Authority!
By Shoaib Hashmi

It was a striking enough picture. This huge tree, tumbled on its side with the roots, all awry and exposed, and a host of choppers crawling over it with saws and axes, like Lilliputians swarming over Gulliver. But it was the caption which took the cake! ‘A hundred year old tree, dead and wasted. It had shriveled and died some time ago due to the neglect of the authorities’! Neglect of the authorities?? What did they do? They neglected to come by each day and wave and say, “Hor sunaao fer kee haal chaal ai?” Or, to spell it proper, “Whore Sunaao fer kee haal chaal ai!”
Or there was the one in an Islamabad paper. The outer boundary wall of a kids school had not withstood the recent torrential rains and came crashing down. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but that was not enough, they had to say it, and what they said was, ‘A thousand innocent dreams of knowledge lie in the dust -- silent testimony to the callous neglect of authority’!
I suppose partly it is just a newsman’s compulsion not to let well enough alone and try and make a ‘Statement’ -- preferably a provocative one. It is also, I think, part of the ‘Lucy Syndrome’. When the year 1964 ended, Lucy Van Pelt, of Peanuts, threw a fit, “Who is responsible?” They tried to explain that the year had just ended, like all years must, and it wasn’t anyone’s fault, but Lucy would not have it. “Find a scapegoat”! She yelled!
Maqsood Ahmed was one of the most attractive batsmen ever seen on a cricket field. A cavalier stroke maker who attracted crowds to the test field in the early heyday of the game back in the fifties to share in the joy that the sport used to be before the pros got at it. And in his private life too he was a charming man and a conversationalist people called ‘Merry Max’.
Once he was playing his celebrated test innings, and it became even more celebrated because he got out at a score of 99! There are a few such in test cricket, and they are called ‘The 99 Club’. His father didn’t speak to him for three weeks. Eventually it got too much for Max, and he fell at his father’s feet and asked what? “You son of a gun, you couldn’t score ONE teensy weensy, itty bitty run more just to please your father”!
In the first test match in India, was it Mohsin who got out at 91? Then it was reported that directly his father called him, and I thought that was a nice thing to do -- to call your son and tell him 91 was a very good score for a batsman and he could be proud of it. That wasn’t what his father had to say. He admonished the young player not to lose his concentration next time and get a hundred. What a dumb and silly thing to say. (It’s all right, I am old enough to tell a father he is being silly). And what should he do the time after that? Concentrate some more and get two hundred, and then kill himself and get a thousand?
There used to be something called ‘the art of gracious acceptance’; finding the joy in what you have accomplished, and not perpetually eating your heart out after the next. We seem to have lost sight of it. And the nastiest aspect of what is left is the habit we have honed of finding someone to blame for anything that happens -- a tree could die struck by lightning and the headlines will blame the authorities for callousness and neglect.
I suppose we should expect it. After all it started early on. On the very first Independence Day, August 14th 1947, this man was standing by the roadside watching the Parade go by; and as he turned to talk to his friend, he stepped on a banana skin, slipped and fell on his derriere. He dusted himself off, rolled his eyes at heaven and cried, “Oh great leader, what manner of new country have you got for us? It’s not even a day old and here we are busting our butts slipping on banana skins”! It’s been downhill ever since!


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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