I'm not what you would call a deeply religious man, but whenever I hear my uneducated relatives or friends say things that make my blood boil, I thank the Almighty that my father spent so much on my education (despite not being a rich man himself). Of course he was a strict disciplinarian who expected me to top in every exam I took, even though I didn't do as well as he wanted me to in my college years.

It is because of illiteracy that among my relatives that there are many who make me wonder whether I should get my DNA compared to theirs to find out if they're truly related to me. I often wonder if they were switched by mistake in the hospitals they were born. I've often read of such things happening. In my case, of course, since I was born in my maternal grandfather's house, and there were no hospitals in the small town where I was born in 1944, I am the true son of my parents.

I was talking to a near relative today. I won't say who he is, but he has this habit of exaggerating a lot. In the past he's made many incredible claims, which is one reason his relatives don't take him seriously. I wonder how his poor wife has tolerated him all these years without losing her mind. Today he said he went into the room of a girl who later became a famous TV actress and she was naked at the time (apparently she'd just had sex with her boyfriend who had just left her house). I asked him why he didn't have sex with her, as no normal man would have been able to control himself in such a situation. I also told him that he was a fool for not doing it (I used the Urdu word ch....a). Of course, anyone could tell he was lying, as her parents were in the house and it was her brother who told him how to find her room.

I should have told him I'll mention his so-called exploits in the novel I plan to write (there are so many incredible incidents he's related). And I wish I had the guts to ask him for his DNA sample so I can verify if he really is closely related to me and his other relatives, or whether the hospital staff gave someone else's child instead of him to his mother.  

 A couple of days back, I found from a website that the full moon in Karachi had occurred on August 3 at 20.58 hrs. From this it was evident that the Ruet-e-Hilal committee (comprising of aging mullahs) had made a mistake in declaring Eid-al-Azha on August 1 (it should have been on 31 July 2020). I sent Whattsapp and Twitter messages to everyone I knew, and immediately I was bombarded by fanatics, one of whom even called me an atheist. 

One of them (a born-again Muslim and a Memon to boot) said that Muslims must look in the skies to determine if there is a new moon. So I asked him why Muslims rely on their watches when they pray five times a day, although until a hundred years back they used to look at the sky to do so. He had no answer. Naturally, he couldn't admit that today's Muslims can't determine when to start and end fasting without using watches (something invented by infidels in the West). But he persisted in calling me westernized, saying I was more interested in science than in Islam. That is of course the usual response of fundamentalists when they don't have an answer.

Today a female writer in the Tribune claimed that the theory of evolution has been rejected by most Western scientists, without naming any. Back in the 1950s, Pakistani Islamic scholars used to claim that Islam had been the first to tell mankind about evolution . I have studied the Holy Book and the Hadith in detail, but I couldn't find anything about evolution in them (nor about atom bombs, as some mullahs used to claim in those days).

I had a relative who couldn't hold a sensible conversation about anything without bringing religion into it. One day I told him that despite what we had been told by mullahs, it is now possible to find out whether it's a male or a female inside a woman's womb. He immediately said "Can you predict whether the boy or girl would live up to adulthood, or whether he or she will be a criminal or not? That is what is meant by knowing what is in a woman's womb". This again is how fundamentalists twist an argument whenever they don't have an answer.  I next told him, "We were also told that no one could predict whether it would rain the next day or not, now we can even make rain fall wherever we want". He was stumped.

When I was a kid, people would tell me that being friendly with boys of other religions was dangerous. Of course, my parents never told me to stay away from Christians or Hindus or Parsis. I had plenty of friends from those religions, as my school (St. Patrick's) admitted everyone (except Protestants). In fact, when one Catholic boy's family became Protestants, the boy (Simon Douglas) was hounded and harassed and then thrown out of school for "teasing the girls of St. Joseph's Convent" nearby. Yes, just as the Muslims who warned me to stay away from non-Muslims  feared that I would end up being one of them, the Catholic priests were terribly afraid that the Protestant boy would persuade other Catholic students to change their religion. 

As I said, there were people who told me that having non-Muslim friends would turn me into an apostate. Even when (at the age of 60) I told the mullah of our apartment mosque that I was reading a book on Islam written by a Shia, he recoiled in horror and told me to throw the book away (which I couldn't do, as it belonged to the Karachi Club library). The mullah obviously thought I would be influenced by the book and become a Shia, I pointed out to him that he had failed to convince me to grow a beard, so he should know that I'm not the type of person who is easily brainwashed.

