Saturday, 14 December 2019

British Clouds With Silver Linings

Lest old age begins to interfere with memory, I must recall events that proved to be lessons about fairness and honesty in public dealing; they helped me compare the actions and the reactions of ‘unbelieving’ (kafir) ‘westerners’ with those of ‘believers’ in our part of the world.

Silver lining

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”—George Orwell (the novel, 1984)

While mankind shares established ideas of integrity, honesty and sovereignty, Pakistanis live in a unique fantasy world of militarism and vengeful politics. Take for example the recent violent attack by lawyers on doctors and patients at a hospital that resulted in several deaths, numerous injuries and great damage to property.

Any honest Pakistani will genuinely feel agitated seeing dishonest and aggressive countrymen (and women) give a bad name to the religion and the country. Because history-sheeters continue to make history, our collective future will remain bleak. If the ‘west’ must be bashed for policies that disturb global peace and exploit weaker nations, Pakistani attitudes too deserve a hard spanking.

Life is not as simple as the school textbooks would have us believe and common knowledge is most uncommon. I gained the following experiences in British towns whose streets were not paved with gold but their skies did have traces of clouds with silver linings.

The dog that died for 911

Those were such happy times, back in the early 1990s. I was in England to purchase a recording console (audio mixer) for my home recording studio. English-made consoles are still considered the best on the planet.

I found commuting expensive in England but was fortunately chauffeured around by K. D Khan, a close Mirpuri friend. He owned a model 1990 Porsche 911 Carrera, white in colour and with a fully manual floor-shift transmission.

One afternoon he displayed great lion-heartedness by vacating the driver’s seat, “Here, speedy Gonzales, you drive her!”

To know more about K.D Khan, read Mangoes For Django

The feeling of accelerating from 0-60 mph (0-97 kmph) in 4.8 seconds still remains indescribable in words; every Suzuki Alto owner in Pakistan who achieves the height of personal success by purchasing a Toyota Corolla must experience a Porsche's ride.

Khan’s voluptuous German rocket was a pedigree sports car with a very low centre of gravity. The 205 width, 16” diameter tyres allowed me to negotiate sharp corners as if a djinn were holding me down in the leather bucket-seat.

While the Police were not looking, I touched 150 mph (241.4 kmph) on the motorway. The steering was so sensitive at that speed that even moving it by a hair’s width meant getting dangerously out of the fast lane.

Bless dear Khan, he taught me not to honk and never to flash my headlights, “This is not a free country like Pakistan. Honking here is like abusing someone and flashing headlights is considered very rude!”

The next day after lunch, Khan took me to various high-end boutiques of London. He tried several suits but they just would not fit. Prosperity had caused the girth of his waist to increase with immensity.

We were chatting loudly but driving slowly down a narrow lane when a dog suddenly attempted to cross us diagonally from the front.

“Hey, watch for that son of a 
”, my warning remained an incomplete sentence.

The poor animal hit us with a loud thud. The Porsche came to sudden halt. Hearts pounding away, afraid of its owner’s reaction, we got off the car. The impact left the indicator assembly bloodied and shattered to pieces.

The owner, leash in hand, appeared as if he had been chasing the dog. 
The man was in a state of shock as he looked at his dying dog. Khan and I felt large lumps in our Pakistani throats. What would it be, we thought? A hefty monetary compensation for the dog’s owner or a lawsuit in case we argued?

Khan resorted to immediate damage control, “So sorry. We couldn’t stop in time. The poor thing just appeared out of nowhere!”

I noted how Khan first apologised and then explained—the exact opposite of what is done in Pakistan where excuses and blame comes first and sorry never.

In true English way, the dead animal’s owner showed quiet desperation by shaking his blonde balding head. He duly noted the damage done to the sports car and then uttered the unexpected, “It’s not your fault. He just ran uncontrollably”.

This was the Queen's Great Britain. 
After a few moments of speechlessness, Khan thanked him profusely for the forgiveness.

Driving around with a broken indicator meant breaking English traffic laws so Khan had the assembly immediately replaced at the nearest Porsche workshop.

Now had the same thing happened in Pakistan, a trigger-happy owner might have whipped out a weapon, or an uncouth one resorted to heaping verbal abuse for sheer negligence, or a brute might have resorted to a mindless exchange of physical blows.

A late-night analysis of the incident brought us to one conclusion: Pakistanis remain most unfamiliar with three words that are considered indispensable in any civil society: please, thank you, and sorry.

A free dinner

The plane landed at Manchester after an eight hours long flight. I reached the hotel around 6 p.m., took a hot shower, and stepped out for a walk and a quick bite.

