I have often been criticized for my scathing remarks on what we have become as a nation. I can only offer my sympathies to these critics, for they appear to be suffering from the ‘Ostrich Syndrome.’ For those who are not familiar with this phrase, let me explain what it means. When confronted with unavoidable danger, the ostrich seeks safety by burying its head in the sand on the assumption that if it cannot see the threat, the threat cannot see it.

One of the most difficult things in human existence is to face the ugly side of one’s person, to take stock of blemishes and carry out the process of self-correction. If the units that make up a nation cannot do this, then this responsibility is transferred to the national leadership and the media. Regretfully, our national leadership is a far cry from what real leaders should be. Instead of acting as positive role models for the citizenry, they have become role models that embody all that is anathema to the development of a sound national character. What these leaders have resultantly bred is a culture riddled with sycophancy, gluttony and a lack of human dignity. While the media does what it can to expose the darker facets of our collective and individual traits, there are times that the race for ratings and revenues tempts it onto a track that nullifies the good it does.

Perhaps one of the most stark displays of our stunted national character results when my fellow citizens see tables laden with free food. Nowhere is this phenomenon manifested more than at political events. The food is assaulted like a mob of hungry hyenas and scooped into plates or in the absence of these, plastic bags (which appear magically from nowhere) and even ‘jholis’. Arguments and fights break out as the crowd shoves and pushes in what is nothing short of a bestial feeding frenzy.

It is during the month of Ramadan that people with means seek merit by offering free ‘iftar’ and dinner. Some charitable organizations offer three square meals for three hundred and sixty five days of the year. This is done for the benefit of poverty stricken individuals, who cannot afford a bellyful of daily sustenance; and yet, one finds corpulent, well dressed individuals making the most of a free lunch or dinner without a moment’s contemplation, alongside those who truly need it.

Another facet of our national character is the inclination to waste. In a poverty stricken country, wastage comes into conflict with hunger and want – for hungry people should not throw away precious food. It is obnoxious and embarrassing how guests at weddings pile their plates as if it was to be their last meal. The end result is that half eaten food stuff litters the tables and floor, at the end of the meal. I have seen bucket loads of this wastage being carried away by the caterers, to be dumped as trash.

Where the Holy month of Ramadan manifests itself on television screens in the shape of religious programs, it also brings to the small screen, live shows featuring an exotic set, large audiences and popular show biz hosts. While I can reluctantly live with these ‘performances’, I am not willing to condone what these shows are abetting – a culture of free loaders, who frantically ‘beg’ for gifts and rewards. It hurts my dignity as a human being to see men, women and children falling over each other in a bid to get the host’s attention or people imploring him for a motor bike.

There is an old notion in my family that if one wants to judge the character of an individual one has to merely watch how that person eats or behaves in public. I have found this test to be effective time and again and believe that it would stand true when applied collectively to the society we dwell in – I for one know what the result will be.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.