Feisal Naqvi

“Sala, tum jaisa bohut dekha hum ne!”

In Uncategorized on December 2, 2010 at 3:51 am

Living in Pakistan is not for the faint of heart. Every day brings a fresh batch of bad news. Inflation, corruption, floods, droughts, earthquakes, car-jackings, gang rapes, terrorist killings, target killings, sectarian killings, honour killings – you name it, we got it. We are a one-stop disaster shop.

I don’t mean to be facetious: the national mood these days is about as bad as I have ever seen it, and with good reason. We are high on the list of the most corrupt nations, high on the list of failed states and even higher on the list of unsafe states.

The problem with all of this pessimism is that it overlooks one essential fact: we’re not quite dead yet. Even today, Pakistan is very much a functioning state. We have an army, a navy, an air force, an airline, a judiciary, a civil service, a parliament, a health-care system, an education system, teams which win medals and a thriving – if psychotic – media. I could go on, but the point is fairly simple: we ain’t Somalia and we ain’t Afghanistan either.

The sceptic’s answer to my list would be, “not yet, at any rate.” But seriously, for most of my sentient life, one pundit after another has been warning that we are on the verge of disaster, that in the immediate future, all hell will break loose and  Pakistan will revert to a Hobbesian state of nature in which life will be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Am I in my optimism, the same as the man who jumped off a forty-storey building and – for the first thirty-nine storeys – correctly believed that he could fly?

Let us try and look at this logically.  Analysts – both western and local – present their views as if there were an equation out there with identifiable metrics, something along the lines of a + b + c = failed state. Let us assume that there is such an equation  and let us assume further that “a” and “b” and “c” do all look as forebodingly bad as the analysts claim. Let us assume further that “a” and “b” and “c” should (as per their stipulated values) add up to a failed state. The question then is simple: why not so far?

One answer, as already indicated, is that disaster is round the corner. That may well be true but it is also irrelevant. As the saying goes, I’ll jump off that bridge when I get to it.

The other answer is that perhaps things are not as bad as they seem. I don’t like that response either because it falls in the wishful thinking category. Plainly, things are bad here. We are in deep doo-doo. And, we are sinking deeper.

The only logical response then is that the equation is incomplete. In other words, “a” and “b” and “c” may all be disheartening numbers but that, somewhere out there, is a countervailing variable, one which has till date prevented a complete national meltdown.

It is a little known fact that most special forces operatives are not muscle-bound Schwarzenegger look-alikes. Instead, they tend to be smallish, tough, wiry, bloody-minded indestructible little ruffians who refuse to give up even under the worst of circumstances. What makes them fit to be commandos is their hearts, not their brawn. Or as the saying goes, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight which counts; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

I did not start this column with the intention of writing a paean to our national character. It may simply be – as Adam Smith once said – that “there is a lot of ruin in a nation” and that what we are seeing is the dying throes of a once vibrant nation. But I refuse to believe that. And so far as I can see, so do most other Pakistanis.

Ardeshir Cowasjee was once hauled up by the Supreme Court for contempt after he had accused various judges of not doing their job properly. Cowasjee appeared but, instead of backing down, pleaded truth as his defence. Faced with an unrepentant Cowasjee, the court beat a hasty retreat, adjourning the matter indefinitely. Some months later, the Musharraf coup happened and the then chief justice was sent packing. Years went by before the former CJ ran into Cowasjee. Had he not brought up the past, probably things would have been fine. But the former CJ was not so wise. Instead, he smirked at Ardeshir and said, “Cowasjee Sahib, aap humaray say buch gaye.” Cowasjee’s response was brutal: “Sala, tum jaisa maaderchod bohut dekha hum ne!”*

The point of this story is that, at least for me, that instinctive flash of resolve defines this nation.  Yes, things are bad here. But our national response to the pessimists remains simple: sala tum jaisa maaderchod bohut dekha hum ne!

This column originally appeared in a slightly expurgated edition in the daily Pakistan Today on 2 December 2010. For those not familiar with Urdu, Cowasjee’s response means “I’ve handled plenty of motherfuckers like you before.”

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  1. Bravo! Being a US citizen who has spent a better part of his life in Karachi, and an avid reader of Cowasjee, this is brilliantly written. Keep on trucking Pakistan!

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