The way it was: Of BOs and Pakistan’s national emblem
The Masais of western Africa would be without doubt declared champions in exuding body fragrance to the longest distance if it had been an Olympic event
It is easier for persons of the same class, speaking different tongues to communicate than individuals speaking the same language belonging to different classes. My own perceptions on this matter have been somewhat similar. I have often noticed even the petite-bourgeoisie often refer to the poor as ‘them’ and to themselves as ‘us’. Actually the poor are different. They employ a different idiom, use a different accent and have a rather garish preference of colours. Some American Goras with sharp eyes hailing from the Southern States insist that eyes of the Blacks shine like goats when caught by the beams of their limos. They find them to even smell differently. Which they explain comes from eating cheap diet, mostly chicken, rather than turtle soup or escargot.
American chicken like their fellow American citizens are too rich in fat, which makes people who eat it regularly smell differently from the ones who eat stake, apples or strawberries. That is why rich mothers tell their famished twelve-year-olds to refrain from eating gooey tropical fruits which may odour their bodies. Could one have imagined that one would ever see a day dawn when chicken was to be treated with such contempt?
Allah be praised, but this I am certain, does not apply to our own very special desi chicken. I am sure, as sure as people in high places, that if we were to hold a national referendum to decide upon our national emblem, the people would without the slightest doubt vote for our aseel kukkar (pedigreed rooster). Or do you think they would rather have our desi bakra (indigenous he-goat)? Personally I cannot venture a guess. It really depends on who is conducting the referendum and his individual preference for the meat he wished cooked.
Talking of smells our friends from across the border are also rather differently fragrant. Imagine putting Haldi (tumeric) in milk, painting tikkas and hair partings red, adding dots and dashes to their foreheads and putting ‘Hing’ and god knows what where. All this is bound to invade the unaccustomed nostrils in one way or the other. I remember in England when the South Asians put their meat to simmer in fried onions with chilly powder, the local pale face population felt like drowning itself in the English Channel or any other deep body of water, depending where it was located.
I hate to confess I love garlic almost as much as the Chinese - or chinks as the Americans call them, the same way the English all us brownies, with the exception of Lord V S Naipal, as ‘wogs’- but the Chinese go too far in their culinary disposition. Agreed that it is supposed to be good for the heart but surely it can’t be that good. I would rather lose my heart to a friend than lose a friend to garlic.
The Italians use it not to strengthen their heart but to flavour their food. This however according to E M Forester doesn’t help to improve matters. While Adrift in India, he confides that if he were travelling in a bus, crowd for crowd, he would rather travel with the pan eating Indians than the Italians. The Masais of western Africa would be without doubt declared champions in exuding body fragrance to the longest distance if it had been an Olympic event. They cover their bodies with a cosmetic paste made of dung, blood and other unmentionables to make their presence known to a wayward lion through a friendly smell. Usually the lions like to maintain a distance for fear of the Masai, armed with long spears, but the Masai consider it polite to send a whiff of warning to avoid misunderstanding.
I wonder if you have noticed that a bad smell lingers on much longer than a good smell. A foul smell has a lasting presence whereas a delicate fragrance is soon forgotten. Bad smell howsoever small its source can blast a whole neighbourhood, whereas a smell of roses from a whole neighbourhood can be easily drowned by an upset gutter. This is also true of human society. You need one bad egg to ruin an omelette.
Say for instance you are travelling the crowded ‘Awami Express’, from Lahore to Karachi and a terrorist armed with a gas cylinder, under cover of the crowd, lets one go. Poor you, innocently dozing on one of the hard wooden benches would be drowned into one of the most unpleasant odours ever left by gunfire. Incidentally, if ever you have failed to reserve a seat in advance, the conductor would gladly provide you with one if you were prepared to pay twice the cost. I remember Ismet Chughtai, one of the greatest Urdu novelists and wit, making an amusing tongue-in-cheek observation when I met her in Bombay in the summer of 1968. She quipped, ‘Thank God, taking bribes is a customary practice, otherwise nothing would get done’.
Train journeys at one time were actually quite wonderful. However the last time I was travelling with my friend Rao Sikander Iqbal back from Sukhar to Lahore, part of the compartment floor fell down in the tracks. Luckily I was not standing there otherwise I would have had to catch a later train. At another time my friend Pervez, affectionately called Patty, was travelling in a distant Pashtun frontier region, recounted to me a rather entertaining episode. Although it is certainly less amusing than the occasion when a shy and courteous Patty was introduced to a person, who we all knew was bit of a rogue. This person, a complete stranger, curled himself up to Patty while tightly holding on to his nervous hand and said in greeting, ‘Hello Patty! I am cake’.
What Patty was doing among the rough Pathans is best known to him. Whatever the reasons, on boarding a train in these martial parts of the country he discovered, that a Pashtun was comfortably stretched on every seat, pretending that that he was fast asleep. Soon my friend, who can actually even today climb high peaks, gathered courage and courteously suggested to one of the commuters if he could pull up his legs a little, so that he could sit. The person without bothering even to open his eyes snubbed Patty through clenched teeth, ‘Can’t you see I am sleeping. Go look somewhere else’. My friend controlled his temper with great difficulty, reminding himself that discretion was the better part of valour. So he went on and on from seat to seat and from one compartment to the next, but found no place to rest. He was about to collapse, but like the proverbial Sergeant Majors of the British army, who all got shot in the Wars, flaunting a tune from their bagpipes, Patty stood his ground and persisted in his search. Soon enough he arrived in the second last bogy of the train. This time on pleading for a little space to sit, the man without of course stirring a limb, sternly warned that he was not to be bothered, but helpfully added, ‘ Don’t you see that shareef (good) person sitting there by himself? Go and sit with him’.
An overjoyed Patty shuffled across to sit on part of the seat left empty by a hulk sitting in an upright position. When Patty was about to settle down the man turned his head around with a stern expression on his face, spat on the floor, and spoke, ‘Look, don’t you think I am sharif sharoof (goody good), I am just ill’. Could any one have imagined that a day would dawn when being shareef (good) would become synonymous with being cowardly?
Prof Ijaz-ul-Hassan is Pakistan’s leading painter. He is a teacher, art critic and political activist. He was awarded the “President’s Pride of Performance” in 1992. He is currently the president of the PPP Punjab’s Policy Planning Committee and Chairman of the party’s Manifesto Committee