By Asha'ar Rehman
July 17, 2015
IT does not take you too long to become conversant with the respective eating etiquette of political parties. A few opportunities of having negotiated with a political grouping at the dining table and you have a fair idea of how hungry each individual is and what makes a fulfilling meal for which politician or political worker in the pack. And then you can compare this pack with another.
Ramazan is one occasion that brings out the natural tastes and urgencies in a political party around the dining table most comprehensively. For instance, dining events hosted by the PML-N are marked by whispers and quite a lot of quiet yet there is animated hand gesturing, especially at events that have Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif as the master of ceremonies. The ones hosted by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are comparatively less hectic affairs in terms of the messages exchanged among those managing the occasion.
Also at casual luncheons the younger Sharif is more likely to appear to entertain personal, friendly requests for special action somewhere. For whatever delicacies his dinners bring to the fore, Nawaz Sharif is less likely to spice his guests with importance and promises they are looking for.
Ramazan is one occasion that brings out the natural tastes and urgencies in a political party around the dining table.
The noisiest would at one time be the Iftar gatherings of PPP workers. It would be as if an entire army of democrats had descended on a usually modestly dressed venue. Spoons in hand they would tear into the target with ferocity so that even an observer with his eyes closed would be able to tell which political creed they belonged to. And on many occasions, the affair would end before even the sounding of sirens signifying the moment for breaking the fast.
That was once a standard news item in newspapers in Lahore, and maybe elsewhere. It truly captured the want and greed inherent in the rotting body of, by many estimates, one of the most corrupt parties to have ever practised politics on the face of this earth.
Newsrooms are a little at loss to have been deprived of the juicy stuff that the ever-craving PPP cadres would provide them for many years. There was an attempt, a weak one, to cast PTI in the role of the greedy political party. The effort seems to have faded, probably for lack of public acceptance of PTI in a part immortalised by the no hold-barred jiyalas.
In the absence of that defining image of the lesser Muslims exposing themselves over post-haste Iftar, the debate has inevitably been centred around more mundane issues, and on smaller groups of lesser faithful. There has been enough activity to leave emptiness for some time after the end of Ramazan, and a lot of people are going to find themselves suddenly unoccupied.
Not least engaging have been the cultural debates renewed by Ramazan. These go deep after beginning with the usual at-the-outset debate about what actually is our ‘one month of piety’. The brilliant minds have for long been grappling with the central existentialist question about whether we call it Ramazan, or Ramadan or Ramadhan. Or do we leave it at the old familiar Ramazan — at the risk, of course, of being removed a little farther down the wrong end of the queue of the faithful.
Our grouse with the arrogant, ever bulldozing Arabs, which is at the base of the simmering grand indigenous movement against the Gulfisation of our culture, is getting reinforced all the time. The mixture of fear and anger has found expression to fit all kind of causes, from the ones thrown up by ordinary everyday situations to big occasions.
The opportunity to be able to attack the Saudi-Israeli pair as part of the celebrations following Iran’s exemplary nuclear supervision deal with the big powers does not come every day. Thus on less happening days, there is always a camel intruding from the Arab land to be taken to task and a foreign ritual to be opposed and a home-grown ritual to be defended to keep our ‘nativism’ intact and going.
This is a good enough occupation in itself, and a permanent one — provided the aspirant is persistent and willing enough to pursue it beyond a specific month. The issue is simply too complicated to yield to a solution in the foreseeable future. Pluralism dictates that there would be Pakistanis who favour Allah Hafiz over Khuda Hafiz. They will be there, coexisting with others.
There are Pakistanis who have never been compelled to switch from their sweet-sounding and chiselled ‘Allah dey Hawalay’ (and not ‘Khuda dey Hawalay) or the more known ‘Rab Rakha’. They have been unconvinced to lend their presence to the umbrella provided by the Persian-Urdu ‘Khuda Hafiz’ and can be — routinely are — found protesting a more locally managed colonisation.
Ultimately, there is the original debate on how the period meant for self-coaching in austerity has been used to flaunt whatever in the name of religion. The ostentatious television shows that help the privileged make a public statement of their urge for chastity and charity have kind of monopolised the attention of those who must, out of habit, deride shows of pomp and glory in Ramazan.
The newspapers, however, retain their distinction of being a world apart from the electronic media even during the all-equalling holy month. This is a fair distance from the pre-channels period where a newspaper reporter had to be selective as to which Iftar parties he attended. The status, including of those who were there to cover the Iftar, was decided on the basis of how many Iftars they attended during the month.
If the tradition continues in some form, some hosts have bowed out. The joke is that while those assigned the PML-N and PTI have been frequently feted during Ramazan, a reporter whose beat is the PPP is more likely to be asked to play the host to a bunch of hungry political activists than have any expectation of being invited to a PPP dinner soon. The clatter that was a party is no more. The Chamchas have gone silent since.
Asha'ar Rehman is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.