I must, with much regret state that we are a nation of 'spectators' (I could have used the Urdu version of this word, but have curbed the desire to do so). The average Pakistani appears so besotted by curiosity that he turns even the gravest of tragedies into an event that he must personally see and perhaps later when sitting amongst his friends and relatives, be able to say with egotistic pleasure "I was there". My indictment of the Pakistani character is based on what I have closely observed over decades, the latest example of which was the tragic end of the Bhoja Air Boeing 737 just a few kilometer short of the runway at the Islamabad International Airport.

As news of the air disaster spread and rescue teams began converging on the site, so did a multitude of curious spectators. They choked the single route to the crash site effectively blocking rescue vehicles and ambulances so that precious minutes were wasted. It was not until the Army arrived that order was restored and those who had no business to be there, shooed away.

At Karachi Airport, a crowd gathered around harried airline officials demanding to get some news of the ill-fated passengers and crew. While a part of this multitude comprised relatives, who were distraught over the fate of their loved ones, many were 'just there', with little thought that the rush would generate more pressure on the genuinely grieving and the officials trying to provide information. The end result was the occurrence of some ugly scenes as tempers were lost and voices raised.

Last week, while driving on 7th Avenue, a collision occurred between two vehicles. Within minutes, a crowd of spectators began assembling at the spot to see the 'tamasha', blocking one lane. True to our national psyche, a majority of motorists stopped to seek details of the incident, blocking the remaining lane on this busy road.

Stopping at a red light on a busy intersection in Lahore, I saw two young lads suddenly going for one another. Exchanging blows and kicks, they rolled off the island onto the road right in front of the vehicles. I watched apprehensively as a crowd of adults gathered, cheering the two urchins in the hope to draw some blood. I had no option, but to get down from my car to stop the mayhem. As I separated the two boys, I heard someone remark behind me that I had no business to ruin their entertainment. It was with some difficulty that I resisted the urge to draw some blood on my own.

We are sadistically mired so deep into barbaric practices dating back to the dark ages that we actually enjoy the sight of dogs ripping each other's throats or rams battering their brains out. Many years ago, while on tour in a rural area, I saw two mongrels fly at one another with bared fangs. Immediately a crowd gathered and to my horror began placing wagers on which animal would win. I told my driver to drive straight into the crowd with horn blaring in a bid to stop the fight. Every time I drove through that village on subsequent occasions, I was coldly received with looks that said, "Here comes the spoil sport".

Our passion for becoming curious spectators has infected us to the extent that we tend to embarrass visiting foreigners. The other evening a group of Chinese emerged from a shop in Jinnah Super Market and stood chatting on the pavement. Lo and behold a crowd of interested Pakistanis began to assemble around them, straining forward to hear what was being discussed. I walked up to the eavesdroppers and in chaste Punjabi told them what they could do with themselves. As this crowd vanished, one of the elderly looking Chinese extended his hand with a smile and murmured "She She" (Thank You). 

I think the answer to our warped national psyche lies in lack of 'spectator blood sport'. Since we are on the verge of replacing our electric lights with candles and our gas cooking ranges with wood burning stoves, we should complete the picture by converting cricket stadiums into 'coliseums'. This progressive move will accrue two benefits - first it will satiate public desire for gory thrills and secondly the massive crowds will generate revenue to fill our empty national coffers.

n    The writer is a freelance columnist.