The way it was: Apprehend the father and thrash him

Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

I am sure if an honest woman were standing at the street corner, the law would be most upset. Even the mullahs are never tired of promising to cleanse the streets off women. They are so obsessed with the gender that they canít even tolerate their inert two-dimensional image on a hoarding

After you come out of the Lahore Gymkhana, feeling frustrated if you have lost, the first left turn on Zafar Ali Road along a foul smelling drain, takes you to the old Jail Road. Ever since they have started constructing an underpass, adjacent to the canal on the Mall, vehicular traffic has to squeeze its way from where it can. Everyone is in haste ó in a greater haste than Bush who needs to conquer the world, in order to make it a nicer place. Whether we grow tomatoes or turnips in the ash and cinder would be our individual business.

Dates would obviously be a forbidden fruit in Bushís paradise. Eating dates encourages terrorism. I believe a study at the highest level is underway to investigate if persimmons are a safe fruit. The Koreans peel their skins off ó how cruel ó and then dry them by the thousands. I believe Kim Jong has been stock-piling dried persimmons for years. When shrivelled they appear quite harmless, like our dried apricots and grapes, but one never knows what those inscrutable Koreans could be up to.

I saw a film in Technicolor in the sixties where a person carries a revolver to a prison, concealed in a watermelon, enabling a whole lot of ruffians to escape. I would say one should also watch out for melons, both the round and oblong ones. A small automatic weapon can be easily concealed in an oblong melon. However the round ones are sweater, though the oblong ones are crunchier. It is really a matter of individual taste.

It is true that taste has to be cultivated. Imagine having caviar on your first birthday. A mashed banana is what an average baby with his toothless pink gums relishes. Have you recently had a banana in any non-solid form? Most gourmets like them hard and not limp.

My friend Rasheed Toru thought he was being funny when he walked into the Government College fruit shop and asked Pehlwan jee for a glass of banana juice. Pehlwan Jee, one of the gentlest souls in the world, instantly, without stopping to ponder for a second over the irrational demand, disrobed a couple of ripe bananas, put them in a Gujranwala manufactured juicer, adding a generous helping of crushed ice. When the ingredients had been churned to satisfaction, he emptied the white goo in a glass and courteously presented it to Toru, not forgetting to first insert two pink straws.

The whole operation was performed in such earnestness that it wiped away the funny grin off Toruís face. Toru never had a banana again and stuck to oranges even though they are much harder to peel. I can never peel an orange without a knife. I knew someone who could split it into two with the strength of his two thumbs. He liked oranges very much and would eat them by the dozens. He liked mangoes even more. He was terrible at cards but liked to monopolise the game. And his partner was always wrong. He liked to monopolise the game and never hesitated to press a card hard on the table to make his partner know that he was either trumping or held the highest card.

At the top of the Zafar Ali Road, the traffic gets clogged, because of the new underpass being built, as I mentioned earlier. It is not too bad, but one is stranded for ten to fifteen minutes, which for the impatient Lahoris is like waiting for an hour. We are very particular about being punctual on reaching our undetermined destinations. However in spite of ourselves everyone has to wait. All outlets are blocked resulting in traffic snarls; even the footpath adjacent to the golf course and the Christian Graveyard is bumper to bumper. The commuters on bikes and pedestrians are stuck between the larger vehicles like stringy bits of meat in the molars.

On one such occasion I spotted a child not more than five years old winding his way through the chaos, begging for money. A few days later I saw another one and a day later, yet another. They were good looking children hailing from the northern parts of our country. They reminded me of my own grandchildren of the same age who live far away from Lahore. I felt quite miserable when I tried to imagine Mustafa and Mohammad Hassan in their place. A kinder person or the one impelled to pay his way to the heavens would probably have parted with a coin and that would have been the end of it. Foolishly I just continued to observe them.

I tried to internalise their smallest expression, crease, indentation, smear and speck of dirt on their face, never to forget it. This was happening right under the nose of the traffic police, efficiently managing the chaos. Unlike the traffic police these children probably had long working hours. I saw them once before midnight when I was driving back from the Gymkhana club, where Dr Kaul had invited Mikky and a few friends for an evening. Last Sunday I saw one of the children tapping car windows in the early afternoon. I wonder who runs these children. Do they have a father? If there is one why is he not apprehended and thrashed? It would of course be better if the law would undertake to do something more appropriate. Unfortunately the law is an idiot.

I am sure if an honest woman were standing at the street corner after dark, the law would be most upset at the sight. Even the mullahs are never tired of promising to cleanse the streets off women. They are so obsessed with the gender that they canít even tolerate their inert two-dimensional image on a hoarding. Privately it is different. If permitted they would sanctify a dozen and make four mandatory. Publicly it is another matter. Their faces have to be smeared with black paint. I wonder if they have ever stopped with the same anger to ponder over the pure face of a child, smeared and specked with dirt and dust, distorted and distracted with abuse and fatigue.

If I had a choice I would rather have children off the street than the women workers. Personally I donít care what men and women do with themselves. Their bodies are their private possessions. You may disagree, but we can settle that later. Let us first apprehend the father and thrash him.

Prof Ijaz-ul-Hassan is a painter, author and a political activist