January issue 2014

By | News & Politics | Opinion | Published 10 years ago

Dear Razia,

You have been gone for seventeen years. As you would expect, the world has changed and so has journalism. Journalism has moved to those cute little beasts called computers that you installed in the Newsline office but refused to touch. No cut and paste for you, you edited like a surgeon: with scissors, scotch tape and the good old red pen. But all news about the death of print was premature. Newsline has a home on the web but it still exists in print form. And we are still sitting here, thinking about the year that was.

So I thought, I’ll do the old fashioned yearly review like you would have liked it done. This is just an opportunity to update you on what’s been going on with some of your favourite people, political parties, fleeting trends and bizarre stories that made us laugh or cry.

This year we did many things. We went to the polls. We had a smooth transition from one elected government to another. The Taliban continued to kill us. We tried to talk them out of killing us. America bullied us; we tried to bully Bangladesh. Nobody came to Pakistan to play cricket and so our cricket, much like our moneyed elite, found a house in Dubai, a place you loathed with your heart. We had too many fashion shows. The Media became a story in itself, with owners and anchors accusing each other of wanting to make more money. And they all made more money. And some still didn’t pay many of their staff, which never happened in Newsline, a small struggling venture funded by the savings of working journalists.

So here are some of the things that we did this year.  Since you have been gone for a while, I shall try and enlighten you on your pet peeves.

Altaf Bhai called, again and again and we listened.

Remember the days when Altaf Hussain stood at a MQM rally and accused you and your other women colleagues of being ‘women with short hair, who drink bottled French water.’ Well I know that you never drank anything stronger than Pakola and probably still have no idea what French water is, but Altaf Bhai’s been in London for longer than you have been gone. And suddenly this year, London police got really interested in his affairs. Nothing serious though. Just money-laundering and a suspected murder plot. But despite public appeals and raids and arrests, the London police hasn’t found any evidence. I don’t understand why they were wasting their tax-payers’ money; they could have just asked any Karachiwala who would have informed them that there would never be any evidence against Altaf Bhai. But, of course, all of this irritated Altaf Bhai a great deal and he made a fiery speech against the Defence-Clifton wallahs. He mentioned swords and jute sacks or boris. Can you imagine, 17 years later jokes about MQM and boris are still doing the rounds. But this time, nobody was laughing. Altaf Bhai probably forgot that the Defence-Clifton wallahs have lots of relatives in the UK, so people who would never trust their own police were urging the London Police to take strict action against MQM’s London-based leader. MQM’s leadership explained that he had said it all in jest. Incidentally, Altaf Bhai has also written a book this year called Philosophy of Love. I don’t think he has written it in jest. And remember those operations that we used to have in Karachi in the mid-nineties, with handsome Rangers roaming around the city and catching random people. We are having another one right now. The only difference is that now all Rangers wear snazzy sunglasses, because sunglasses are very cheap.

And that bottled water you were accused of imbibing? Now every one drinks bottled water. Some of us went to the Bhit Shah urs this year and the faqirs there offered us bottles of Nestle water.

We went to the polls.

We had an election. Every news channel scooped every other news channel by reporting the first election result. It was a very lively election except for those who got killed during the election campaign. The Taliban weren’t killing randomly. Although they don’t approve of things like democracy, they do believe in electoral alliances. So they targeted some parties and spared the others. But the Taliban were not the only ones trying to cleanse our political system. The electoral officers were asking the candidates to recite dua-e-qanoot and recite other Neelam Ghar type religious trivia. It was a blast from the past because when we were kids, the armed forces recruiters had a standard way of picking out the future leaders of the country: by asking them to recite dua-e-qanoot just after asking them if they knew the meaning of the word ‘masturbation.’

Nawaz Sharif won the election by promising an airport to every Punjabi city bigger than Boorewala. But since he won he doesn’t look very happy. I know you would have laughed but he is considered an elderly statesman now. He only jokes with President Obama. That too about daal qeema. I am not sure you would approve of such culinary atrocities.