Then there was the time (when I had gone to perform Haj) that a fat Memon tried to strangle me. His equally fat cousin had asked if there was any way the Haj could be performed in a week or so, and I had suggested that he should convert to the Shia faith. As I said, I was almost lynched, although I told the corpulent would-be killer that I had said it as a joke.

Which makes me wonder why Memons, of all people, have become so radicalized. Usually those who hate people of other religions are poor and have to struggle daily to survive. Memons used to be so tolerant, yet now I see many who think nothing of killing Shias or Ahmedis. Some of them refuse to go to weddings of Shias so they won't have to eat food cooked by them. 

The other day a young boy of 15 killed a mentally unstable man who claimed that he was a prophet. I wasn't surprised that he did so, but the amazing thing is that hundreds of men in Peshawer took out a rally in his support. When he was brought to court, he was kissed by heavily bearded men (who thought he had killed an Ahmedi). I suppose he wanted to become famous, seeing that another killer (the executed Mumtaz Qadri) is regarded as a saint, and thousands go and pray at the shrine built in his honour. One of his followers, by the way, is the Punjab Information Minister Fayyaz Chouhan. So we should expect to see more killings in future, probably of Shia and Barelvi Muslims.


Killing at a court
August 5, 2020
This refers to the editorial, 'A case of murder' (July 31). The authorities should investigate how the killer was able to smuggle a pistol into the courtroom. Several people visit courts daily, and this incident might embolden terrorists to strike at will, as they will conclude that security is lax.
Secondly, why should we be surprised that the killer took the law in his hands? Haven't we seen another killer (Mumtaz Qadri) glorified by many, including the present information minister in Punjab? In the instant case, the killer (Khalid) is being praised on social media, with one PTI politician even using the killer's picture as his own profile picture on social media. Will the prime minister take immediate action to rein in his party members, or will he remain silent?
Shakir Lakhani

A man I know once said the stock market is just a glorified casino. I'm often inclined to believe me. How else do you explain the current bullish trend in the Karachi Stock Exchange? Conditions in the country are still the same, if not worse. The corona thing appears to have weakened, but we really don't know the truth about it. It might suddenly rear its head in a couple of weeks, after people have gotten over embracing each other this Eid. And soon we'll have days on which processions will be held, culminating in Ashura. It should be remembered that the virus was brought to Karachi by pilgrims from Iran. It's also strange that both our neighbors (Iran and India) are in the grip of the virus with thousands dead and millions infected. Yet Pakistan appears to have survived. We'll soon know the truth.

Coming back to the stock exchange, one reason could be the assurance to the business community to invest in the property sector, and blanket immunity from awkward questions like where the crooks got the money to invest. In this respect, this PTI government is not at all different from the ones who ruled over us for the preceding ten years. Now all the black money is entering the stock and property markets, without the government getting anything and big tycoons laughing all the way to the bank.

Oh well, I'm glad I withdrew all my money from the stock market twelve years back to buy the house I'm currently living in. It was the best thing I've done in my whole life. Because after I had taken my money out, the stock market and the property market slid into depression all over the world. I wonder how long the current bullish trend will last. 

As Pakistan continues to slide towards chaos, inflation being one of the reasons, I thought it would be good to write about how much one could buy with our currency in the past. 

From 1950 to 1960, for instance, one could buy beef for Rs. 1.25 per kg, the salary of a bank manager was Rs. 300 and you could get a haircut for Rs. 0.25. A person with a hundred rupees in his pocket was rare. A lakh (hundred thousand rupees) was an astronomical amount, a person having that much was termed "lakhpati". 

By 1970, the price of edible items had doubled, but salaries did not see a corresponding increase. Haircuts now cost Rs, 3 to Rs. 5, depending on the locality.  A lakh wasn't worth as much as it used to be and I would often hear people say, "Nowadays you can't set up a factory or a new business with only a few lakhs". In 1981, Beaconhouse School charged Rs. 500 per month as school fees for students of Class 1. Now the monthly fees of my grandchildren (in schools for what are known as the middle class of people) are Rs. 30,000 and above. I think Beaconhouse fees may be more, although I don't know any relative whose children go there.