The air was so crisp and clean I breathed deeply to fill the imaginary spare tyre placed between the lungs for later use in environmentally polluted Pakistan. Passers-by, both male and female, made friendly eye contact instead of looking away, and smiled without having the pleasure of knowing me.

Vehicular traffic was beginning to thin out, the shops were closing one by one and the lone eatery, Café Nero, was also preparing to close. I stepped in to search for a sandwich that would have a very important word on its pack that is considered most important to both the Muslims and the Jews: halaal (permissible, legal, or kosher).

The cash counter clerk looked up at me. He counted the money while his colleague fervently mopped the floor as if God Almighty were expected to descend for an inspection the next morning. Considering that the men had worked the whole day, impressive was their English energy.

Now compare the above with what many poor Pakistani shopkeepers do as a matter of habit every morning:

1) Open their businesses wearing more or less the same clothes they did in bed.

2) Avoid shaving or trimming their facial hairs, and waste no money on smelling good.

3) In the presence of customers, have a cleaner raise a cloud of dust with a bamboo broom.

4) Forgetting the dunya (world), they focus on the aakhirah (hereafter) and whisper prayers or listen to pious recorded sermons.

5) Deal with multiple customers simultaneously while giving none undivided attention. 

6) Glued to television sets which distract them from doing proper business.

7) Proudly display religious verses in the shops as talisman to attract business and to drive away Satan disguised as a customer.

8) Blame the government or unseen enemies for ‘slow’ business when in fact it is their own attitudes that are blameworthy.

With the above comparison going on in my mind, I picked up a tuna sandwich and approached the counter to pay.

The cashier spoke with a Polish accent, “We’re closed now and I can’t…”

Before he would finish, I requested him to make an exception for me.

“Sure, take whatever you like. I can’t charge you for it because we're closed now”.

Such truthfulness seemed like disguised charity. I insisted on paying.

He explained, “It’s okay; we’ll throw away what’s left any way. Can’t sell it tomorrow!”

I thanked him profusely and left the café. Nibbling away at the sandwich and sipping foamy cappuccino out of a paper cup in loud slurps, I took a most serious note of the strange experience. My thoughts turned to how a Pakistani shopkeeper might have acted under similar circumstances.

1) Would not have displayed the shop’s business hours at the door or used an OPEN-CLOSED sign.

2) May have attempted to sell me the sandwich and pocketed the money without any regard for a closed cash register.

3) Would not have thrown away the eatables or given them away for free.

4) Might have displayed expired items from the previous night and readily sold them as fresh.

It was impossible not to wonder. Was I in the right country or the country I was born in had gone all wrong? How could 
Pakistan be a wobbly moon orbiting around an unstable planet? Why, it must be the tuna causing my head to spin.

A lack of sneakiness at Nike

In old London town, I stopped by at a sports store to pick up a pair of Nike trainers for my sister.

Carefully I checked the size, paid for the pair and headed back to Pakistan only to find that the sneakers did not fit her well. My heart sank; the trip to Nike and the money spent on the gift seemed to have been wasted.

Luckily, another business trip to London came up after two weeks. Hoping for an English miracle, I carried the sneakers back to the Nike store for an exchange.

Quickly the staff helped me find the right size. A tomboyish salesgirl at the payment counter announced, “Sir, there’s a sale on. These trainers now have thirty percent off on them. Would you want your balance five pounds or prefer buying some other item?”

My jaw dropped to touch the vinyl floor. All I could say was, “On this happy Satch-er-day, it is a plyy-err which I cannot myy-err! Please accept a bundle of thanks from the bottom of my heart and also from my lady sister.”

She immediately understood from my accent that I was from Pakistan, the land of pure bundles and systematic hurdles. From my exaggerated pronunciation of key words, she gathered I was an ex-serviceman, whereas I was not—not even in my dreams.

Experiencing honesty as the best policy, I decided to kick-start the sagging British economy by purchasing a pair of trainers for myself.

The only entity with whom I could share newfound happiness in Britain was God Almighty. I addressed him before it was time for the midday prayers, “Did you see that? Can we have such honest businesses in 'the land of the pure'?”

There was no answer from above but it was understood that sooner rather than later, He would move in mysterious ways to address my deepest concerns.

Imagine, had the same shopping mistake been made by me in Pakistan, a salesperson would have—without initially having given me a receipt—demanded the proof of purchase, never revealed the new reduced price, and never offered to pay back the difference in price.

A cold dinner on a hot evening

It was unusually hot that evening in Manchester. The sun was expected to set at 9:03 p.m.

I strolled about lazily on Market Street, then sat in the park to watch the musical fountain with coloured lights. A massive Ferris-wheel rotated over my head, spinning away almost like my mind which worried about finding halaal food.

