By Humayun Gauhar
I’ve good news and bad news. Depends on how rosy or jaundiced your lens is. I’m not in a good mood. In fact, I’m in a very bad mood, not least because I got the much-advertised injection in my lens, my left eyeball. The good news is that it’s working because my sight is beginning to improve. Suddenly, I can read somewhat for God’s sake, albeit out of focus, but that is still something. It didn’t hurt much, not after the amount of local anesthesia they put in it. More to the point, Dr. Zeba is a very good doctor. “Don’t move your eyeball,” she said. “Just look at me.” That’s easy, I thought, for she’s pretty, but I still moved my eyeball when I started seeing multi-coloured bubbles, like a kaleidoscope. So I got red eye, most impressive, but frightening.
‘Suo motoed’ Atiqa Odho went with me to the hospital and created something of a stir, especially after the success of her last play, ‘Humsafar’. I didn’t see it but I’m told that half the army did. They even put up big screens. She should make another one called ‘Kutchery’ based on her alleged bottles. It too would be a hit. Just like I did Imran the future prime minister, I have given her a puppy too, which she has named ‘CJ’. No, it doesn’t stand for what you think; it stands for ‘chal jhoota’. It has only one testicle. But you don’t know the sort of stir she is going to create coming Friday. “I have to tell you that I’m a big fan,” said Dr. Zeba. “Hers or mine,” I asked honestly. “Hers,” she said firmly. That hurt more than the injection. I should cook my famous ‘aloo gosht’ for this girl one day.
I got into a bad mood because after waiting for hours I could hardly hear the budget speech, the fifth and probably the last by this government, though you never know. If they extend their term as the constitution permits then to they might do another one yet. The National Assembly was akin to a wrestling pit. Punches flew, as did kicks, abuse and invective. I was waiting for someone to pull a luxuriant wig off. That would have been something. Opposition’s fat ladies held up huge anti-government placards. Treasury’s fat ladies tore them up. How were they able to get the placards in, I wonder? On whose side is parliament’s security? Our pretty Benazir lookalike Speaker should try and find out. Just because such bad behavior happens in other parliaments is no license. Why don’t we copy some of their good things also?
The good news is that under the circumstances Hafeez Shaikh gave us a good budget. ‘Good’ is relative. If you’re in opposition the budget is bad for starters, mindlessly, simply because they are in opposition. That’s the ‘beauty’ of democracy. Comes their turn and their budgets are no better, usually worse. When this government started the opposition was its partner and gave it the finance minister. It was he who bequeathed us the horrible foreign exchange reserve position that Hafeez Shaikh lamented. In a clumsy effort to get his own back for bequeathing him an economy in the grave, the gentleman announced that the Musharraf government’s figures were fudged. Capital took flight, some $5 billion of it in a week. That’s how the foreign exchange got bad. Thank God the gentleman lasted only a few weeks else we wouldn’t have survived a longer bout of what the World Bank calls ‘Darnomics’. He takes it as a compliment, by the way. Do you need any further proof that I’m in a bad mood, lampooning poor Ishaq Dar like this?
Our central bank governor did no better when he put the skids on the Rupee by telling the Wall Street Journal two days before the budget that we would not be able to service the IMF’s loans. Next day he took refuge in remittances that are the straw that saves us from drowning. With clowns like this shooting their mouths off any finance minister would be hard-pushed to run an economy.
The budget was good because it wasn’t bad. What the hell does that mean? It means that it could have been worse. Under this vote-attracting system it could have been no better. This being election year toughness was out of the question. Austerity is difficult in a democracy whose staple is votes. Why else did they have to remove Greece and Italy’s democratically elected governments and replace them with unelected ‘technocrats’, whatever that animal is? Because elected governments cannot take tough measures. The best part is that Hafeez Shaikh could make a budget at all, what with fighting multiple wars, little fiscal space, loans drying up and America stealing our money. Thank God, I say, for this should force us to live within our means. It would be tough for the charmed few but life as usual for the deprived many. ‘Ai tair-e-lahooti, uss rizq say maut achchi; jis rizq say aati ho, parwaz mein kotahi’. Those who know Urdu – and I mean know – will understand what Iqbal is saying.
People think that a budget is some kind of magic potion that will put everything right. They look for ‘tax free’, whatever that means. No new taxes? They look for ‘relief’, whatever that means. More handouts? Not paying the full price for what you consume? They look for decrease in prices, forgetting that our inflation is largely imported, caused by international oil prices. Yes, some prices can come down if they remove obscene indirect taxes on them, but how can you when few pay taxes, especially agriculturists who contribute some 23 percent to our GDP? They look for job creation, forgetting that without direct investment few jobs will be created and in our unfriendly, unstable environment there will be little direct investment. We need annual GDP growth of 7 percent to create jobs for new entrants into the job market. Ours is about half that.
If you want magic potent I will give it to you later, maybe next week if my eyes hold up and my mood improves. It would be futile though knowing that we don’t have it in us to do it, not before we are mentally decolonized, we whose Ka’aba is in Washington, not Mecca.
Funny news is the cute announcement that the prime minister has decided to turn the PM’s sprawling bad Spanish-clone of a mansion into a place of learning. Wouldn’t it have been better if he had done so when his term started, not when it’s ending? Is this a parting kick to the next prime minister? What if his holiness the Mukhdoom becomes prime minister again in a country where anything can happen? But wait for the parting kick to us. I’m told that they are going to make a new prime minister’s house in place of our one and only National Library. What a joke, if true. ‘Tu Shaheen Hai basaira kar paharon key chitanon mein’. Forget it.
Very good news is that the President has decided to donate his organs – after he’s dead, obviously, not now. If true, I want his brain. It’s an incredible brain that has given multiple haircuts to all and sundry, especially to all the Queen’s horses and all the Queen’s men. It’s unbelievable. Science would learn a lot by analyzing our president’s brain, like they did Einstein’s. It was heavier than normal.
The best news is that next Friday the APML’s Atiqa Odho is getting married to the PTI’s Samar Ali Khan, better known as ‘Sammy’. I call him Sammy Davis Jr. He’s an architect. My puppy to Imran started speculation that he and Musharraf were cooking something, just because the puppy’s revered mother lives on the general’s farm. Now Atiqa’s puppy could start the notion that her wedding could be a ‘marriage merger’ of the two parties. No such thing, so speculators better cool it, though in this country anything could happen. My wife and I are going to Karachi for the nuptials, not least because I am slated to be her ‘vakil’ since I had a small part to play in this her third enterprise, his second. He is about to become a grandfather; Atiqa is already a grandmother. We must have a photograph of the blushing bride (I wouldn’t bet on it, the blushing part that is) with her grandson on her lap. I will put it on my Facebook page. We have a saying in Punjabi: ‘Nani nain viya keeta, burra keeta. Kar kay chud ditta, hor burra keeta’ – ‘Granny got married, she did bad; she left him, she did worse’. One hopes and prays that this time they will live happily ever after. Ameen.