A close relative recently decided to quit his job and go into business by himself. I watched him with interest and apprehension, since I knew that in setting up his company, he would be confronted with ‘gaping mouths’ demanding illegal gratification and attitudes to match. My concern stemmed from an intimate knowledge of this young man’s character and the knowledge that he would never pay these officials, while my interest centred on how he would manage to get through the network of corruption without compromising his values. I was not disappointed, since in spite of heavy odds, he managed to push through all obstacles and accomplished what he had set out to do. In the process, he provided me with a unique insight into the character and minds of government officials.

Take for example the customs man, who called one day demanding that he be picked up for an inspection of the business premises. The demand was uncalled for, on the grounds that the scheduled inspection was part of the official’s duty and by all standards of good practice, he should have arrived at the venue under his own steam, carried out his mandate and departed. Nonetheless, the pickup was made and the man brought to the site amidst repeated emphasis that he was a Grade 16 Officer. I can imagine the ordeal my relative must have gone through, listening to the man and his ‘Grade 16’ litany. I must also compliment the youngster for displaying outstanding tolerance throughout the inspection and then during the return journey to the inspector’s office.

With the above incident fresh in my mind, I was approached by a colleague, who asked me to help him fill up some government forms in Urdu. Now I consider myself adept at understanding and interpreting stuff printed in my mother tongue, but to my horror I found myself at sea this time. The text of the form was in a language that would have, in all probability, stumped even Mirza Ghalib. I nonetheless managed to do what I could, beset with the question that how in Heaven’s name could members of the public understand and fill out official forms, when their language was beyond their understanding. It appeared as if these documents were designed to mitigate inferiority complexes and feed official egos by raising them to new heights of delusionary grandeur - where the applicant was ‘banda, aajiz and saail’, the official (read public servant) was ‘janaab e aali’, izzat ma-aab and mohtaram janaab etc’ and seeking a routine permission or approval would not be possible without ‘marhamat farmaee jae’. Perhaps the language of these papers had been created, when the subcontinent was under colonial rule and no one had bothered to change their text deliberately.

A few days ago, I was witness to an altercation between a traffic violator and a grey clad cop on Jinnah Avenue Islamabad. In spite of my scathing criticism of police, the custodian of law was performing his duty diligently and had done the right thing in hauling up the offender. I was first amused, then angry at the bearded driver, who was threatening the policeman with dire consequences – “tum ko pata nahin hai ke tum ne kis ko roka hai” (you perhaps don’t know who you have dared to stop). Here was another member of the Pakistani nation, with delusions of nonexistent grandeur.

I have often said that the Pakistani nation (of which I am a very much a member) suffers from multiple complexes (I have of late become reluctant to use the term ‘mental illnesses’). One of these maladies, where the effected ones suffer from delusions of greatness, is manifested in the way we go about our daily business. From government officials, who think of themselves as ‘rulers’ (when in actual fact they are ‘servants’ – no more) treating public with disdain (and disrespect), to the ordinary traffic violator in his little Alto, who threatens the cop of dire consequences, we are all symptoms of a declining social structure.