City Notes

Time was, the Budget meant all sorts of things, one being the price of postage. Nowadays, I don’t think anyone sends letters. They send email. Or rather spam. Budgets have not changed, even though means of communication have. Gone are the days when one wrote a letter (presumably with a quill dipped in an unholy mixture of soot and water, perhaps on parchment) and then posted. Now it’s all done electronically. In those days, courier services were a state monopoly, and dreadful things could be done to you if you tried to violate it. The state kept its monopoly in the beginning of the electronic age, and indeed the ubiquitous telegraph poles actually constituted a means of control. The monopoly extended to telephony for a good long time, till the mobile phone made land lines so passé. The crucial thing was that the state did not maintain a monopoly over mobile phones.

A lot of letters never got written. You just got the message by phone. And everyone had a mobile. Whereas the state once set the call charges (and announced it in the Budget), now at best it announced a rise in the customs duty on mobiles (as it did again this year). And no longer does the state announce either any changes in petrol prices, which no longer change once a year. They change once a month. The volatility seems to have gone out of oil prices, but it’s still not back in the Budget.

I suppose there are still cigarette prices, but smoking has had such a bad press, I doubt if anyone would admit to listening to the Budget for the price of cigarettes. The price of tractors, yes. As But not the price of cigarettes (which did go up).

And I would like to know, not so much why Miftah Ismail got made a Minister from PM’s Adviser, as to why Rana Afzal got made a Minister of State, when he didn’t have to make the Budget Speech. Interestingly, Miftah is not the first PhD in Finance to hold office. That distinction would go to Salman Shah, who was caretaker Finance Minister in the 2008 caretaker Cabinet headed by MuhammadmianSoomro. He had been PM’s Adviser on Finance, in a sort of preview of Miftah’s own career.

Miftah is definitely an end-term Minister. Theoretically, he’s in search of a seat. Well, he can’t find one in the National Assembly, for even if someone was to resign his seat, there would be no by-election. Indeed, the time he has to find a seat is more than the life left in this Parliament, and thus the government. Yet he is the only holder of one of the three Great Offices of State, Finance, Foreign Affairs and Interior, who doesn’t have an iqama. The Foreign Minister, Khwaja Asif, has been disqualified by the Islamabad High Court, and the PTI, for want of anything better to do, is gunning for Ahsan Iqbal. The PTI is still trying to recover from the fact that Armenians managed to get rid of their Prime Minister without Imran Khan holding a sit-in. The PTI does not have much interest there, because the PM was not being removed for corruption, but because he was trying to bypass the term limit on Presidents.

Here we didn’t have any presidents bypassing term limits, but we did see a child pornographer convicted, even though he was working for an international ring. No, not one of the Kasur accused, but a fellow from Sargodha. That conviction was all the more painful as it seems a blow against earning foreign exchange at a time when the current account is facing unprecedented pressures.

A child pornographer wasn’t convicted next door, but a guru was convicted of criminally assaulting a teenage devotee in the process of ridding her of evil spirits. No mention of helping India earn foreign exchange, which would have helped the defence.

And the Swedish Academy might put off this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature because the husband of a member has been embroiled in a sex scandal. So in the USA the #MeToo movement was set off by a Hollywood mogul, here by a pop star, and in Sweden by a poet’s husband. Of course, if the Nobel is postponed, Stockholm will have a lot of aggressive Black American young men in wraparound shades and baggy jeans protesting. All of them rappers, inspired by Bob Dylan’s win in 2016, into thinking themselves frontrunners. I wonder why rappers have been spared by the #MeToomovement? The Bing Crosby conviction showed that it wasn’t about African Americans being spared, but it does seem wearing bling might be a preserver. Or doing time.

 And all of this has been happening as we drift towards summer. Well, not really summer. The hot weather. The maximum temperature has been over the 40-degree mark for a while, but it has still been a relatively mild April. May is supposed to be terrible, but we can only hope that there is some relief in Ramazan, which will be soon upon us.