Between myself and the nearby bus stop, I noticed a Thai restaurant. Every time its door opened, fragrances of boiled rice and seafood entered my nostrils to intensify the hunger. Once inside that establishment, I satisfied myself reading all the detailed explanations of far-eastern dishes. The stomach spoke, “Bless this pork-less place! Go for vegetable rice with saffron sauce and grilled fish.”

“That’ll be seven pounds ninety-five pence. Please take a seat. It’ll take about ten minutes”, the cashier-girl announced.

A heavily tattooed man with a chef's cap over his dreadlocks simultaneously handled the preparation of several orders; to me he seemed like a Hindu god with multiple hands. Orders appeared piping hot at the other end of the open kitchen and from where customers loaded into their trays steel cutlery and hot sauces of choice.

The food was tasty but not as hot as I had imagined. Hunger forced me eat first and complain later. Immediately the girl at the cash register apologised and offered me something which I was not accustomed to being offered in Pakistan: a free meal coupon.

“The next time you’re here, dinner will be free!”

I returned to Manchester on a business trip after a month. With a free-meal coupon still in my wallet, it was time to put an English promise to test. With rapidly batting eyelids 
and with great courtesy, the same girl promptly brought up to my table the same dish, steaming hot this time.

Had I complained in Pakistan, no apology would have come my way, the mistake never admitted, and I made to feel guilty for complaining. The staff never would have offered me a free meal coupon but rather washed off their hands by stating, “Next time, inshAllah (God willing) you’ll get your food very hot. Today we have too many customers.”

My perpetually hopeful countrymen (and women) might claim, “Pakistan is changing and things are getting better.” My question is, is this ‘change’ due to our own pious efforts or is it because of international practices introduced by tidy multi-national food chains?

A hungry ticket-machine

I walked up to the nearest Metrolink station of Manchester to catch a tram to the suburbs. The tram seemed like a pretty petite lady, she swayed on the rail tracks and occasionally spoke in a soft musical tone.

I stood at a station that had no boundary walls or barbed wires, and there were no security gates or uniformed men pointing guns at anyone. It was Inglistan, not Askaristan.

To purchase a return ticket, I sought the help of a bystander to operate an ATVM (automatic ticket vending machine). Despite several attempts, the machine refused to produce a ticket and finally digested the three coins of one-pound denomination each that I dropped in.

Help all around proved futile. When the tram arrived, the on-duty staff encouraged me to take up the issue through the telephone helpline.

The easy way out was to stop worrying about the lost money because I was not a U.K resident. I called and a
 female helpline voice advised me to email the complaint to Metrolink which I did as follows:

Dear sir/madam:

While attempting to use the Metrolink tram from (station name) on (date), I encountered the following problems at around 1 p.m.:

1) When I inserted two coins (GBP 2+1 denomination) for a return ticket for Ladywell station (one adult), machine no: 462 did not produce a ticket.

2) The money I put in was also not refunded to me. I called the HELP line twice and a lady asked me to email you regarding the problem. An on-duty Metrolink staff member was unable to help me much.

The Lady is a tram(p)
3) I finally used machine no: 461 and got the desired ticket after paying additional GBP 2.90

Kindly refund me GBP 3.00 that Meterolink owes me. Thanks in advance.

I received the following reply:

Thank you for your email. Can you please provide a postal address for the cheque refund to be sent to you? Best Regards.

I wrote back:

Thanks for the reply; very impressive indeed! So, how do we get this HUGE sum of GBP 3.00 back where it belongs? A cheque sent to me would cost GBP 10 to recover! Regards.

Another swift reply:

Thank you for your email.

Considering the situation that we are in I think the best solution would be the next time you are in Manchester and you would like to travel on the Metrolink, we will be able to offer you a complimentary journey to travel on the tram. You will be able to do this by either calling us on the day before or same day of travel on 0161 205 2000 or by sending us an email quoting the reference number above. I hope this will be of a solution to the situation. Best Regards.

All those swift replies and offers came as major shocks. It meant that unlike Pakistan where businesses always blame customers and disbelieve complaints, the English system did not stoop to accusing but instead treated a 
complainant as honest and innocent until proven guilty. Being in a charitable mood, I did not pursue any further the matter of recovery of the lost three ‘quid’.

What has happened, I thought? Have they all converted to true Islam to become honest and fair? I reverted to being hopeful about Pakistani Muslims becoming so believable they would not have to settle all matters by swearing upon God Almighty’s Holy Name.

Not Rihanna's umbrella
The temporarily lost umbrella

English women say, 'an Englishman never leaves home without an umbrella'.

I left the hotel room with an umbrella but as a Pakistani man, forgot it at the ticket counter while purchasing a train ticket. By the time I got out of the destination station, it was raining.

