Maverick and Munna's earthy wisdom
Naveed: Good Luck
Desperately searching for some Naveed – any Naveed – which means good news in Farsi and is also the name of one of my two sisters and of the Corps Commander who is trying to bring good news to Karachi, I wandered up to my terrace and I found my old friend Maverick the Monkey, Commander-in-Chief of the Monkey Brigade of E-11, back on the Atiqa sofa. “Zarri, I shouted,” the monkey is back. It seems that after a hiatus of over a year Maverick has really taken a shine to me again.
“What’s on your mind,” I asked Maverick.
“What’s on yours, old man? I was watching you from a nearby tree and felt that you are more preoccupied than usual. Are you missing your wife?”
“Of course I’m missing my wife,” I replied acidly. “She traipses off to London every now and then leaving me alone with my thoughts and her housework – not that she talks to me much when she’s here. I suppose I’m a gone case, a massive slab of boredom for others, but I still find myself very interesting. We have great companionship, you know. This time she went for the birth of our grandson. Now I will have to go bring her back. Its like she has a ‘rukhsati’ every year – departure of the bride to her husband’s house.”
“You are anything but boring, Humayun. You are an assemblage unto yourself, you pompous bastard. You are never bored even when alone because your thoughts keep you company. You have successfully converted loneliness to melancholy; solitariness to solitude and even more successfully lowered your tolerance level. You don’t Brooke fools easily but you never stop to think that you might be an impossible fool of a dreamer yourself, always lost in your idealistic theories and romantic paradigms. In solitude and melancholy lies discovery and innovation. New ideas are born, fresh thoughts take off, novel and new-fangled theories arise. But there has to be more than that. You are used to your wife’s absences. So what’s eating you now, old man? Come clean, will you?”
“Frankly, I was getting quite fed up of the ‘Prophet of Doom and Gloom’ epithet. Isn’t it worrying when the bald truth becomes doom and gloom? Why are people so afraid of the truth?”
“Truth is like a mirror. People fear it because it brings them face-to-face with themselves. Those few lucky enough to have even a modicum of conscience and independent thought free of the tyranny of the theories of others get to know God. They fear their consciences awakening from the false comfort of slumber’s denial,” said Maverick philosophically. “Else they will have to do what Iqbal says – Create New Times, New Days, New Dawns.”
“Well, I was searching for some genuinely good news because a question has been preying on my mind. In June 2008, the year the ‘dictator’ General Musharraf left office as President, our total public or government debt, external and internal, stood at the equivalent of US $60 billion. Seven ‘democratic’ years later, by June 2014, our public debt had ballooned to US $175 billion. That’s a massive increase of $115 in only seven years. God knows how much it will be by end June this year. It’s unconscionable, particularly when we are not told where it really went. The common man has seen none of it, no benefit at all. We need an independent forensic audit: how much was misapplied, how much used to bridge deficits, how much on low priority projects and, yes, how much was misappropriated and pocketed by rulers big and small. Only then can we even begin to deal with it if ever there is a good government in Pakistan the likelihood of which is suffering from the law of diminishing political returns. Only then can we ask all the moneylenders why they knowingly gave so money to so many corrupt and inept governments thereby placing an unbearable burden of debt on the poverty-stricken people of Pakistan and their progeny. The rulers and their children always get away Scott free leaving the wretched of the Pakistani earth caught in the debt trap from where there is no escape. Ask the moneylenders and international and national banksters why the Law of Odious Debt should not be applied to them and in all conscience written off? America witlessly takes all the debt it wants to conquers other lands that have resources and routes important enough to steal and occupy because the mighty dollar belongs to them, the word belongs to them; the world belongs to them. But He Who has ‘Kun’ – the Word of Creation – will surely bring the day when the hegemon’s word will belong to America no more, just as it was once taken from the United Kingdom, and it will find itself trapped in debt too and at the mercy of China to whom will temporarily pass the hegemon’s word. And so it goes, so it has been throughout human history. It is all about the movement of historical forces that have a mind of their own.”
Entered my cousin Munna clapping. Munna is Babar Tajammul’s younger brother. While Babar and I are good at holding forth, Munna is good at going forth and multiplying. “I heard your commendable day-dreaming, Humayun. America will never bite the dust so stop being a fool. It has too huge a knowledge bank to begin with it, not counting its weaponry. Who’s this?”
“This is my friend Maverick,” I said. “Maverick, Munna; Munna; Maverick. Look, this is what they used to say about the British Empire. Where is it now?”
“You look,” said Munna, “I came to hear some good news from you for a change. Isn’t the lowering of the base interest rate to 7 percent good news?”
“Sure it is, at least superficially,” I conceded. “It will lower debt-servicing costs for businesses. That’s something. When the cost of money is low the cost of goods is low so the selling price is low.”
“You forget,” Maverick chipped in, “that the cost of domestic debt servicing will also reduce for the government. Which makes me think that this decrease in the base rate might only be a short-term pre-budget gimmick before the IMF gives us our real budget a while later.”
“No,” said Munna. “The international oil price has gone down so inflation has gone down, that’s why. In any case, it will finally attract direct investment.”
“Then why are they raising oil prices at the pump again, Munna?” I asked. “Our inflation is imported primarily because of high oil prices. But our consumption is not credit based as it is in the West, so what does interest have to do with it in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan?”
“There you go again,” mocked Maverick, “taking symbolic stunts seriously. They call Pakistan an Islamic Republic just to placate the mullah, the people and fool God, that’s all. You shouldn’t take it seriously.”
“Low interest rate is a very important element in investment attraction no doubt, but not the only one,” I said. “There also has to be security, less bureaucracy, availability of infrastructure like communications, water, gas, electricity and trained manpower from workers to managers. Above all, foreign investors will look to see whether Pakistanis are investing or not and then decide. Pakistanis are not, so why should they when they have the whole world to invest in.”
“Yes,” added Maverick. “Low returns on saving will not mean people deciding to invest in productivity and employment increasing projects on the ground. They will look for something safer, especially largely unproductive real estate here and abroad. Which will enlarge the property bubble further in Pakistan, Dubai and elsewhere. One well-planted terrorist bomb will put paid to that. Anyway, do we want an unproductive, no job producing rentier economy?”
“Now you are the one who is difficult to satisfy Maverick,” I said with self-satisfied sarcasm. “You have successfully turned good news into bad.”
“And you are the one who is scared to face the truth,” retorted Maverick.
“Look, why don’t you talk of cricket?” suggested Munna with a sense of desperation. “I have not driven all the way from Lahore to listen to your incoherent gibberish about interest rates.”
“You asked the question, Munna,” I reminded him. “We’ll talk of cricket after the Zimbabwe series is over today. If we haven’t won all three ODIs, bye bye Champions Trophy.”
“What’s cricket?” asked Maverick plaintively. “Are you talking about the insect that the Chinese make their pets?”
“Forget it, Maverick,” said Munna looking decidedly disgusted. “He who doesn’t know cricket doesn’t belong to the human race.”
“I don’t belong to the human race and thank God for it,” retorted Maverick testily. I promise I could faintly but distinctly detect a blush of anger through the fur on his face. “After you stupid humans have successfully obliterated yourselves with your nuclear bombs and climate damage, only we monkey will be left. But we will seriously think about whether to start if all over again or leave you humans in oblivion.”
“What about interior minister Chaudhry Nisar and the prime minister making up?” said Munna.
“Wait for the next sulk,” said Maverick impishly and leaped out, out and away.