With the loss of East Pakistan in 1971, and the ensuing nationalization and misrule by Bhutto, rate of inflation increased massively. But one could still feed a family with two or three children on Rs. 5,000 a month (compared to a minimum of Rs. 150,000 today)

My monthly electric bill in June 2010 was Rs. 10,500. Today, ten years later, it is Rs. 24,915. My gas bill in February 2010 was Rs. 1,410, in February 2020 it was Rs. 4,300. Ten years back, my driver was paid Rs. 8,000 per month, today I have to pay him Rs. 24,000 (and for the past two months he has been threatening to leave unless I increase his salary). Today, bank managers earn from Rs. 300,000 to half a million (excluding perks), depending on their experience.

Could it have been different? Why do prices go up so sharply in Pakistan and not as much in the U.S. or Japan? My late uncle (who died six years ago) believed that it was due to a high interest rate charged by banks. Being a business and one who evaded taxes throughout his life (like every billionaire in the country), he scoffed when I told him that tax evasion was the real reason for the high rate of inflation. "Our taxes go into the pockets of bureaucrats and politicians", he often said. So how much of our taxes are really pilfered? This figure has to be more than ten percent, but even if twice that amount is stolen, we wouldn't be in such a sorry state if we paid our due taxes. But only a strict tax regime can ensure this. However, with increased tax collection, we'll still have inflation for many years (even though it will be reduced).

I frequently come across men who are incredibly illiterate. Oh, they may know a great deal about religion or the stock market, but they are unable to use their minds. Take this Covid-19 pandemic, for instance. They have heard their mullahs proclaiming that the disease is man-made, that it doesn't affect good, practicing Muslims, that it is not so serious. Even Imran Khan (whose IQ is apparently lower than that of a ten-year old) said in the beginning that the disease is just like the flu, that only very old people will be affected by it and there was nothing to worry. Later, he even said that going to mosques does not spread the disease. As a result, a surge in cases followed after the last Eid, and this is likely to be repeated when mass congregations gather tomorrow for Eid-al-Azha, not to mention the disaster awaiting us during Muharram next month.

When such an illiterate person tells me that a vaccine is not necessary to treat any disease, I tell him about smallpox, which has successfully been eradicated, even though it was rampant at one time. In fact, when a plane from Karachi carrying a smallpox infected person landed in London in the early 1960s, within a week seventy persons died of smallpox, with the doctors not even knowing what it was that had caused them to die. Flights from Karachi were banned for months (in those days, Karachi was the only international airport in the country). 

But, as expected, the stupid ones have never heard of smallpox. They don't know that in their grandfathers' times, quite a lot of women died during childbirth, and only one out of three children survived to reach adulthood. 

The reason for this massive illiteracy is of course our education system. Teachers are virtually illiterate themselves, they have no knowledge of science and children just memorize what is in their text books. Which is why the country has never progressed. But the illiterate ones believe that Pakistan is the greatest country on earth, just because most of them have never gone to any other country. The future is bleak.

I often wonder if our establishment consists of people who are the products of generations of cousin marriages. Just today a bill was nipped in the bud when ex-PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi pointed out that it contained draconian provisions, allowing for people to be picked up and held for ninety days without any reason. Of course, this kind of thing has been happening in the past, with hundreds having disappeared, but the bill would have legalized any action (hitherto considered illegal) by a low-IQ person sitting in the prime minister's house.

I remember how the Chief Justice didn't allow the re-counting of votes in the constituency where Imran Khan narrowly defeated Saad Rafiq. Even though the winner said he had no objection to the recounting, the CJ (Saqib Nisar, the same person who declared Imran Khan corruption-free) said recounting was not necessary, as Imran had made a "political" statement. 

Then there is the perjury case against Faisal Vawda, who stated that he didn't hold dual nationality (when he submitted his papers to the Election Commission), even though he surrendered his U.S. nationality a couple of days after his papers were accepted. Even though his lie was exposed seven months ago, he still sits in the National Assembly, and has refused to attend hearings called by the EC. The next hearing is to be held in about a week's time, and I won't be surprised if he files for an adjournment to prolong the matter. 

And now the Islamabad High Court has said there is no problem for Imran Khan to hire dual nationals to positions of importance (even though he himself had lambasted the previous government for doing so).

