By Shoaib Hashmi
New Year brings, it brings nothing new.' So lamented
a favorite poet whose name I can no longer recall.
But no matter. It is good to be at the stage where
one's reaction is, "Who needs anything new"? I am
perfectly happy with the old and tried and true.
Among them are friends, and one oldie who, in my
opinion is well on the way to becoming a Golden
Oldie is Qasim Jafri.
He remembers to send messages all round, for the
New Year and other occasions, and he has developed
the beguiling habit of lacing his missives with
little snippets, oft times in Persian; and the great
thing about Persian is that it is such a treasure
house that every so often one comes across a real
gem. Here is one from Hafiz: "Sirr-e-Khuda keh Aarif-e-saalik
ba kas na guft; Dar hairatam keh bada farosh az
kuja shuneed"! (It is the secret mystery of creation,
and the pious man of God never breathed a word of
it to anyone. And now I stand wonderstruck: Where
did the wine seller get to hear of it!) I didn't,
so I will merely follow my New Year's resolution
and continue telling you lesser secrets, of much
less purport, but perhaps useful nevertheless.
If you have
been on a train lately, or ever, you will no doubt
recall that very compartment has this little red
box on the wall, which is called a 'Janzeer' in
the vernacular, and which everyone knows from birth,
is pulled in an emergency, like if you fall off
the train and such. It is a tempting little gadget,
and the railway people know that, so it carries
a warning legend, "Penalty in case of misuse: Rs
50/-"! That is to stop you yahoos stopping the train
for a lark every time you want to impress a girl.
What is more the legend - and the penalty - has
remained unchanged for sixty years that I can remember,
and for many centuries before that probably; and
thereby hangs a tale.
The value of
money changes, see, and fifty rupees hardly suffices
to purchase a decent helping of 'Pathooras' nowadays,
but at one time it was a princely sum. Before that,
when the railways first came, it was a king's ransom.
And the natives grew restless at the thought. It
is said that the people screamed that that was too
harsh a penalty for what could be an honest mistake.
There were riots and protests, and the MMA and ARD
of those times vowed to go on hunger strike unto
the death unless the rule was nullified and the
Sardar swore to shed the last drop of his people's
blood. The King then ruled from England, but he
was concerned about the feelings of his people.
He also had a crafty old Englishman working for
him as head of the new railway. The man knew his
King's soft heart, but he also knew his passengers.
He changed the rule.
If you frivolously
pulled the chain to impress your companion, and
stopped the train and were caught, you wouldn't
have to pay any fine. But you would have to push
the train up to the next station! They asked for
the old rule back, and it has stayed so ever since.
This is brought to mind because along with all the
other good things happening with the rumors of spring,
the Chief Minister's Task Force is also up to good
stuff. Chuffed by the roaring success of their 'Old
Masters, New Voices' exhibition of art, they are
now planning to make the Lahore Marathon a permanent
But I am not
worried because I remember the other story. Young
Linus - of the 'Peanuts' comic strip - was learning
to swim, and after one lesson he came home looking
very smug. He had just swum all of seven feet. "If
ever I am shipwrecked, and my boat sinks seven feet
from shore - I won't have a thing to worry about".
I have made a quick calculation and confidently
estimate that I could give Linus a good run for
his money over the same distance in a foot race.
I guess I don't have anything to worry about either.
How long could a ruddy Marathon be?