My day had been long and weariness had overtaken me. It all began, when I took a trip to a forbidding place near Burhan in search of a story about people, who lived in caves (I shall soon write a piece on this amazing lifestyle and the families, who have chosen to adopt it). As my driver cautiously wended his way through a congested road that links Kashmir Highway with Golra, a solid cricket ball struck the side of the vehicle with a loud thud. The ball was followed by two young men, one of who profusely apologized for the incident. It was however, the other individual, who in a manner most arrogant, told us to be on our way since the ball had made no dent. I would have perhaps ignored the episode, considering that an apology had been rendered and accepted, but something in the attitude of the second offender prompted me to tell him that he was playing the game at the wrong spot, where a callously hit ball may hit another vehicle and do damage. My civilized advice produced a shocking response, consisting of an angry outburst telling us to mind our own business. Out of nowhere, a third party joined the fray in the shape of a fat middle aged man, who began threatening my driver with offensive language telling him to move the car out of the way. I asked the ‘wannabe gangster’ to cool down and watch his language, adding that we were in any case leaving the spot. Regretfully enough, this individual had perhaps never heard of the words ‘civility’ or ‘courtesy’. I left the scene with conflicting thoughts racing through my head – thoughts that I had long wanted to write about; thoughts on what a major segment of the Pakistani Nation had become and was only being kept away from moral extinction by a few good people (like the young man, who may not have had opportunities like mine, but was a better man than I was, to admit his error and make immediate amends).

There can be no challenging the universal truth that national character is the sum of individual characteristics prevalent in citizens of a state. This collective character (which can also be defined as moral prosperity) is directly proportional to the greatness and pride of a nation. I was once given an abject lesson in how great nations behave, during a short vacation in the Zurich suburb called Kloten. A day before my scheduled departure for home, I decided to visit a nearby Migros store. Popping a chewing gum in my mouth, I began the short walk along a street so clean that one could perhaps drop a sandwich on the pavement, pick it up and consume it without a qualm. With the store in sight, I took out the gum and dropped it in one of the flower pots that lined the road. Before I had taken another step, I was bombarded with a scalding female voice coming from the upstairs window of the house across the street, telling me (in German) to pick up the offending gum and put it in the trash can around the corner. As I sheepishly obeyed, I could hear the old lady berating my lack of civic sense and social obligation. I tried the same approach in a popular Islamabad market a few months later and almost got ‘beaten’, when the males in the ‘litterbug’ family got around me to impress upon me in their own particular style that I was sticking my nose into their business.

A couple of years ago, I had stopped at the red light in D Chowk, when the car ahead of me began to move rearwards. No amount of horn blowing or flashing of headlights had any effect on the person behind the wheel because he was busy in an animated conversation on his mobile. Seconds later the rear of his car met the front end of mine in a jarring crash. To my horror the gentleman (if he can be called that), thrust his door open (the cell phone still attached to his ear), inspected the collision and strutted up to my door mouthing accusations that I had hit his vehicle and should make good the damage. No amount of explaining in a perfectly civilized tone that it was his car that had rolled back and hit me could sink into the thick headed individual by my window. I was lucky that a taxi driver, who had witnessed the whole incident intervened and took care of the situation, telling me very courteously to go home. All the way to my house, I kept on thinking of the two persons, who had played a part in the drama I had left behind. One was a prosperous, educated citizen with a void where his civic sense should have been, while the other was perhaps a semi-literate lower class daily breadwinner, gifted with a sense of fair play and responsibility far greater than the man in the car.


The writer is a freelance columnist.