Of Fish And Bananas In Pakistan
J.D Salinger in his short story A Perfect Day For Bananafish, depicts imaginary creatures known as Bananafish. They are like ordinary fish, but when they swim to a cave full of bananas and gorge on them, they return as gluttons unable to move.
The analogy of bananafish fits the Pakistani elite well. The hole in which they enter can be symbolized as the source of their power and the bananas that they eat would be the money on which an ersatz elite has built a reputation on – whether it the wife of a colonel or the daughter of our country’s real estate business tycoon.
Barging into a house with guards in the late hours of the night. Screaming and using the name of ‘ISI’ to threaten the victims. Beating the daylights out of your victims and then justifying your husband’s infidelity by saying it was the right thing to do instead of questioning your husband in the first place. That is the Pakistani elite in a nutshell.
Money is a funny thing and it can even make the most sober intoxicated on power. Flash back to a few weeks ago and you would see a similar scene: threaten an officer on duty with the name of the army; use force and raise your voice to assert your dominance as being a Colonel’s wife and humiliate someone whom you think is inferior to you. And what you are left with is a pseudo-elite. Lacking legitimacy, they will be no more then dregs in the eyes of society.
A year from now and a military officer allegedly tortured and assaulted a child for engaging in a classroom fight with his son at an elite school. According to reports, the perpetrator went into the school in his uniform to abuse his powers and thrash the young boy. And how can we forget the heartbreaking murder of Shahzeb Khan at the hands of Shahrukh Jatoi – the son of an influential feudal. The family of the victim must have been pressurized to such an extent that they even went on to pardon the assailant.
This is how our elite toy with those that they see as their inferiors. They believe that money can buy everything; power, happiness, friends and even positions.
By now, it is rather obvious that we live in an increasingly precarious world, at least for the lower orders of society whose daily lives feature undernourishment, illiteracy, political enslavement, and in worst-case scenarios, political violence delivered directly by the hands of the elite themselves. It’s a catastrophic world, where the rich and powerful are represented by those spewing hate and violence like Malik Riaz’s progeny. These people have remorselessly grown accustomed to plundering resources, exploiting labour and running authoritarian political systems at their whim. The suburban labyrinth and the huge mansions of our elite are an array of misleading mirages, finely concealing the ugliness of the rich and mighty.
The problem with Pakistan’s ruling elite, be they elected representatives or members of the civil-military bureaucracy, is that on assuming power they start relying upon the giants whose shoulders they stand upon, be it money or a powerful post. The elite themselves – without a uniform, money or a post – are just as feeble, fragile and frail as any individual could be. Remove the money or power and what you are left with is a hollow carcass of fear, ignorance and ugliness showing the reality of such individuals. These are those individuals whose knowledge of economics, science, agriculture, education, health and even how to live daily life is as limited as ever. In a country with no scarcity of highly qualified educated talented individuals, there is no justification for appointing men with no specialized skills, trained only as administrators to serve in policy-making corridors. This has resulted in a massive brain-drain and the erosion of formerly better-performing state institutions. Every uniformed dictator appointed his former colleagues and so did elected politicians – with disastrous consequences for country.
The Spanish word “aislar” means both “to insulate” and “to isolate,” which is what most of these elites do when they get more money. They will use their power and money to buy people and positions. They will try to remove any obstruction that comes in their way, even if that obstacle is another living and breathing individual.
But their insulation from the public comes at the price of isolation. These individuals, drunk with power, forget that a line exists between what is acceptable and what is considered to be far too obnoxious. We can now only hope that these Pakistani Bananafish can learn to not be swayed by their gluttony and the arrogance their money brings.
Salis Malik is an independent writer and author based in Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]