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
"Eh Comoro kee bla eh?" he inquired in
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
"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
"Copra, vanilla, ylang ylang..." replied
"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
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.