Which brings me back to cousin marriages, which result in the production of defective individuals. At least the Election Commission and the judiciary should not display their favouritism for Imran Khan so openly. So far, not a single member of PTI has been charged with corruption, despite there being so many of them in the government. As I said, this can happen only when people with low intelligence rule over the country.

Sometimes you simply can’t help feeling sorry for Imran Khan. Faced with numerous scandals (for which he blames various mafias against whom he apparently can’t take any action), and millions of jobless people out on the streets, he is lucky that he has managed to remain in power.

But he can’t get over the fact that he used to speak vociferously against the policies of the past government, but today he is doing the same things that were being done in the past. Many such videos of him have surfaced recently, in which he vehemently criticized the past government for doing what his government is doing today.

He used to say, for instance, that every time fuel energy prices are increased, the extra money goes into the pockets of the finance minister and his boss. But fuel and energy prices have also gone up during his reign a few times, so should we assume that he and his finance minister are reaping the benefits of the prices? Corruption during the past government was supposed to be costing the nation a billion dollars a month, and he said it would be eliminated after PTI came to power. It’s evident that corruption is still rampant, as there would have been an extra twenty four billion dollars in the national kitty if corruption had been contained.

Take, for instance, his demand that the then Railways Minister should resign immediately. “In any civilized country, the railways minister has to resign or is sacked after a train accident”, he thundered on the container six years ago. We have had many major train accidents in the nearly two years of his reign, yet the Railways Minister continues to be one of the government’s spokesmen, talking about everything but his ministry, and he has never been asked to resign. Even his colleagues must be wondering what hold he has over the Dear Leader that he can get away with it.

Remember how he demanded to know why thirty five rupees were being charged and given to PTV? “Every month PTV licence fees are taken from the poor. Where do all these billions go? We shall go to the courts,” he yelled. And now his government has itself raised the TV licence fee to Rs. 100! I don’t think even Trump would ever have done anything like this.

And how can we forget what he said about dual nationality holders? “Those who have passports of other countries have taken oath to remain loyal to someone else, they cannot be loyal to Pakistan. We need people who will burn their boats, sell all their foreign property and bring everything they own abroad back to Pakistan and serve the country!” Now that some of his own advisors and associates have been found to be nationals of other countries, will he tell them to bring back their wealth and surrender their foreign nationalities? Or will he take a U-turn on this issue as well? His supporters of course will say he didn’t know anything, but if that is the case, he is not fit to lead the country. The German Chancellor Willy Brandt, for instance, resigned when one of his very minor staff members was found to be a spy. How can one believe that even after twenty two years of knowing them, Imran Khan didn’t know that they were dual nationals? How could he not have known that some of them and their wives own property abroad? Should he not ask them to prove that their foreign assets were legally acquired?

And that is not all. One of his ministers (Faisal Vawda) is reported to have done some fudging when submitting details to the Election Commission, declaring that he was not a dual national at the time, despite being a U.S. national at the time. This fact has been known for over six months now, yet the Dear Leader has not asked him to resign. In any civilized country, ministers would have resigned for much less than this. Would Mr. Jinnah have tolerated this kind of thing?

It was of course only a matter of time before Imran Khan would get around to banning books. He knows that reading enables the development of critical thinking. He (in collusion with those who rigged the elections and made him prime minister) knows that he cannot deliver, due to the rampant corruption of those who dine and sup with him. So his government in Pakistan's largest province has banned over 200 books, some of them for having pictures of pigs in them. 

Now this is supreme idiocy. Imran Khan himself has become a fundamentalist after marrying a woman who is supposed to be a spiritual leader, one who believes in djinns, fairies and all that mumbo jumbo. Maybe under her instructions, he got those books banned. Or maybe those who "selected" him got him to do so, as they are scared that they too will be held to account by the masses one fine day. 

But why should pictures of pigs disturb them so much? And why should quotes from Gandhi's speeches or sexual reproduction cause books to be banned? Gandhi, as far as I know, never said anything against Islam, nor against Pakistan. At his death, there was widespread mourning in Karachi and Lahore. In fact, he was killed for saying that Pakistan should be given the five billion rupees illegally held by India. But then, you can't expect extremists to see reason. 

As for sexual reproduction, birth control and the like, the Stone Age men who rule over us think our female children will be corrupted and become immoral if such subjects are taught to them. They should be told that today's children are so tech savvy that they can learn about such things with the click of a mouse.