By Humayun Gauhar

“Where the hell have you been, old man,” asked Maverick the Monkey. “You don’t look quite yourself. Is something the matter?”

“You don’t look quite so good either,” I replied. “I thought you would be in London with the prime minister’s huge entourage of sycophants, gallivanting around at state expense. You’re not very good at being a chamcha, are you?”

“Nah,” he replied. “Too expensive. My wife always insists on coming along and spends too much money shopping. What the state gives stooges on a joyride as spending money is a pittance. Can just about buy an ordinary meal. Better to stay at home.”

“That makes two of us,” I said, “the difference being that I happily take my wife with me everywhere. I won’t move without her, even when I go to Lahore for a few hours.”

“You’re saying that to save your hide because you know she’s going to read this, aren’t you?”

“No Maverick. I really hate it if she isn’t along.”

“Then she must be the best travelled wife in the world,” said Maverick plaintively.

“Probably,” I mused.

“So what’s wrong with you?” asked Maverick.

“Well, my eyes are going. I can’t see too well any more; even what I write is a blur. I may have to stop writing entirely if this goes on.”

“That’ll be a relief to some,” said Maverick teasingly.

“No, to many, I suspect,” I replied seriously. “They did an angiograph of my eyes and found some liquid behind both my retinas. So they’ll either do some laser treatment or give me three injections in each eyeball, two weeks apart. Neither will undo the damage, but may stop further deterioration. They say it is hemorrhage due to high blood pressure or hypertension, whatever you want to call it.”

“High blood pressure is a symptom, not a disease,” Maverick told me, as if I didn’t know. “It’s usually because of clogged arteries. Is that it?”

“Not that I know of. I’m having an angiograph of my cardiac and renal arteries on Tuesday. Only then will we know for sure. The arteries of my neck are clear. My blood profile is great – high good cholesterol, low bad cholesterol, low lipids and triglycerides, urea, PSA and all the jing-bang lot under control.”

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“Then its not ‘pressure’ of the blood flow but ‘tension’ as in hyper, like you’re crazy. What are you so tense about? You’re not carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. If things go to hell, let them. You can’t do anything to stop it even in your own country, leave alone the inevitable ride to hell that Europe is on and America staring military and economic defeat in the face. Whatever will be will be – Quai Sera Sera.

Maverick continued impishly, “They must have told you to lose weight, fatso, and stop smoking cigars.”

“I don’t need a doctor to tell me that. Even a monkey can see it. Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you or perjure monkeys. Please don’t take it personally. I like you and your wisdom-filled visits.”

“Watch it. You’re not on one of your television programmes on which you can say anything and everything and get away with it. Remember, you are descended from us monkeys, and ‘descended’ is the operative word here, for you are a descent in evolution. If you had been an ascent, the phrase would have been ‘ascended from the monkeys’.”

“Have it your way,” I said. “My optical condition is hopeless but not serious. The doctor has put me on a fruit diet, so I’m now like you monkeys, but the situation is hopeless because I love good food. I am a chef and am going to start a restaurant soon. My wife is skeptical about it, so I’m thinking of calling it ‘Khyali Pulao’. It is Pakistan’s national dish – Imaginary Pilaf – living in a dream world. But then dreams are the stuff reality is made of. However, the situation is not serious because I have stopped smoking. Instead, I’ve switched to those electronic ‘cigarettes’ and don’t miss my cigars any more. But I know one thing. Even if I lose weight and stop smoking, my hypertension won’t go away. There’s something called wear and tear, you know.”

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“That’s the attitude,” my friend. “Take things as they come, especially those you can do nothing about. Start dictating, to man or machine. Go get one of those Samsung Galaxy II Note gizmos that can take dictation in Pakistani English and transcribe at the same time. Every problem has a solution. You only have to find it.”

“Well, I just have to sell one more puppy to buy one,” I said. 

“I know that great mystical verse must be swirling around in your head: ‘Kagha sub tun khaiyo, chun chun khaiyo maas ray; do naina mut khaiyo, inhain piya Milan key aas ray’ – ‘O crow, eat my entire body, pick on it morsel by morsel; but don’t eat my eyes for they are longing to meet their Beloved’.”

“Look, Maverick,” I said, using a most unfortunate phrase for one losing the ability to look. “My inner eye is just fine. Some of us can see the Beloved even on the earth plane.”

“So what does your inner eye tell you about our country?” asked Maverick seriously.

“Frankly, my inner eye says the same thing: ‘The condition is hopeless, but not serious’. It is hopeless for the underprivileged many but not serious for the charmed few. Whatever the outcome of our crises, which in all probability will be more crises, the charmed few will always remain on top of the heap, particularly as long as they keep the masses hopeless with the old nostrum that, ‘God ordained your condition to be so. It’s a divine test’.”

“I agree,” said Maverick. “But things are also hopeless because the will and ability of those who you have charged to do something about it are wanting. However, they are not serious if one has the capacity to find solutions and the will to implement them.”

“It’s a learning process,” I said. “Let it continue. Don’t abort it. Let it get as bad as it may. Only through suffering will we learn. It may take us beyond our lifetimes, but at least our progeny will live better lives.”

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“What’s the guarantee?” asked Maverick mockingly. “In any case, I don’t know what you mean by ‘let the process continue’. Even what you call abortion is part of the evolutionary learning process, be it intervention by the age-old military-judiciary-cleric nexus or chaos and anarchy or revolution. They are not aberrations just because you don’t like them. Let whatever has to happen, happen. Then roll with the punches, get up, dust yourself down and get on with it. In the meantime, you really have made humans of yourselves, haven’t you?”

I knew Maverick was using the word ‘humans’ where we humans would use ‘monkeys’.

“Very funny,” I said. “How can you say that?”

“Look at what you’ve done to poor Khalil Gibran. You’ve done his ‘Pity the Nation’ to death. He must be turning in his grave. There are people who are even adding to it. ‘Pity the nation that thinks a Liquid Propane Gasbag is a sage and its real seers are foreign agents and real agents are seers’. Or how about: ‘Pity the nation whose prime minister would upset the system to protect $60 million dollars stolen from the people’. Or, ‘Pity the nation whose judges order its prime minister to do something that he thinks violates his oath and the constitution’. You want me to go on? ‘Pity the nation that doesn’t understand the spirit of its constitution nor the intent of its makers, but interprets it to mean what suits them’.”

“Stop, Maverick,” I screamed. “You’re going to be hauled up for contempt like the prime minister.”  

“Sadly, your rulers only play to the gallery,” said Maverick, “and very badly too I might add. But one day the right things will be done, when the movie ‘Planet of the Apes’ becomes reality. You’re not too far away from it. Good thing is, we won’t have to lobotomize you. You’ve already lobotomized yourselves.”