Comment: Can’t wait to go
You can depend on a fast food restaurant for a high calorie meal and a bathroom. Yes, I know they’re pretty awful much of the time, both the meal and the bathroom, but that’s much better than none, once again, that applies to both, but we’re talking about bathrooms here. And believe me, ‘no bathrooms’ is what you get in Pakistan.
I must give the devil its due though and admit that things are a tad better now than they used to be, oh let’s see, back in 1972, when I was a little kid. These days there are those washrooms along the motorway (oh and they’re called ‘washroom’, by all and sundry.) No one knows ‘ghussul khana’ anymore. These washrooms range from pretty horrendous to passably decent, even to, on the odd occasion, surprisingly good. I can wax lyricals about the decent ones, but that may be information overload.
I remember that long ago in the ’70s, when like the Gilbreths in Cheaper by the Dozen, we stopped at every promising clump of trees, when driving long distances such as from Lahore to Karachi, and back. We did that route many, many times, and I reckon some of the verdure you see today owes its existence pretty heavily to our trips in ways that you can imagine for yourself, though you may not wish to.
But returning to 2010, well the population of Pakistan today is over 172,800,000. That’s the sixth most populous country in the world, right behind Brazil. In 1972 the population was about 65,321,000. That was when the promising clump of trees was also a private clump of trees barring the odd wild boar, but they’re mainly after sugar cane. You could add to the verdure in peace in one of those clumps of trees, and we did.
I’m not sure what happens in Brazil other than Kaká (the footballer, please), but in Pakistan today it would be hard to find a clump of trees, or even a single tree free of the odd dhoti-clad farmer, whistling through the gap in his teeth as he strolls home, lota in hand.
No, there is no solitary clump of trees to be had this side of the Wagah border for love or money, from the north of the country down to the southernmost tip. Not any more. I don’t include places like Murree and further north in this reckoning, but if you have been up north lately, you would have seen that monkeys have now replaced the local populace. And trust me you want to be caught even less in any position which prevents a quick getaway, with one of those animals around.
So anyway, here we are, back in Pakistan, and let’s say there’s this lady who needs a pelvic ultrasound. What does she do, for pity’s sake? I mean, have you ever had a pelvic ultrasound? Do you know how much water you have to drink before the dratted machine takes a decent picture of your innards?
This is when you start making friends just because they live along where they do. Enduring friendships have been founded on opening statements such as “Could I use the bathroom please?” Marriages have resulted from “I’ll have tea later. I need to use the washroom first, please.”
I am one of these people who plan ferociously before leaving the house. If I have to leave at 4pm, not a drop of water crosses my lips post-3pm. Tea is taboo because after the age of 40, it makes you go. So when the rest of the family is resignedly waiting in the car, I make a last dash to the bathroom, just in case. And then once again before they turn nasty, just to make doubly sure.
I mean, who knows these days? What if a VIP is visiting the city? You may think there is no connection between the man and bathrooms (sorry, washrooms), but there is, there is! Didn’t you hear of that poor woman who gave birth in a rickshaw? So what do you do if you are stuck in an endless line of traffic for four bloody hours, with a lecherous motorcyclist behind you and a camel cart in front, with a VIP cavalcade in the offing, and you need the bathroom? What can be worse than that? Even after the man has gone in a flash of teeth and sirens, there are still two or three hours to go before you can get out of the traffic mess.
What if you are in Gagomal somewhere in the armpit of the Punjab? Bet you never thought of that, did you before you decided to visit Gagomal? (What are you doing there, anyway?) What if you are in Gagomal then? No fast food restaurants in Gagomal! Ha! Just the ubiquitous farmer with his lota, probably more than one, weaving in and out of clumps of trees. They never stay at home, these people.
The trick of course, is never to go there, Gagomal. It is not a good idea. Just don’t leave home if you can help it. Not if you live in Pakistan. People keep ringing me from more sterile places telling me not to go out much anyway. What if there is a bomb, they say? What if there is a target killer on the loose?
Honestly, my intention is not to trivialise these occurrences, God forbid. But really, our leaders are just too busy causing traffic jams, so those things are a dime a dozen now. May we all keep safe from both leaders and terrorists. But if it happens, then it is fated to be, and we can’t cower at home and let them win, can we?
But what’s much worse, is what if you need to use the washroom and you are stuck somewhere? The mind boggles at the mere thought.