Article 25: Theater for the Coffee Republic

Article 25: Theater for the Coffee Republic
After the recent opening of the Canadian coffee house Tim Hortons in DHA Lahore, swathes of Pakistanis lined up in organized queues that would put ants to shame. Our tiny companions are known for their discipline, and literature here in south Asia is rife with motivational tales of the dogged poise that these creatures carry themselves with and how watchful human beings who possess much larger heads could learn a thing or two from them.

It was perhaps these few who could shepherd aimless herds into fenced grounds and the late Tim Horton could be one of them. But the now-deceased Tim Horton had a special ace up his sleeve, he could make really good coffee and doughnuts. Our maple syrup-providing brethren were stoked and as they opened their arms to welcome us solar-charred bunch who were used to drinking ‘karak chai’ to their white snowy cities and embraced us in their white-skinned hugs, a transmutation occurred.

The only karak that was left of us was our dusky appearances that still stood out. Many decades have passed since that time. The first ones who moved to the maple tree country were in search of better financial prospects since Pakistan was going through uncertain times. The ones who are moving today make similar claims.

In seventy-five years it seems the only good thing that we have been able to import from Canada is Tim Hortons’ coffees and various branded maple syrups for our pancake-loving diaspora while we have exported thousands of perishable goods that, rumor has it, we could have used for ourselves and good brains that could’ve made valuable contributions to the progress of our society.

Pakistan teeters on the edge of default as panicked politicians seethe through their clenched mouths. The common person has now determinedly lifted their head to look at the gallows as the only fate. They are ready for the kill. Their worry is unfounded. Messiahs come at just the right time to pull the right strings here.

After the success and doom of one such handsome messiah, another one has come to rescue the land of the pure, only this one knows what it takes to bring the economy back on track. This one is wholly international, obviously fairer, and like a good sport, momentarily unfixed on destroying any competition.

The sigil is the much adored, benign, and timid red maple leaf which is a fresh break from big wild cats, sports bats, and pointy projectiles. This messiah has managed to achieve what the Robin Hoods of the past could not even dare to, by including religious slogans in their fiery speeches: getting the classes above and including the middle to take their fates into their own hands by getting them out of their cars and standing for several hours for a cup of java.

This new messiah has a rightful place in Hassan Miraj’s and Najm Ul Hassan’s sequel to Article 25, a satirical play that was performed in Lahore on the 11th and 12th of February. Successful or not, it did manage to make its audience uncomfortable. The success of the writing, direction, sets, and performances lies in that. There is one other area that it greatly succeeds in, it provides an impetus to do some research on the political affairs of Pakistan since its birth and in so doing, to consult books other than what Nigel Kelly had published a decade ago.

The show also failed in two very important areas. The first one was its inability to attract our notorious java drinkers who had lined themselves up in front of Tim Hortons. In the aftermath, a relatively politically aware group of people made the number of heads in the audience. This does not necessarily mean that these were educated by the ousted great leader. The beguiled and nonchalant kind was too busy spoiling itself with hot mocha or Irish vanilla latte.

Since this is an ongoing show details of the performances will be kept under wraps. There is one question that the audience needs to ask itself before heading into the theater though: What is Article 25?

According to the Constitution of Pakistan Article 25 ensures the following:

(1) All citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law. (2) There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex. (3) Nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the protection of women and children. The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.

It makes you wonder why so many left in the golden years before the 90s and why so many continue to do so when the constitution vows to serve and protect. Were these people not aware of their rights? Were they not invigorated by the charismatic messiahs of their times?

The answer to this is simply that the idea of equality is portrayed as farcical in common perception. Our collective messiah complex is not a neoteric inception. Its presence precedes its current pervasion and it exists because equality is packaged as a farce that no one should aspire to see in society.

Many also question its practicality. How can the ones who serve us sit next to us by adjoining the levels of their shoulders to ours? How then can social statures be maintained? Some take a dig by branding them utopian and idealistic, with reality having no bearing on their conception. A vast majority that gathers at protests to decry the American influence in our political system calls it too communist for their taste and the only energy that they would like to expend in changing the political landscape is by nodding to whatever their messiah says and then after an honest day’s work, munching on a Big Mac.

It shouldn’t then come as a surprise that one too many messiahs keep making dunces out of well-intentioned masses. The latest messiah has achieved something similar. It offers a respite to forget your woeful existence in Pakistan and pretend for a moment that you have been transported to Canada.

The transition from Purana Pakistan to Naya Pakistan and then back to Purana Pakistan and now Canadian Pakistan can be made without a seam in sight. Article 25 sulks in the background, although for a brief moment, chauffeurs did get to see their bosses lining up, albeit for coffee and not sacks of wheat.

Somehow, inconceivably but believably so, in the eyes of the state and the law, the conditions of needs and wants stand equal to each other. If that is the case that the state and the law make with apologetic shrugs by casually implicating the economy for such a sad state of affairs, the relationship between cause and effect becomes ever so skewed.

Miraj’s sardonic writing addresses all of this with a special focus on 25(2) that in the land of the pure becomes a hot topic only when Aurat March slogans become too obscene to digest or when a woman is brutalized without any immediate repercussions for the culprit. What Miraj and Hassan successfully achieve is the telling of a quasi-fictional story that in the end gives off a completely neutral perspective that is hard to achieve when the premise is rooted in the political arena.

The show also opened its doors in Islamabad on the 18th and 19th of February, where Tim Hortons has yet to arrive.

Ants can be put to shame once again, only this time for other reasons.