Promising underpinning

Ejaz Haider

http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_12-4-2004_pg3_4

Will Cuppy wrote this unputdownable book called The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody. He didn’t say it but I have a hunch he wanted it read by all those who take themselves too seriously. I wonder if that would include the Pakistani military.

Dryden said about Chaucer’s pilgrims, “here is God’s Plenty,” a phrase that was picked up later by quite a few critics to describe Shakespeare’s range of characters. I have no objection to this borrowing and Dryden evidently could not record one because he had passed away by then.

I’d say of Cuppy’s book, “here is History’s plenty”. The sections move through various periods in history and include disparate personalities from Pericles to Nero to Cleopatra, Attila the Hun and even Lady Godiva whose ‘underpinning’, according to Cuppy, ‘showed great promise’ even in her teens. Of course, later, as a full-bloodied married woman, our heroine decided to get on a horse, dressed only in her long tresses, and took a round of the town so she could force her husband ‘to remit the heavy tax he had imposed on the underprivileged people of Coventry’.

Most altruistic, I say. My Cambridge dictionary defines altruism as the ‘willingness to do things which benefit other people even if it results in disadvantage for yourself’. But of course Lady Godiva’s idea of altruism was the greatest happiness for the greatest number, including herself which is better than blowing oneself up for a cause.

In this country, of course, we have a different view of altruism to which the army’s conduct bears testimony. Altruism here presents itself in the persona of a general shaking his head disapprovingly every five to ten years and deciding, reluctantly of course, to “set things right” in this benighted state. Churchill was an imperialist if there ever was one. In his multi-volume History of the English-Speaking Peoples, he writes about the conquest of India as something that just happened. Of course he consumes far more pages to say this which only proves that he wasn’t writing a newspaper column but setting the historical record straight. Didn’t someone define the circle as a straight line with a hole in the middle?

But let me not be facetious. The point is that the Pakistan army’s altruism just seems to happen like Churchill’s imperialism and over time, predictably, transforms itself into Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden. But when the army is seized of one of its cyclical bouts of altruism, far from the altruism of a Lady Godiva horsing around in what gangsta rapper Snoop Dogg would perhaps describe as the medieval version of the girls gone wild video, we have to try our damnedest to get the General-of-the-day to remove his uniform — in vain, of course, but just as well because let us not confuse ‘general’ underpinning with the promise that Lady Godiva showed down under.

Which brings me to this great line in Cuppy’s description of Nero: “In some respects Nero was ahead of his time [they all are, aren’t they]. He boiled his drinking water to remove the impurities and cooled it with unsanitary ice to put them back again.” This seems dangerously close to the way the army operates in this country. It walks into the system on the pretext that it is dysfunctional and then sets down to the task of removing the civilian impurities from the system through a boiling procedure. By the way, it does a pretty good job of it too, so let’s not be bloody-minded on that score. It pays to be fair.

But the problem is not boiling, as even Nero knew. The real test is cooling off. The army casts around for ice which invariably comes in the form of those civilian impurities that had been freezing on the sidelines. Since the army, despite its altruism, needs to run the system, just like Nero had to drink the water after he had boiled it, the army cools the system with the unsanitary ice available and in the process puts in the impurities back again. The cycle goes on. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the recent boiling procedure and the ice that’s been put in to cool off the water. Nero didn’t know it, but we call the boiling-cooling procedure “true democracy”. This only goes to show that Nero after all was not as ahead of his time as Cuppy made him out to be, which is okay with me and won’t put me off either Nero or Cuppy.

But there’s more to Nero’s story. He was also a reformer, we are told. It is utter calumny, as Cuppy rightly observed, to say that he fiddled while Rome burnt. In fact, the violin had not yet been invented so he “played the lyre and sang of the Fall of Troy”, which is hardly something for which he should be faulted. Cuppy’s only objection is that he shouldn’t “have tortured so many Christians to prove that they did it” because “A few would have been plenty”. Isn’t that the essential thing about making a point?

Anyway, as a reformer, Nero “renamed the month of April after himself, calling it Neroneus”. But, as Cuppy reminds the readers, “the idea never caught on because April is not Neroneus and there is no use pretending that it is.” If anyone was still wondering why the idea of ‘Musharrafocracy’ has not caught on, he now knows why. Democracy is not Musharrafocracy and there is no use pretending that it is.

Ejaz Haider is News Editor of The Friday Times and Foreign Editor of Daily Times

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