Land of the Banana

Masood Hasan, in today’s edition of The News:

Allah be praised, democracy is safe. Enlightened moderation is also safe. House of Chaudhries is safe — for the time being. Above all, Presidency is safe. Progressive policies of nine years are safe. So many safes, all in one day. Full marks to macho commandos and colonels with megaphones. They ensured that the naughty boy was sent to Soddisville through a cunning plan. With all the dangers thus removed, Pakistan is now truly a banana republic or as some think, a republic of bananas, destined to even greater glory led by the greatest bananas of all time.

This is a marvellous transition, but one may well ask what indeed is a banana republic? Is it a country where bananas rule as opposed to cabbages? The answer is absolutely correct. This may sound strange, but it is the truth — not Durrani-truth but the real deal. Bananas call the shots, though this entails an intense knowledge of counting. As most of us banana-watchers know, bananas cannot count, which has never stopped a banana from going places and getting plots. Between March 9 and Sept. 10, the bananas have had a pretty torrid time, but such is their resilience that they have come out of it unscathed and unmarked, which is no ordinary feat. Sure, they have taken a punch or two and some bananas have had to be sacrificed to save the plantation, but things are well now. Because of this great achievement, the Banana Plan has been put into action and citizens can look forward to happy days ahead, in the company of senior bananas who may be slippery, but love Pakistan. The Banana Plan is popularly believed to be the handiwork of the Jadoogar of Jeddah who has always had a hand — sometimes two in all things shady.

Some of its outstanding features are quite fascinating. The recent elevation of bananas as the national fruit has been welcomed by everyone. It is seen as a most progressive step, thus ending the long and bitter dispute between the bananas and the country’s leading lotas, fondly known as the national rolling utensils. There is a move to further assimilate the rolling utensils into the folds of the bananas, so that such misunderstandings that arose recently are never repeated again. To integrate bananas into the fabric of society, a ‘Vision Banana’ scheme has been drawn up by the prime minister. All VIPs, will henceforth wear banana skins. The prime minister, savvy dresser as he is, has already placed an order with his fashion consultants in Milan to design him at least four banana suits daily with matching socks and handkerchiefs with banana motifs. The Prime Minister, who has a distinguished record of having never said anything solid, is a natty dresser and his forays into banana haute couture is seen as the best thing that’s ever happened to the fashion industry. All government officials will be expected to wear banana suits and those more traditionally-inclined, banana sherwanis. The general public, who no longer have a general they can call their own, will be required to use at least one article that reflects the country’s new plunge into banana-culture. Those unable to afford full banana suits will be required by law to wear at least one article, be it a banana vest, lungi or shalwar. Beggars, whose number is on the rise, may wear banana rags and eat cake. The armed forces have the least adjustment to do since their uniforms, tanks, trucks and guns are already banana-designed; what they call camouflage. That it can be spotted a few miles away without the aid of binoculars is just another cunning plan.

The government has decided that all roads will be named in line with the country’s new ethos. The much-loved Lahore Mall will henceforth be called The Banana Mall. Banana Convention Centre will be the new name of that strange ball-like creature that sits astride Islamabad. Constitution Avenue will be called Banana Avenue, which is most appropriate since the Constitution has gone missing for many years now and cannot be found for love or money. Pictures of various varieties of bananas along with their descriptions will be featured in the new Constitution. All airports will be re-named. Lahore will now be called Allama Iqbal International Banana Airport and tourists will be given bunches of the fruit to spread Pakistan’s new and dynamic culture. Similarly, the National Assembly and all the Provincial Assemblies will be appropriately renamed, and some are suggesting this be done before they are ready to leave. This might be asking too much of the legislators, who even on good days have serious problems finding shoes to fit feet. As it is, they are perplexed; hearing all sorts of rumours that they have to elect the President again or elect someone else, who will step down and pave the way for the real President to be re-elected — things like that can be very confusing for most people and the sight of legislators holding their heads is indicative of the fact that most are having a hard time focusing on anything.

There is also a strong move to ban cricket and hockey, the only two games we still insist on playing. Most people equate squash with Mitchells or Shezan, and in track events we are already so low that organisers of global events run out of space at the bottom to accommodate us. Luckily, our performers are very considerate and work hard, so that they don’t win any medal at all. Perhaps, if they had a lota category we would be on top, but sadly the Olympic Authority is not aware of such a utensil. Apparently the Greeks never used them. With Pakistan’s biggest and most overrated lota, Shoaib Akhtar, back in the gutter from where he should never have been allowed to step out and Pakistan Hockey having hit rock bottom then continued burrowing its head into further degradation, there is a pressing need to inject some banana spirit into the sports arena. There is, therefore, considerable merit in the Punjab Chief Minister’s suggestion based on another dream he had between the nights of 9th and 10th September, which basically means that slipping on banana peels should now be the national game. This is a game at which Pakistanis are quite naturally adept, particularly the civilians who unlike their khaki brothers spend their lives slipping and sliding on banana peels, missing manholes, broken roads, submerged power lines, barbed wire barricades, baton wielding friendly cops, spinning tear gas canisters and gushing sewerage fountains. By the time they attain adulthood, most can exhibit a fairly high level of dexterity. Perhaps, the PCB can be persuaded to organise a national talent hunt.

Of course, there are many people who are not in agreement with this banana plunge. They believe that the transition from cabbages to dented rolling utensils and thereon to bananas is a sad deterioration in national standards. Given the fact that Pakistan after 60 years is a highly confused state, critics of the banana fever are saying that this is yet another sign of our meaningless journeys into wilderness. They feel that rolling utensils capture the national psyche so well that they deserve more prominence and recognition at the highest levels, although endorsements from the high and mighty testify to the lota’s irresistible appeal. There seems some merit in a suggestion recently aired by a bored citizen that we should paint a banana on a lota and end the tamasha. Not a bad idea at all.

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