Notes from the Underground is back after a summer holiday! Many things are different, and this is the first Naya column. One feels it should be accompanied with some kind of pomp and circumstance, but one is now used to being in Pakistan, the land of hard knocks—sometimes a bat whacks you in the head, sometimes it’s an arrow to the heart, sometimes a tiger chews you to pieces, sometimes dustbins disguised as humans—I’m being coy, I mean Amir Liaquat—become parliamentarians. And still we stagger on, feeling emotional when it’s time to ink one’s thumb and sing the national anthem on the way to one’s voting station. I was lucky and got a girls’ college; my parents had to wade through monsoon mud and up three flights of stairs to cast their vote. One knows that the Planning Commission does things like conduct research and advise the government on how to run the economy and the like, but intuitively one wishes this ‘planning’ included more sensible ways to help citizens perform their civic duty in July, smack in the middle of the monsoon and stifling humidity. To the bride who left her wedding to come vote, well done and extra points for leaving your air-conditioned shaadi hall, in your shaadi clothes, in what is hands-down the worst month to be married in. Your friends, family and guests whole-heartedly agree.
The worst part of this election, after Mr Liaquat’s election, has been two incidents of animal torture perpetrated ostensibly by followers of two of the major parties running. A donkey called Hero and a nameless dog were captured and mercilessly tortured by heartless savages—Hero was beaten blind and later succumbed to his injuries, in spite of the tremendous and tireless efforts of the Ayesha Chundrigar Foundation in Karachi. The little dog, wrapped in a party flag, was tied up and shot—but not killed. Imagine how that dog died. The Bannu police have apprehended two men alleged to be the perpetrators and I hope they are hung upside down and flogged black and blue. Hero’s murderers are still at large. It says a great deal about the state of our society when people—in this, and most cases, men—think that the defenceless and voiceless have no value; that they can be used like objects, like targets, and discarded. That’s how the bodies of children turn up in dumpsters, and donkeys are beaten to a pulp. What did they ever do to anyone, to deserve such a fate? People scoff at animal rights, they say when people are dying what do animals matter—but it matters because all living things deserve dignity, safety and peace. A kind animal is miles better than a vicious human. You can shoot a dangerous and violent dog, but a human with no humanity is a vessel of evil for a long, long time.
Almost Prime Minister Khan’s victory speech was a mix of feel-good promises and slight confusion. Is it awaami to not dress up for one’s first address to the nation? Has former PM Abbasi set a precedent for the relaxed white shalwar-kurta that has now been carried forward by almost-current PM? What does this mean for diplomacy, and all those sherwani memes? And will we ever be called “aziz hum-watanon” again? It was nice to be considered dear compatriots, stolen from and lied to nonetheless. We all stand on the brink of something, but good or bad is yet to be decided. Many people are rightfully skeptical of pleasing rhetoric from a leader who has openly supported regressive and intolerant ideologies. Ultimately we are all in this together though, and who doesn’t like a nice bit of maternal healthcare? So here’s to tentative hope, but don’t get comfortable. Remember the bat giveth, and the bat also smacks you across the bottom and off a container.
The election results have been delayed massively by, apparently, a technical glitch in the ECP’s software, which was new. What a splendid idea, to roll out the beta version of your new election counting app….on the day of the most massive undertaking the government ever does, involving millions of people across the country laboriously filling out parchees by hand and Piano pen and then, presumably, counting votes by hand. I always wonder what counting looks like. Is there a massive pile of white and green folded ballots, with people in a row passing them down? Is there a big counter, like a tasbih one, someone keeps clicking for each ballot? In most of the world, where they have technology and consistent electricity, voting is electronic now. You tap on a screen and that’s that. No more hanging chads. In a country where more than 140 million people use mobile phones—and judging by the standard of my employees, not simple little Nokia 3310s either—it’s possible that at least in urban areas, a switch could be made to a touchscreen monitor. It would make interference with polls harder too; it’s much easier to pretend a big bird flew away with a ballot box than to hack a fairly sophisticated computer system to twiddle numbers. One hopes.
Another thing one hopes for is a strong Opposition. The point of one, in the government, is not to hound and harangue the majority for the sake of it but to provide an alternative viewpoint to proposals and spark debate. There is huge opportunity to serve the country by being in the Opposition too if one speaks up for what is just and helps create a better country. Nobody is perfect, and we should all learn from each other if we are trying to work towards the mutual goal of serving the nation and trying to create positive change. It is disappointing to see that the mockery of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari continues, particularly in this respect, primarily because he is not an alpha chest-thumping Punjabi man. He too, like our incumbent PM, is an Oxford man and in innumerable international interviews has been consistently articulate, polished and progressive. He is not his grandfather, roaring from podiums, nor has he got his father’s anguine smoothness. It is grossly unfair to keep sneering at him for not conforming to the only model of masculinity that seems allowed to the desi man: swaggering, gun-slinging lady-killer. In some cases, literally. And in the case of our representative from NA-245, responsible for putting an entire generation off mangoes for life.
n The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.