There was once a queen called Marie Antoinette, who on hearing the mob in the street asked a handmaiden as to what was afoot. “Your Majesty”, the hapless girl replied, “People are hungry and crave bread”. The queen shook her head in disbelief and said, “If there is no bread, why don’t they eat cake?” Needless to say that the queen lost her pretty head to the guillotine set up by the Revolutionary Court, a few days later.

I have narrated the story of the unfortunate French queen, because in my reckoning, the person who spawned the idea of using natural gas as transportation fuel needs to be put under the guillotine blade. Nature endowed Pakistan with large gas reserves that could have brought an industrial revolution and comfort to the common man. A short sighted decision (and perhaps a corrupt one too) squandered these reserves to the detriment of Industry and domestic utilization.

It was in the final days of the PPP Government that realization began to dawn on authorities that using compressed natural gas in vehicles was a no-option. Faced with a dilemma of mammoth proportions, no one was prepared to bell the proverbial cat and close down businesses selling CNG. It appears that a phased closure was considered to be the best solution and one that would draw the minimal public reaction. It was to that end that gas sales were stopped during certain days of the week. When the Government went in for a region based indefinite long term closure of these stations, a court ruling decreed that sale must be kept open three days out of seven. This verdict came as a surprise as one expected the judiciary to be aware of the strategic disadvantages in using CNG for transportation purposes. The ground situation in Northern Punjab and the Federal Capital is that gas pressure in homes drops to zero on the days that CNG stations open for business. Reports say that the Government has decided to appeal against the High Court decision and homes wait expectantly to see how the Apex Court deals with the petition.

In the meantime, the government has decided to distract the suffering public with a bit of humor. For example, a public service advertisement appeared in newspapers urging people to wear woolies indoors in order to save gas for heating purposes. This was followed by an advisory issued by a PML-N luminary asking housewives to begin cooking their meals at six in the morning because that was the time when gas was usually available for domestic use.

Speaking of humor brings to mind a couple of some other side splitters. It was in the days of the previous Government that sugar disappeared from the market and whatever stocks were available began retailing at atrociously high prices. Thanks to the media, which raised an uproar forcing a government minister to come on air and suggest that the nation should stop taking sugar as it was injurious to health. The local wit reacted by saying that he would not be surprised if the same minister appeared once to say that since clean drinking water was not available to many, the nation should drink bottled mineral water.

A politician, who was recently in the news because of allegations that he and his family were being persecuted for (of all things) breaking the law is quoted to have made a statement to the effect that those that were hounding him had broken every rule in the book themselves, but an uproar had ensued when he did the same”. I wish someone would tell the gentleman that two wrongs don’t make a right.

And the topper this week is the story of a minister who, during his first day in office, when confronted with a stack of files asked his PA what needed to be done. “Sir, file parhke is per seen likh den”. As his PA watched, the minister read a file and then quickly penned the Urdu alphabet ‘seen’ on the minute sheet”.

The writer is a freelance columnist.