A bird,a plane,an ostrich

Samosa prices,avian classifications and the London Games are keeping Pakistan’s court and assembly distracted

Written by Komail Aijazuddin | Published: August 9, 2012 3:31:54 am

It’s official: the ostrich is no longer safe in Pakistan. On the upside,it can now feel like everybody else here. Demonstrating a sweeping misreading of the concepts of both evolution and prioritising,the Punjab assembly recently declared to our country and the world that the ostrich is not actually a bird,but an animal. That’s right. We debated and then officially voted what is actually the biggest bird on the planet into another species,because that’s just how we roll.

I would like to briefly delve into the logic of this. Despite the fact that it has feathers and lays eggs — not just any eggs,but the biggest ones on earth — we decided to reclassify the creature into something it is not based largely,I suspect,on someone’s adventurous appetite. But there is a method to the madness: the change in the animal’s (I am now legally obligated to use the term) status now makes it easier for it to be shipped in,chopped up and made into a curry. Because that’s what the Punjabis actually need: another meat dish. Forget energy,health services,public education sectors and taxation; overlook that our monuments need restoration and that our manuscripts are wilting; ignore politics and the politicians; leave all of that aside because the truth is it’s the birds that really need to be dealt with.

Sorry. Animals.

I wasn’t even aware we had ostriches in Pakistan. It’s not a creature one usually associates running up and down the rivers of the Punjab,bird or otherwise. Of course there is a symbolic elegance to a government body debating the fate of a flightless bird,much like if the people of Atlantis had debated global warming. But the move really is as perverse as it is banal,and I’m having a hard time figuring out why. Why an ostrich? Why now? Why at all?

Horrified as I was that the assembly couldn’t find anything else to legislate other than avian existential angst,part of me rationalised it by remembering it was a provincial elected assembly,that perhaps some low-ranking member wants to have a really big omelette and thought he would set things in place. Surely,I thought,this is an anomaly. That reasoning did not last long.

Later,the Supreme Court of Pakistan,the highest judicial authority in all the land,decided that its legal expertise would be best served deliberating upon whether to set the price of a samosa in the Punjab or not. I do realise that the samosa is an important appetiser for many people and one that,on occasion,can inspire legislation. Consider Somalia: that country banned the samosa last year for fear that it may remind too many people of the Star of David,something they consider a Bad Thing. (Honestly though,when did a good defence ever begin with the words,“Well,look at Somalia”?) But why stop at one samosa? If the SC really has gone into the nitty gritty of fried hors d’oeuvres,why not decide now on the difference between vegetable and meat samosa prices? What about different kinds of pastry? Fat content? Why stop at food at all? Let’s reclassify our Himalayan Snow Leopards as “goats” and have a truly expensive lunch.

It’s Ramzan here now,the month of fasting when the samosa is “in” again,so I can imagine the legislation to be a sort of connect-with-the-masses move for the SC,and effort to show the bench is concerned with the average citizens. (Ramzan is also probably why most of these cases have to do with food. When fasting,the mind wanders.) Why they would not think of electricity,energy or education is,as ever,a mystery.

Personally,I think the court’s time would have been much better served choosing alternate costumes for the Pakistan Olympics team. Patriotic as the green and white salwar kameezes were,the team ended up looking like Nawaz Sharif and I don’t think that was what they were going for. Don’t laugh too hard,India. At least we didn’t let a housewife gatecrash our Olympic parade on opening night (still one of the funniest things to happen in the five-ring circus. Well,that and women’s weightlifting.)

The Olympics are actually a wonderful distraction; assuming we aren’t going to talk about politics or the government or Swiss bank accounts,we can always sublimate our frustration into sports. Here’s hoping there is enough electricity to see it the whole way through. Speaking of: I hear that 600 million people in north India were without power. Our condolences. Believe me when I say we know how you feel; everyone not in Karachi can sympathise with you (they privatised their energy thereby making everyone else look bad). Since it seems that only one of our countries can have power at any given time,I suggest a time-share of sorts. Let’s temporarily combine our energy resources,then we’ll both get to see the Olympics in a cross-border,free-love party at Wagah.

We’ll bring the ostriches if you bring the samosas. Promise.

Aijazuddin is a writer and artist based in Lahore

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