Upon returning to the departure station, I noticed that the shift had changed, nevertheless I exercised my right to enquire about the precious umbrella.

“Sorry love, I don’t see it here in the office”, an obese lady replied affectionately after looking around in her boxy office.

I knew that an opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings. The next morning, while a few hours remained until check-out, I made another attempt to recover the umbrella. At the ticket office, I briefly described the lost item and within seconds a slim lady produced my umbrella like a magician would a rabbit out of a hat.

I thanked her from no other place but the bottommost compartment of my heart. I was so elated I attracted undue attention by opening the umbrella on a perfectly sunny Sunday morning.

Not match-making but price-matching

It is customary in Britain and several other countries that a business will attempt to offer the lowest price, and if a customer finds the same item cheaper elsewhere, the shop will immediately lower the price to match it.

In this regard, our Pakistani formula is simple: if one even dares to suggest that another shop is cheaper, a shopkeeper will boldly declare, “Then go buy from him!” This viciousness refuses to go away because in most cases, a customer will end up buying from the same insulting shopkeeper.

I was at a store in Birmingham, ready to pay for the merchandise when I mentioned to the salesman the lower price I noticed elsewhere for the same item.

“No problem!”, he said and checked the price on the internet. Then without a word he lowered his own price to please me.

When CNN interviewer, Becky Anderson, alleged, “A third of Pakistanis wish to leave their country”, recall the disgraceful reply of ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani: “And why don’t they leave then; who is stopping them?”

Watch this video from 03:15 and seek God Almighty's Protection, if not foreign citizenship.

Expect no grassroots movement to ever change anything in Pakistan because the nauseating mindset of the ruling elites trickles down to the masses on a daily basis.

Reserved hi-fi headsets

I needed to buy a pair of stereo headsets whose price had been slashed from pounds forty-nine to thirty-nine.

I emailed my favourite hi-fi shop in Manchester to enquire about the SALE item’s availability. Since the headsets were IN STOCK at a far-off branch, I was offered them at the location of my choice. When I told them about my arrival date in Manchester, they told me they would hold the item for me until a certain date.

A week later I was at the Manchester shop.

“Oh yes, you were expected!” the in-charge recognised me and pointed at the coffee machine, “Help yourself please. I’ll get your stuff”.

Soon he appeared with the AKG headsets whose box had a stick-on note that read: Hold until 24 February. That date was still three days away.

To reward the British economy, I made some more purchases but being in no mood to let twenty percent tax end up in Her Majesty’s Treasury, I requested that a VAT-refund form be filled. 
When I noticed a lovely porcelain mug with the shop’s name emblazoned across it, the salesman gifted it to me. As always, it was a pleasure doing business there.

Now, had I been in Pakistan, the story surely would have been quite different. I encourage you to fill the imaginary details yourself and post that in the comments section. I need to find out how many more Pakistanis know what I know, and if there are very many, we must stand together with folded arms and watch each incompetent government topple herself.

Back to ‘the land of the pure’

“Don’t tell me what possessions you have; tell me what lands you’ve travelled to!”—a saying attributed to Prophet Muhammad

Greater mobility sometimes increases criminality but it also widens the horizons.
 The reason why our politicians and citizens, many of them having travelled widely, are unable to transform this country is that do-gooders have debauched themselves to doing good only unto themselves.

Scores of Prime Ministers and military dictators have failed; we now have the incumbent Prime Minister and his crowd of advisors working to transform a naya (new) Pakistan into medieval Medina. I suppose, one need not expect positive results from effable waddle.

Rule of the angootha-chaaps
My hometown is one of the topmost environmentally polluted cities on the face of Earth. Since we live in suspended animation, breathing suspended heavy particles in the air presents absolutely no danger to our lungs.

A few days ago, Lahore’s AQI (Air Quality Index) went deep into the ‘extremely hazardous’ zone, or beyond 400 for 2.5PM (2.5 micrometre Fine Particle Matter). Elsewhere, London—once notorious for its fog—registered an amazingly low 22.

Will you now please stand up to listen to our smog anthem? All I need is the air that I breath and to love you.

We have idealists, realists, day-dreamers, busy courts, rioting lawyers, expensive lawsuits, jailed politicians and entertaining ministers of the ruling clique who appear ad nauseam on television. Never lose hope. We are so self-sufficient in all of the above, the government ought to declare these thought-products as worth exporting.

©Tahir Gul Hasan, 2019

No one must misconstrue my personal experiences and observations as disinformation or insults. If you disagree, do so with courtesy and decorum by posting in the comments section.
Inglistan is a well-known name for a real island while Askaristan is an imaginary place.
Words: 3,736