Sharif also appointed an army chief who is called Sharif. But even this appointment didn’t lighten our grim mood. There was not a single decent joke made about this historic appointment. Or maybe living in Sharif’s Pakistan just means being grim.

We tried to talk to the Taliban.

The Taliban killed us. The Americans killed some Taliban. We loudly protested against America in the hope that the Taliban would think we are on their side and not kill us. We can’t blame the Taliban for not buying this warped logic. Then Americans killed the Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud and we went into national mourning and protested so loudly that America got confused. Your old university mate, Munawar Hassan, declared Mehsud a martyr and anybody who fought against him an infidel. We had a very lively debate about martyrdom, where we discussed under what circumstances a dog can or cannot be declared a martyr. Dogs didn’t pay any attention to the whole thing and kept going to electric poles.

Razia, although you passed away while at work, always harassed by vain politicians and insidious intelligence agencies and greedy seths, we are glad that none of your friends and followers declared you a martyr because I am not sure if you would have liked to share an eternal afterlife with Hakimullah Mehsud. (Although you might have said, he’s kind of cute but not my type.)

We killed some polio workers.

Although as a seasoned journalist there wasn’t much that surprised you, but this one would have. You used to worry about women being killed for deciding who they wanted to spend the rest of their life with. You worried about poor folks being victimised for praying to a god with a different name than ours. All of that still happens, but the most threatened specie in Pakistan is the polio worker: yes, you can get killed for putting a drop of anti-polio vaccine in a newborn’s mouth. From Karachi to Peshawar, they have been killed while in their clinics, they have been shot while doing the rounds of kachi bastis. How did polio workers become our nation’s enemy no 1? I am glad that you are not here to read the answer because it’s as warped as it sounds, and even your almost miraculous editing skills wouldn’t be able to turn it into an argument that’ll make sense in any known language in the world.

A couple of years ago a man called Shakil Afridi faked a polio campaign and brought Pakistan a bad name by helping a foreign country capture and kill the world’s most wanted, and for some, most admired man, Osama. That man sleeps with the fish or has ascended to heavens, you probably know these things better now. The man who faked the polio campaign is in jail, facing very serious charges as he should. But as a result, every man or woman who for a couple of hundred rupees a day is trying to save our children, has become an open target. Imran Khan, who feels that there is a lot of misguided talent amongst the Taliban, tried to intervene by having himself photographed administering polio drops to a child in the presence of a person no less than Maulana Sami. (Yes, good old Sami is still around, and tells everyone that he is the grandfather of the Taliban and the Taliban ignore him like today’s kids ignore their batty grandpas). The Taliban showed their respect by barging into a Peshawar hospital and killing more polio workers. Their impeccable logic: the world is cruel to us and we’ll punish the world by infecting ourselves with polio and bringing up children with impaired limbs. That’ll teach them.

Finally, we took Imran Khan seriously.

As you know, he was always proud to be a Pushtun. So the voters told him to go and play with the Pathans. We gave him Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to rule? He protested, why hasn’t he got the entire country to rule. Last we heard, he was still protesting.

We went to the movies.

Remember we used to run a story almost every year about the revival of the Pakistani cinema? Well, this year we finally decided that making movies is much more fun than running such stories. So, we did. Waar where English-speaking, good-looking Pakistanis tried to save Pakistan from badly-dressed, Urdu-speaking Pakistanis with Pushtun accents. We also watched Zinda Bhaag where hot, Punjabi-speaking boys tried to get Naseeruddin Shah to speak Lahori Punjabi. But mostly we stayed home and watched Turkish soaps. Who needs to go out when Mera Sultan is on? We watched in awe the thrills of a Turkish khalifa in our living rooms. And although some of us really badly yearn for a khalifa, most of us know that he doesn’t really exist in Turkey any more. So we settled for the second best thing: Turkish building contractors. Now the much promised new Pakistan will be built by Turks.

And Razia, although there were more fashion shows than working days this last year, we didn’t get to go to many because of traffic jams and security concerns. But if you had made it to any of those, many would have air-kissed you and said: Razmatazz, we miss you.

This article was originally published in Newsline’s Annual 2014 issue.