Matters of Mutual Interest
By N.A. Bhatti


My friend Hafizur Rahman, in his column 'Politics as a pastime', has invited readers to an eavesdropping session to learn what goes on behind the scenes when politicians call on each other leading to newspaper headlines. Politics is not my cup of tea but I have had over two decades of experience of life in the diplomatic corps (not corpse as a CSS aspirant once put it!). Let me, therefore, take you on an eavesdropping session in the diplomatic world to know what actually happens when newspapers publish news like this:
"Mr. Michael Esperanto, who is leaving Islamabad on completion of his tenure, paid a farewell call on the President in Aiwan-e-Sadr on Saturday. They remained together for some time and discussed matters of mutual interest."
The first sentence is news, the second is not. It is painfully obvious that they must have been together, even if it was only for a few seconds. Unless His Excellency's gastro-intestinal system rebelled just when his car entered the porch of Aiwan-e-Sadr and he had to rush back to his residence immediately to preempt an embarrassing fiasco.
So the second sentence is mere padding as you can't visualise them sitting and gaping vacantly into space for an hour or so.
My hero this time is also a Chaudhry, not one of the several Gujrati Chaudhries I know and who frequently feature in my columns, but one who, Allah bless his departed soul, was a former President of Pakistan: the late Chaudhry Fazal Ilahi.
In the winter of 1975/76, he was scheduled to receive the Prime Minister of -- take a deep breath -- Jumhuriyat al Qumur al Itthadiyah al Islamiyah (Ouch!) known simply as the Comoros. In my capacity as Director (Africa-A) in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I had to be officially present when the prime minister came to pay a courtesy call on the president as a part of his itinerary in Pakistan. Accordingly I requisitioned the FO staff car and arrived in the State Guest House, Rawalpindi, where the president was then living.
Chaudhry Sahib had had a very uncomfortable night, sniffling and sneezing due to the cold he had caught the previous day. As I had covered a few of his earlier meetings with foreign leaders, he had come to know I was his garain from the same district of Gujrat. So he was a bit more informal than when other FO Officers came to him in similar circumstances. He had been a successful practicing lawyer and politician but not a geographer, so he expressed his wish to be briefed about the Comoros before his visitor arrived.
"Eh Comoro kee bla eh?" he inquired in Punjabi.
I informed him that the Comoros were a group of three islands having an area of about 720 square miles and a population approximately equal to that of Islamabad. Situated in the Mozambique Channel between Madagascar and South East Africa, the Comoros was an independent Islamic state and a member of the OIC. I was about to furnish him with a few more facts but stopped when I heard the crunch of tires outside, and got my note pad and ballpoint ready.
The president received his guest warmly in the porch and escorted him in. There followed small talk over cups of tea.
"Your first visit to Pakistan, Excellency?"
"Yes, my first. Actually I transited through Karachi once but you can't really call that a visit. Oh, Islamabad is really beautiful. Who designed it?"
"A Greek firm named Doxiadis Associates drew up the Master Plan. We are following it faithfully." (I to myself: "President Sahib, that's a fast one you're pulling!")
"Mr. President, what does Pakistan export?"
"Cotton, textiles, rice, waghairah waghairah."
"What's waghairah waghairah?"
Chaudhry Sahib gave a sober laugh and explained apologetically that it just meant etcetera etcetera. On this, both broke into laughter.
"And what do you export?" asked the President in turn.
"Copra, vanilla, ylang ylang..." replied his guest.
"Ah, you export ice-cream! How nice! I myself prefer vanilla to other flavors."
"Vanilla is a flavoring substance extracted from a climbing orchid Vanilla Planifolia and is used in medicines and of course also in ice-cream," clarified the visitor.
"And I suppose ylang ylang is your equivalent of our waghairah waghairah?"
"No, Mr. president, it is a fragrant oil from a tree of the custard family that we export in even greater quantities than vanilla."
I fervently hoped that Chaudhry Sahib wouldn't commit another faux pas by declaring how much more he enjoyed custard pudding than ice-cream. Thank God the situation was saved by both enjoying the joke and breaking into mild diplomatic laughter.
Chaudhry Sahib, poor man, occasionally interrupted their chat with his sniffling and sneezing and his visitor sympathizing every time a sudden "haaa-haaa-haaachhooo" exploded. The session lasted for half-an-hour as it was simply a courtesy call and nothing substantive was discussed.
After he had seen off his guest, I accompanied Chaudhry Sahib back into the room and then requested his formal permission to leave. He gestured that I should hold on a bit.
"Aa bhai, ik do hoar samosay ho jaan. Eh baray mazeydar ney!" I couldn't disobey presidential orders, especially when yummies were involved. We sat around the center-table, munching and crunching, slurping and burping, gupping and shupping within the bounds permitted by protocol.
"Did you take any notes?" asked the president.
"No, Sir. It was only a courtesy call."
"But I noticed you were writing something in your note pad. Show me."
He was satisfied when he found the page scribbled with a few words but he didn't bother to discover their meaning. They read:
"Waghairah waghairah. Ylang Ylang. Ice cream. Custard. Titbits File."
Now you know at least one of the journalistic gimmicks used to record some apparently trivial incident for use in future newspaper columns. You have also become a bit wiser regarding the nature of the 'matters of mutual interest' that are frequently published as news for you.


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