THE WAY IT WAS: A helmet is cheaper than your head —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

It is in the best interest of the country and the society that the brutish sport, played frequently at public expense, is called off immediately. The bullies cannot imagine what chaos would be unleashed if the citizens fielded a team of their own

The best advice I have come across this week is — “Wear a helmet — it is cheaper than your head!” And it is not only addressed to motorcyclists but to all citizens. You never know when you may be hit on the head. Wearing a helmet these days seems more appropriate than the Jinnah Cap. One may initially look a bit comic wearing a helmet with an achkan or a suit, but within weeks the shock will wear off.

I am told that the Union of Journalists is demanding a safety kit — a helmet, a pair of cricket pads and a guard for the crotch — be provided to each of its members. Additionally, they are demanding a tank for every reporter. However, the Union leaders are not insisting on a particular make or specifications. The reader may consider this an exaggeration but I certainly do not find it funny. No one who has been hit on the head, the knee, the shin or his precious crotch may be amused.

Had they carried the kit, the journalists accompanying Zardari would have got off the plane in better humour. They were lucky to have been attacked with enlightened moderation. All passengers using the airport, visitors to Data Sahib and those living in the vicinity are best advised never to step out of their homes without a helmet.

This is not to say that residents of Green Town — which is actually quite brown — Mecca Colony, Medina Colony, or Jinnah Colony, are any safer. The safest place these days, I am told, is the small and nice Gujrat Satellite Society. But considering how fast its foundations are being inundated I wouldn’t bank on that. As their support thins out, the authorities are losing their cool and swinging their lead-tipped lances at anything that strays into sight.

I am reminded here of an anecdote. Once upon a time there was a tyrant who had his gum pierced by a splinter of bone while chewing on camel meat. Finding the pain unbearable he ordered that all camels be apprehended and destroyed by the next sunrise. The camels, as soon as they got wind of the new policy, took off from towns and cities to seek safety in deserts and secluded places. While they were stampeding away, one of the camels saw a jackal desperately trying to overtake him. Greatly intrigued, he enquired, “Hey what’s your problem? What are you running away from?” The jackal who had known many seasons of adversity, looked calmly replied, “I am aware that I am not a camel. But are you sure the king’s men also know that?”

It is always wise to be careful. Meanwhile the judges may continue to preside over the courts in their white wigs though some seekers of justice feel that it would be more appropriate if they wore black wigs. That would make them look younger. There should be no harm in this since traditionally justice is believed to be blind. Of course, I would hate to face a judge wearing a helmet, even if it were green and had a crescent and star stamped on it. Aesthetic considerations aside, we cannot have our judges looking like cabbage.

A thousand cheers for our cricket team. I will not demand “Inzamam for president” lest he should find himself struck on the head without his helmet. Facing bouncers is one thing but having to face fleet-footed beamers in jackboots, considered a martial sport by some, is another matter. Our cricket team, made up entirely of civilians, has brought honour to the nation. They have made us all feel proud. The general, who is never tired of counting the failings of us civilians, has not hesitated for a moment to encroach upon their glory.

The team consists of common civilians — the ‘Urdu medium’ civilians without the proverbial martial upbringing. I believe initially whenever one of the team had to receive the man of the match award the others would quietly chuckle. Receiving the award was considered an ordeal because it involved answering questions in English. “Buddy, your turn this time” they would privately smirk. But soon they all got used to the pitch, making playful innovations. By the time we were playing the one-day final in New Delhi our players had become so confident that when Inzamam ambled towards the stage to receive the trophy and was asked by the compere, Ravi Shastri, in Urdu — obviously trying to be helpful — how he felt about winning the series, Inzi insisted on replying in his characteristic post-colonial English. That, in cricket, is called playing on the front foot.

I wonder what would happen if the civilians took up the martial sport where armed and armoured security personnel carry off truckloads of innocent citizens after insulting and disabling them. It is in the best interest of the country and the society that the brutish sport, played frequently at public expense, is called off immediately. The bullies sporting over-starched collars cannot imagine what chaos would be unleashed if the citizens took up the wager and fielded a team of their own. It is more sporting of course if games are played according to rules and if referees are not blind, partisan or intimidated. It is only natural for people, if legal recourse to change is obstructed, to consider other options. Kharbooza kharbooze ko dekh kar rang badalta hai (a melon will change colour when it sees another one do that).

Carry on Caesar — if you must — but beware of the coalition of the timid.

Prof Ijaz Ul Hassan is a painter, author and political activist. He can be reached at