) to a famous supermarket chain, I spat a piece of spent chewing gum as surreptitiously as I could, into a flower bed. Before I could take another step, a shrill female voice coming from above me arrested my progress. I looked up to see an elderly lady pointing excitedly at me and saying something in German. It took me a few seconds to realize that I was being indicted for littering a Zurich flower bed and must repent without delay. I retrieved the offending object from the flowers and made a beeline for the nearby trash can. I looked back to see the ‘female custodian’ leaning out of her window to ensure that her rebuke had generated the right effect.

In stark contrast, I once checked a person for throwing his ‘betel leaf’ wrapper on a Lahore Road and regretted doing so, in view of the insulting response I received from this ‘whippersnapper’, who was young enough to be my son. But throwing wrappers is a minor misdemeanor candy when compared to public places that have been converted into spittoons or even lavatories.

It is astonishing that the very people, who treat their own country in so callous a manner, become symbols of self-discipline, when they go abroad. This leads one to assume that the negative development of our national character is an outcome of lack of will to enforce laws, rules and regulations and in some case their selective application. Whether my generation will savor the fruits of a society that is governed by evenhanded enforcement and fair play appears to be a far-fetched notion, at least for the time being and it makes me angry.

The writer is a freelance columnist.