Am I the problem?


Shumaisa Rehman

IF there is one thing you need to know about me, I usually have a problem with people and how they behave. Take the Chimpanzee impersonator I spotted a few weeks ago. There he was standing on the kerb, suitably dressed, a cigarette in one hand and his other hand where it didn’t need to be. He was giving his proverbial jewels a real work over, right there, outside a big store in the middle of a busy street. The spotted gentleman might have a university degree, a decent job, offers prayers regularly, speaks eloquently and is about to get married to the daughter in law of his mother’s dreams; but the fact remains he’s devoid of basic manners. I felt the urge to offer him talcum powder and/or sandpaper and most importantly a good dressing down regarding public etiquette but I didn’t, simply because as an equal opportunities’ reformist, I would be spending an inordinate amount of time engaging with these philistines. You see, sadly, he’s not alone and as I have discovered much to my chagrin, this particular paltry mediocrity, like gawking at women is a national pastime for men (and some women) in Pakistan. While we spend an inordinate amount of time arguing whether ‘Ramadan Kareem’ or ‘Ramazan Mubarak’ is the appropriate salutation, “lowering our gaze and guarding our modesty” just doesn’t apply to us. In Pakistan, any random Idrees, Faheem, Nadeem or Najmacan harass you incessantly – sometimes without even knowing he or she is harassing you. We keep blaming the system but it’s not the system or the culture that brings us down on our knees, the uncouth Pakistani does.
To distract myself, I came home and turned my attention to the US election coverage on the television. As a television presenter / political analyst / social commentator I’m typically expected to maintain neutrality and frankly in most elections I would; but I couldn’t possibly do so in this one. I’m glad that Joe Biden is going to be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. What has happened in America in the past 4 years isn’t normal. Donald Trump is not normal. The lying, the tweeting, the play dates with dictators. Moreover, it cannot possibly be normal, when I know without a shadow of a doubt that I’m saner and smarter than the President of the strongest country in the free world. Trump doesn’t even look presidential; he always looks like he is someone impersonating a president. Like the gentleman (and I use the term loosely) on the road impersonating an ape at a zoo on school excursion day. Think about it, All presidents age whilst in office, Right? Because the job entails stress and lots of mental exercise. We’ve seen it happen before. Obama went grey, W shrunk 4 inches and Clinton grew that bulb on the top of his nose, but not Trump. He hasn’t aged a day, but the world has aged drastically on his watch these past four years. Another Trump term and I would have started looking increasingly like Madame Noorjehan. She looked good, but I’m not ready to go there just yet. On to domestic matters affecting the Rehman household. My niece came in the other day complaining that her parents would not allow her to get a tattoo and demanded my intercession in the matter. Much to her chagrin, this was a rare occasion where I found myself in agreement with her parents and thought this warranted ad nauseum celebration.
I don’t see the point of a tattoo at all. There was a time when a tattoo would demonstrate that you had been in the nick or the navy, but now everywhere I look people seem to deflowering their bodies with barbed wires, Maori patterns, Chinese dragons, Harley Davidson motifs, names of their partner in Japanese lettering and Flipper the Dolphin. This despite them not having ever ridden a motor bike, spoken a word of Japanese, not being able to locate Polynesia on the map and/or ever having swam with flipper or her mates. I wish they had the foresight to know, that with age, their dolphin(s) would start resembling a fading stingray. What happens if God forbid, the relationship didn’t work out? If one were to examine the work of all the great artists – Da Vinci, Van Gough, Monet – we would find that they applied their skill and dexterity to just about any surface but the human body. At no point in time did Constable ever think, “I know, I’ll paint the Hay Wain on Turner’s posterior.” The world is a great place, but by any objective measure many of its people are distinctly below average. I often get told I’m too much of a critic with an incurable bee in my bonnet. Really? Am I? Is this all my fault? I would like to ask the people that criticize the critic, why bottles of bleach sold on this Earth still come with a “Do Not Swallow” warning? I’m willing to compromise on my incessant need to have a problem with everything and anything, I really am. But only if the authorities concede and accept my plea to remove the “Do Not Swallow” warnings from all our cleaning products for a period of three years. This will automatically make me less critical of public scratchers, invasive starers, non-presidential Presidents and meaningless tattoos. The intelligent amongst you, can probably figure out where I am going with this.
—The writer is an anchor-person, journalist and activist, based in Karachi.

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