Plums of National Smoke

Driving into the city to stock up the kitchen before Independence Day something suddenly struck me some few months ago onpak.jpgly to receive its partisan reflection at my blog today!

Where were the flags? Why was there not a man selling Pakistan flags embellished with Mickey Mouse in the white sector next to the staff hustling me? And where was the thicket of flag-sellers that usually congregate at G9 Karachi Company…now down to just the one and he was not looking like he is doing much business. And what about the rooftops – where were the flags…where?

It has become something of a tradition in the ZMR household to go up on the roof on Independence Day and count the flags we can see. They get photographed for posterity as well, with the year of the greatest number visible being 2016 with 69 fluttering bravely.

Since then – and we spent a half hour looking through endless albums to find the pictures – the numbers have been dropping. There were 22 last year including our own.

Up on the roof in the gathering dusk the day before Independence Day we could see one flag, on a house a 100 metres or so away to the east. In other years there had been some friendly local competition to see who had the tallest flagpole, and the flags stayed up for days, sometimes weeks, afterwards.

Come the morning of Independence Day and a cup of tea on the roof – and the lone flag was gone. Taken down on the very day it was put up to commemorate. We had decided that we would not put up our flag either. We had gone to the storeroom and had a look and then…no…not this year.

There was some debate in the social media and a couple of print newspapers ran a story on the flag famine of 2013; and there was no shortage of organised events on TV, the point being that they were organised and not spontaneous and it was the spontaneity of the individual going out and buying their flag and putting it up that was missing.

Take a look at North Korean TV sometime. Acres and acres of flag and pom-pom waving young people exuding merriment from every pore of their well-fed bodies. And it is all an illusion. An artifice.

The North Koreans are starving in their boots and propped up by aid from China, South Korea and yes, America -the Great Satan, actually contributes to keeping North Korea afloat and breathing.

So how different is that from Pakistan? Well, despite rumours to the contrary Pakistan is not a failed state and far from it, but it is home to increasing numbers of people who are food-insecure and live in profound poverty. There is not yet famine. Yet. The economy is tottering but not collapsed and the banking system and stock exchanges are doing roaring business…and yet…

Perhaps the failure to celebrate Independence Day this year with quite the same spontaneous fervor as in the past is linked to an overall sense of fatigue, an overarching sombre mood that pops the balloon of celebration and jollity.

Maybe people had just run out of money and spent it on other things than flags, Iphones and Samsung’s. Could it even be that some people just no longer care about Independence Day any more despite it being one of the most important dates in the national calendar?

Independence – the very thing that MA Jinnah and his fellows fought for, for so many years is now reduced to an extra day off for most people and not worth buying and waving a flag for. Well


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