Last week I visited the ruin that has become of Gandhi Garden. What used to be a relatively nice, clean area adjacent to a portion of Lyari Naddi (trans) now looks like a slum itself. The streets were narrower with numerous incursions, illegal car parkings, rampant businesses, and balconies falling outward. The city had simply not met the housing needs for the increased mass of people in the area, but contractors had. What used to feel like a PECHS felt like Ranchore Line area. People looked unhealthy. Many of the old homes were demolished to make room for hundreds of high rises. Area was sunnier in the 80s. In the 70s you could hear the lion roar within a kilometer. The eternal "loosan wala" who I bought rabbit fodder from was still there like a phantom of his former self, or maybe even dead.
The city is shabby and derelict. Its destitution reflects a similar trajectory in our elite: Big landlords have grown richer on land ownership. The military has raped the country of its resources. Industrialists have systematically denied labor its rights. And elites have become more callous. When it stops hurting that there is massive injustice in society, you know you've hit a new moral low. A whole section of society fails to see how they are partially responsible for the decay. Being apolitical is a way of life. Religion justifies status quo and the belief that land, title and capital is bestowed from above. Social outrage is diffused and deflected from economic injustice to intolerance around matters of faith.
Parents from the school my children go to, ride away in latest jeeps, two guards and a maid in attendance. A twelve year old boy on the school grounds wears a proud, apologetic smile. On his back is his employer's little girl's bag. He should be studying not working. At the annual parents' lecture by a Fulbright scholar on a child's social and moral development, only a third of the parents show up. Some openly comment that the parents who showed up are those with a child up for admission next year.
Change never comes from the privileged anyway. But in urban Pakistan, I feel, that even some of the liberal dialogue and mobilization that is common in perhaps the middle and upper middle class in the U.S. is not possible here. In the U.S., in elite schools and communities you will still see some awareness on environmental issues, consumer boycotts, rights of ethnic and religious minorities, civil liberties such as free speech, right to privacy, due process of the law. Even if the elite are not able to change the status quo, think class, or dismantle systemic structures, there is a liberal dialogue around non economic equity.
But Pakistani elite have a special cancer that renders them impervious to even this --vain and unique in their insular mentality, and fueled by a growing bigoted religiosity, a break-down down of the public school, health, and social care system - and an extreme fend for yourself mentality.
Some traits --
An obsession with consumption where having a conscience only distract: Availability at high prices at large franchise stores a variety of foreign products. Birthday parties replete with decorations, party favors, entertainment. Inordinate narcissism in clothing. Access to the city's few swimming pools, lawns, and golf courses that are watered copiously to stay lush. Extravagant wedding banquets with in house tandoors and shrimp; a tacky addiction to shaadis. New fetish for luxury camps set up at the beach. More toys for the children, and a vicious competitiveness around who has acquired what. High end brands purchased online. Children clad in Children's Place and Baby Gap. Homes in newly developed army housing schemes which are bigger, but not environmentally friendly. Gated communities of Dubai like apartments with their very own back-up of electricity and limo services.
A pretense that the poor survive because of them. That they provide jobs and they are consumers for the products that they make. The child servant is acceptable as they are saving the child from a life of poverty in a village where his family could scarcely feed him That it is okay to not issue a worker a social security card in a factory because at least he has a job. An excessive pride in philanthropy; self glorification over seeing oppression.
A hatred of the working class and Women. Its common to not share utensils with domestic help. At offices too, utensils are separated by jobs, and explained as hygiene. At the workplace, bosses will remind their employees of their station in life. Pashtun boys rummage through trash, and carry home gigantic sacks containing bits of paper and plastic retrieved with gloveless hands. They blend with the Prados in that violent equilibrium of third world cities. The two coasts of Ibrahim Hyderi - one, a club with manicured gardens; the other, a fishing village where a smell of dead chicken and rotting fish mixes nauseatingly, and toilets flow out of peoples' homes. Talking about disparity is not cool; people feel its tough enough having to live around poverty. Sexual harassment is permitted. Men seem like perverts, predators, or pedophiles,
A fair share of liberals who are more like self absorbed self actualizers: There are those who read Mohsin Hamid, listen to Sufi kalam, learn Kathak, and attend charity balls for the leprosy center. There are those who will tell you about the ills of soda and whether cranberry justice has any cranberries. They own paintings of Guljee and even know who Amean J or HM Naqvi is. They will go as far as support the cause of Mukhtaran Mai (in living rooms) and play volleyball to preserve the heritage of old Karachi. But they will mistreat servants, cut corners to reach Oxford, and frightfully scramble to find boutique ways to make more money. They like hosting Indian liberals, and often fail to see that some of these liberals are Marxist, or at the very least, radical, and are quiet out of politeness and ignorance. They pay lip service to Taseer, but not to the Christians of Gojra. They tweet about Karachi's hidden treasures, but have long since abandoned the people of Bottle Bazaar.
There is no Rohinton Mistry in Pakistan. But we have Ardeshir Cowasjee who, at least, keeps an eye out for illegal construction. But a lack of cool Parsis aside, dialogue, we have none.
Meanness: Lack of social etiquette; a phobia about talking to anyone you perceive as socially lower than yourself. Competitiveness and a sense of sorority girl - late by a decade or two - attitude I heard my six year play act conversation between two girl - I won't invite you to my house because your house is not as big as mine.
Its no surprise that I am burnt out from having to interact with these parasites for a good portion of the day. Brief break from activism notwithstanding, I have to be better prepared for this cult of negativity around me. Got to do my homework, focus on the work. Year Five in Pakistan. New Year's resolution. No longer trying to be nice to people who are privileged shit heads, and walk around the planet with the most enormous egos. If you can't beat them, at least stop being civil to them.