It was chance meeting so many years after they had graduated from the same college, when Hilal Haqeer recognized the nattily dressed Firoz Shobdaybaz alighting from his late model car yards from Le Chef Oscillant, the city’s current hotspot and the place to be seen.
Hilal had become an IT professional, while Shobdaybaz found his calling in what he described was ‘social activism’. They hugged warmly, remembering the times they spent at the college cafeteria, the Hutment, discussing the national scene, as divergent as their views were.
Firoz immediately whipped out his wallet and gave his business card to Hilal, unsurprisingly for him, the card announced: Firoz Shobdaybaz, as the founding president of the Association for the Protection of Pakistani Liberalism (APPL, spoken as Apple); a duly registered nongovernmental organization.
Hilal was quick to recall that Firoz had majored in pre-modernist thought and the movement for the abolition of the American Prohibition. It was a diploma that was more than difficult to match what the job market offered. He wished he could chuckle because the APPL was the ideal recourse for a person with his credentials.
“HH, I can’t let you off the hook, especially when he have caught each other a few steps from Le Chef Oscillant. It is an excellent place. We always have our board meetings here. Please be my guest, Mr. Nerd.”
Soon they were seated in the ambience of the French themed eatery. Hilal, ever focused on the relevance of things, could not help stealing a glance at the reality that stood outside: the country had celebrated its 71st birthday and nothing had changed, children who should have been in school were trying to get a penny by dusting peoples’ cars, the piles of trash lay uncollected, the traffic policeman negotiating with a errant, and despair was in the air.
They were still waiting to have their glasses of water placed before them when Firoz’s eyes became affixed to the adornment hanging on the zipper of Hilal’s laptop case.
“HH …Really! What … this little silver bat … is this the PTI … the Imran bat?” he blurted.
“Yes, my dear. Certainly. Imran is our nation’s hope. Hadn’t we had enough of 70 years of the corrupt, dynastic politicians, or more precisely, thieves? Do lift up your eyes and glance outside and see for yourself.” Hilal offered.
“My dear HH, you have not changed a bit!” declared Firoz, suppressing his scream.
“Firoz, do you know the numbers? More than 200 million Pakistanis are suffering unemployment, there are power shortages and now people even in cities like Lahore that once prided itself on its water quality are at the mercy of the water tanker mafia… unhygienic water at its best! Karachi has suffered since decades.
“Look at these kids begging. They should have been in school. Instead, Nawaz Sharif’s sons own multimillion dollars mansions in London … And Asif Zardari … his wealth portfolio knows no bounds, no borders. The father and mother were not enough; that we have the three kids … the three merry robbers. The loving uncle Malik Riyaz gifts … wow gifts a $40 million dollar mansion in Lahore to His Royal Highness Prince Bilawal. How much more loot they should have been allowed?” offered Hilal.
“Wow … wow … HH, you have worked yourself up,” declared Firoz, examining the restaurant menu and graciously translating the offerings expressed in French.
“Firoz, you seem to be detached from Pakistan’s world. We owe $100 billion, which is Rs. 1500 on every infant, child, and young and old … every Pakistani of whatever age… the moment you are born, this amount is added on you!” said an exasperated Hilal.
“But my dear HH, your beloved IK has no experience,” declared Firoz.
“So in your mind, the 22 years spent in creating, which is now, the biggest party in Pakistan from scratch, does not amount to anything? Isn’t that experience?
“Of course, your Sharifs were government wizards … Nawaz pasted into office by General Zia … Zardari, the par excellence, having performed the feat of growing a share in a Karachi cinema hall into a multibillion dollar real estate portfolio. Yes, this is real experience. And I forget, the will! Zardari’s loving wife transferred him the ownership rights of the family-owned party!” HH stated.
“OK … okay … but IK is not a liberal … hasn’t he talked against, what-he-calls ‘Pakistani liberals’?” sighed Firoz.
“So in your mind’s eye, as long as you are a ‘liberal’, quote unquote, you can rape the country and its people with abandon?”
As they finally turned their attention to now long neglected plates, a frustrated Firoz asked, “But … but … dear HH … the poor and all … the country and all that, what about us liberals? You know being liberal in Pakistan is not cheap. Chivas and all that don’t grow on trees!”