“What a country! What a country!”
These were the signature lines of ‘Gora Saab’, a character of a TV show aired on PTV in the late 80s. The show was a sequel to hugely popular puppet show Kaliyan.
Gora Saab would spontaneously utter these lines when he would come across bizarre and weird ways of our society. The character is as relevant – if not more – today as it was couple of decades ago.
I need not elaborate any further; it would suffice to just say that everything, ranging from mobile services being shut down on festive occasions to the serpentine queues at CNG stations, are ‘what a country’ moments.
Without digressing further I state the specific reason of going down memory lane and bringing Gora Saab right back. A golf course at Bhurban; a hill resort near Murree, is the main culprit behind this reminiscence. Like all ‘businessmen’, men in our army like golf a lot, and that is why this golf course is under control of the Pakistani Army.
For a long time even under the army’s control, this golf course was open to the general public. One could have a leisurely stroll in the beautiful walkways surrounding the greens, but later restrictions were put on those who entered. Now the golf course is not accessible to the general public the way it used to be.
Not many things are more distasteful than the sight of a fully armed uniformed commando from the Pakistan Army guarding the greens of a golf course. The two just do not go along; still like most Pakistanis I acquiesce to khaki authority and don’t object even to that.
However, the statement on the signboard at the entrance of the said golf course disturbs me at many levels.
The signboard arrogantly states that;
“Follwing dresses are not allowed- Barmuda shorts, shalwar kameez.”
Such restriction would be understandable if it had been limited to players only but barring visitors in shalwar kameez, which happens to be our national dress, is akin to self-abusing. The statement is as derogatory as that of British masters of the pre-independence era who outside their exclusive clubs, would put signboards stating “locals and dogs are not allowed”.
The British could be forgiven for such snobbery because they were not the servants of the state and their sole purpose was to rule.
Some would argue that the army develops and maintains the golf course, so it has every right to keep it exclusive. Perhaps such men, at their best, can think only as far as their nose and as deep as their skin. What they miss, however, is an obvious fact that the army is sponsored by the taxpayers of this country and as far as business ventures it is involved in go, they also make use of authority and influence that is prerogative of a state institution.
I would suggest such men to read Dr Ayesha Siddiqua’s “Military Inc”, at least twice for a better understanding.
Ironically, the golf course in question was not even developed by the Pakistan Army; it was developed by the British Army back in 1932.
I am not sure what changes or improvements the army has made since it took over the place but one thing is for sure – the signboard under the spotlight was not erected by the British. Had it been done by them words like ‘following’ and ‘Bermuda shorts’ would have been spelled right (refer to the photo above for a good laugh).
It amuses me to imagine how they must have been held to think of ways to keep the local hicks out of their elitist facility. An officer must have been given the task to make sure to erect a signboard stating this in English as if to please the ‘Brown Saabs’ desperate to ape and hopelessly in awe of the Gora Saabs of yesteryear because had the purpose been only to get the message across to local audience, Urdu would have been a more appropriate choice. The board would have been finally erected. Lo and behold! They could not even write a single correct sentence in the language of the people they are so desperate to ape. Perhaps this is nature’s way of mocking their snobbery.
Lastly after having written this, I am afraid of bumping into a General (any guy with brass pips), who might tell me off with a cigar tucked in his teeth.
Gentleman, your objection is misplaced. Haven’t you read the poem by the English poet John Keats ‘A thing of beauty is a joy for Generals only’?
Despite my best effort, ‘What a country! What a country!’ might slip out of my mouth.