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
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
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!