For a play destined to be a “classic” in the history of the theater of the absurd, its actors are even unfit for cameo appearances.
“The whole world is a stage. And all men and women are just players.”
These immortalized lines, composed by William Shakespeare for the play, As you like it, have been used over the years to depict various real-life dramas. But the theater played in Pakistan’s corridors of power – the one that keeps moving from D-chowk to Peshawar Mor, from the National Assembly to the Supreme Court and from the Punjab Assembly to a private hotel – does not offer not much to like.
In this theater, who plays the role of antagonist or protagonist is almost irrelevant, as the net losers can be identified here and now – the more than 200 million people in this country, who watch everything unfold before their eyes.
Are these some 200 million victims of this comedy of errors being staged as these lines are read? Or should they be elevated to the rank of “co-authors” of this sad story? We will come back to this later.
As long as the battle for supremacy lasts, all parties to the fray must understand that victory means nothing if it cannot be recorded for posterity. And for this narrative to stand the test of time, the vanquished must be constructed as a “worthy” adversary, otherwise victory rings hollow – more of a walk than a fierce battle, or even a war.
David versus Goliath
During his declaration of war speech, the Prime Minister, faced with a motion of no confidence in the National Assembly, had to find some semblance of dignity among the opposition and the easiest path was to choose someone long gone – someone whose judicial execution is also suspected to have a foreign conspiracy theory attached to it. Some kind of parallel had to be drawn between the current situation and what happened in the late 1970s – a superpower to get the leader of a small country.
This is the narrative that Imran Khan wants to adopt as his campaign plank in the upcoming elections. That a party composing the common opposition can bask in this reluctant recognition of its late leader is a lesser evil than having a group of unworthy opponents.
That he should have chosen the safest bet – Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – to brag about in his speeches while chastising the opposition is obvious. Amid the mix of characters he and his followers have caricatured as “diesel”, “baby”, “cosmetic beauty” and “thieves and thieves”, etc., who else could be presented as a worthy opponent?
Remember, the man who never tires of repeating ad nauseam that he had everything in the world and didn’t need to mess with politics, did so not only to “save the country”, but also to go down in history as another savior of Islam, a Saladin of modern times.
A mere ball-scratching, playboy, sports hero was no match for his self-rated stature. In this act he must be counted among the great leaders of history.
The same dilemma also haunts the other side.
Who among the lot in power can the opposition gather to rejoice in its long-dreamt of constitutional and parliamentary victory? The man himself cannot be magnified as he is not only a clear and present danger, but physically capable of continuing to pose a threat for the foreseeable future, despite his immediate surroundings – streets, parliament or prison – notwithstanding .
Besides, it’s also very difficult to find redeeming features that would stick to its sculpted – mostly Teflon – self. The multitude of characters surrounding him are no different.
Take, for example, the MBA portrayed as an “economist” who has finally abandoned the cultured image of the soft-spoken, courteous boy-next-door (of Clifton-Defence). There are the leaders who couldn’t even vote correctly in the senatorial elections, or even the one who is famous for repeating his leader’s claim to bring back hundreds of billions of dollars allegedly hidden in Swiss accounts by the opposition leaders.
There was a time when no Pakistani theatrical performance or film was considered worthy of screening without at least one imported actor’s name in the credits.
The storyline that is currently collapsing on all kinds of screens and stages has several such actors imported from abroad. Whether they stick around for the sequel or return to the carpentry they came out of while the same old writing team revamps the plot remains to be seen.
However, for a play destined to enter as a “classic” in the history of the theater of the absurd, they are even unsuitable for cameo appearances.
In the folklore of old, it was not only the king, the viziers or the marauders of the neighboring countries but the court jokes, the Kazithe saltthe poet, and the Sufi refusing to bow to imperial power that deserved to be mentioned.
In the current epic, alas!
Infamy is the only section of story hell that awaits them all.
After World War II, a commission was formed by the US government to independently assess the damage caused by Allied bombing over Germany against the Air Force’s own self-assessment .
In his book, “Name-Dropping”, the famous economist and diplomat John Galbraith recounts his experience as a member of this commission. In one such episode, he managed to bring in a fighter pilot from the recently won war to witness the interrogation of Nazi leaders. The pilot, Galbraith recalls, came back on the verge of tears, his only refrain being, “Who would have thought we were fighting the greatest war in history against this bunch of motherfuckers?”
Although we don’t have many historians worth their salt, it is hoped that future generations will find out what happened in the last seven decades from more credible sources than officially sanctioned textbooks to realize that millions have been made to fight pitched battles against each other for a sad bunch of sustained winners and sore losers?
Back to “we the people” and if any responsibility can be attributed to them for the situation? Some believe that people only get the leaders they deserve. Others strongly disagree and argue that people only get the leaders the system allows to emerge. The jury on this, among a myriad of other issues, is out.