IFTEKHAR A. KHAN People consider power outage yet another misery permanently added to their wretched lives. Load shedding in small towns and rural areas exceeds fifteen to eighteen hours a day at a time when the mercury runs 46C upward. Power consumers have learned to live with it without wasting much invective, particularly the Lahorites who are always quick at passing appropriate expletives improvised to suit the situation. Their ingenuity to coin expletives is indeed unsurpassed, which they use with abandon. But the nation does not share the agony collectively. The chosen ones during the agonising hours of power outage adorn imported suits and flashy neckties, which perhaps is meant to sneer at the public - do what you can, we're cool. When public temper and ambient temperature soar, who in his right mind would admire the federal minister's monologue to forget about the Kalabagh Dam? He turns out in assorted suits because he too is cool. Instance of power outage that evokes public angst against the ruling elite is not the case, it is the insensitivity and lack of empathy the chosen gaggle portrays by its demeanour that rouses anger and hatred. Public leaders appear in suits when the hoi polloi endure the sizzling heat. How would a leader in Armani suit feel whizzing pass on the road on the unmade portion of which labour, including both genders, was busy sprinkling molten tar at 1pm? It particularly begs an explanation from leaders of the roti, kapra and makan variety while the gourmand species is not to remain behind. One never imagined the beloved PM had penchant for branded suits before and expensive watches. Even General Musharraf, who wore suits made by military tailors in Pindi, began to appear in French designs after grabbing power. In power, they all somehow tend to acquire a new personality and depart from their past. Is it meant to impress, if so, whom? In underdeveloped and under educated districts of southern Punjab identified more with creeping talibanisation than anything better, especially Dera Ghazi Khan that I belong to, public leaders display a special taste for expensive watches, gold pens, imported shoes, and monstrous Land Cruisers. Throw in pricey sunglasses too, which suitably prevent eyeball contact with the unwashed. To maintain their pressure, some of them occasionally demand for a separate Seraiki province. I had once asked a Swiss friend, a metallurgist on teaching assignment here, who had earlier worked for an expensive Swiss watch company. Peter, what was so special about Swiss watches that other watches didn't offer? His advice: "My friend, these watches are only meant to impress and to flaunt. If you're sensible, don't go near them. Pick up some other watch, use it for a year and discard it. Get another one." Better advice on watches one had not heard. Although living ostentatiously and showing off are our national pursuits, politicians incessantly talk about virtues of veritable political system and institutions in the neighbouring country but they never mention how the politicians there live and dress. Compare the number of ministers in both countries. Compare the level of discussion in the parliaments of both countries not to mention the level of austerity. When merely staying alive has become a daily occupation of the burgeoning millions here, a class of politicos and bureaucrats cut above the rest, has the best of both worlds. What a pity Back to power outage. There wasn't as much scarcity of power during ZAB's years of early seventies as it is today, but it had begun to surface during General Zia's period. The general clung to power for eleven years but did not feel the need to construct the Kalabagh Dam. Not that those at the helms after him can absolve themselves of the culpability of not building the dam but military dictators are most to blame for it, for they had the unquestioned authority. If they could maul the constitution to prolong their rule, they could also do something worthwhile in the national interest. Zia went and so did Musharraf. Either of them could have carved his name in history by constructing the dam. Both played their cards deftly only to hang onto power. Musharraf when in power boasted of having friends at the top of the international political pyramid whom he could call even at midnight. One hears he now regales friends of another variety by merrymaking and reminiscing the days gone by. It appears outlandish at the moment but, God forbids, if something happens to the country, the historians a century later might so record what had happened: by sincere endeavours of the few this nation was bestowed with everything it needed, including four weathers, plains, mountains, rivers and unmatched canal system to irrigate vast tracts of agriculture land, but its leaders were so shallow, self-seeking, insincere and inept that everything was lost. Pray, it's fear unfounded. The writer is a freelance columnist E-mail: pinecity@gmail.com