To Sir, With Love

Think what you want about Nadeem Paracha. Sometimes it seems like nobody is safe from his sharp tongued wit. But then again, he seems to have a remarkable patience. Considering his intense frustration with the right-wing chatterboxes and conspiracy wallas, you might expect him to be heated and angry when confronted by some follower of Zaid Hamid or Imran Khan. Actually, it seems to make him even calmer as he tries to point out, in his own way, how confused such a young man might be.

Nadeem Paracha’s latest ‘Smoker’s Corner’ column for Dawn is just such a chance encounter between the writer and a dedicated follower of the right-wing, typically dressed just like an American teenager. Read this and think if you would have the same patience!

I was buying a pack of cigarettes at Karachi’s Boat Basin area when someone patted me on the back. I turned around, and it was a teenager with longish hair, a T-shirt and faded denims: “My name is Ayman, and I hate you.”

“That’s nice to know, Ayman,” I smiled, offering him a cigarette.

He took the cigarette, and I lit it for him. “Why are you always trying to put down people who follow Imran Khan and Sir Hamid?” He asked.

“Sir who?” I replied, as we walked towards my car.

He stared at the car and then chuckled: “Was this given to you by the CIA?”

“No Ayman,” I said, with a straight face, “This landed in my garage as a spaceship from Planet X, gift-wrapped by the Elders of Zion and the Illuminati.”

He chuckled again: “Are you Pakistani?”
“Do you want me to give you a straight answer or another wise-crack?” I asked.

“Well, are you?” He repeated.
“Of course, I am,” I said.
“Your name sounds like you are Muslim too,” he said, sarcastically.
I gave him a mocking smile: “Why, thank you, lad. I am glad you noticed.”
“But I think you are Muslim only in a name,” he announced. “Always finding fault with Muslims…”
I interrupted: “… Muslims, according to you, you mean? How old are you?”
“Twenty.” He replied.
“Do you think you are wise enough to judge someone’s faith so strongly and decisively?” I asked.
“Well, neither are you!” He shot back.

“Ayman,” I said, “had I judged you, I would have called you just another brainwashed freckled fascist conditioned by the psychosomatic rightwing gibberish you perhaps religiously follow on TV!”

Surprisingly, he laughed: “You see, sir, I think …”
“You don’t have to call me sir,” I smiled.
“Okay,” he continued, “Paracha Sahib, we need people like Imran Khan and Sir Hamid …”
“I see,” I interrupted again, “even if they sometimes are full of some profound fibs?” I asked.
“They’re not!” Ayman got a bit agitated. “What you write is wrong! They’re good men.” He insisted.
“I’m sure they are,” I smiled again.
“Good!” He said, forcefully. “But you aren’t,” he then smugly added.
“And why is that?” I asked.

“You are anti-Pakistan!” He announced another verdict. “You should listen to Imran and Sir Hamid more carefully. People like you can say anything, but your writings won’t make much of a difference,” he continued, dismissively throwing away the cigarette butt.

“Does your mother know that you smoke?” I asked.
“What’s it to you?”
“Just asking. Want another one?”
“I can buy my own.” He replied.
“It’s good to know you can buy your own cigarettes, Ayman,” I said, “Very… let’s say … Iqbalisque.”
“There, you see,” he retorted, “That’s why so many of us hate you!”

“But why do you have to hate me?” I asked. “Why can’t you just simply disagree with me?”
“Because you hate Imran and Sir Hamid” He said.
“No, I do not!” I replied. “Hate is too strong an emotion. There is already too much of it around.”
“I don’t care,” he said, “we won’t let people like you insult great men!”
“Great men?” I blinked. “Oh, you mean Asif Ali Zardari and Altaf Hussain, right?”
“No!” His whole body shook. “We know who you support!”
“Oh, do we?” I asked. “And exactly who are the ‘we’?”

“We are many!” He said. “And we will save Pakistan from planted people like you who are always defending enemies in the name of secularism!”

“Right,” I replied. “Just like some Sirs are always trying to defend hatred and historical concoctions in the name of patriotism.”

“Tell me,” he said, as if he never heard me, “how much does CIA pay you for this?”
“You mean for a pack of cigarettes?” I asked.
“Not funny,” he said.
“Okay. Let’s see. I think the money I get from CIA is surely less than what Sir Jee gets from TV. I’m sure.”

He shook his head: “You know, there’s going to be a revolution in this country.”

“Right,” I said, chuckling, “a revolution led by foaming televangelists, born-again Muslim fashion designers and balding rock stars!”

“Now look who’s judging!” He retaliated. “You also misjudge the Taliban. I am against them as well but it is clear that they are foreign agents, why can’t you see that?”

“How much more clichéd can you get, yaar,” I said. “I’m sure you have dreams of one day studying in an American university?”

“Yes, so?” He shrugged his shoulders.

“But America is our enemy, isn’t it?” I asked. “And that hair of yours reminds me of Kurt Cobain in his prime. And that Tupac T-shirt, and the cigarette brand you just smoked, and …”

“Petty talk!” He announced.
“But, of course,” I said. “CIA doesn’t pay me enough to talk big.”
“But it’s given you a great car, Paracha Sahib,” he said, acerbically.
“Really?” I replied, looking at the car. “Well, in that case, I guess you can now call me Sir as well.”

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