Summer Bummer

Fayes T Kantawala was reprimanded for wearing shorts in a military cantonment

Summer Bummer
Who knew jet-lag could be such a good thing! It resets your internal clock and forces you to wake up at a pious hour - like 7 am - ready to conquer the world with the joint powers of mental clarity and daylight.

I tried to harness these powers on my first day back in Pakistan last week by rising at dawn like a Disney character surrounded by singing birds. Thrilled, I dived headfirst into spring-cleaning, organising forgotten drawers and sending emails, and even made it to the gym (the number of people who have called me ‘healthy’ so far: 11; people on my kill-list: same).
My first thought was that he was judging my muffin-top, and I clutched at my T-shirt some more

By 10 am I felt utterly regal and accomplished, proud that I had beaten down my jet-lag with the stick of mindfulness. This wonderful feeling, however, did not last, and I went on to spend my week in a near-constant state of narcolepsy, nodding off frequently and without restraint, sometimes mid-sentence. I partly blame being over thirty, which I can confirm means that it takes you twice as long to recover from anything fun. The rest I blame on the heat, the ferocity of which deserves some kind of new term, like “hellfire” or “soul-snatcher”. It simply isn’t possible to do anything productive with your brain or body when it’s pushing 47 degrees Celsius. 47! How is that even possible? How is that

The ignominy of going from mild to hot weather immediately is that I have been thrust into scanty summer clothes like thin T-shirts and shorts without any kind of preparation (refer to “healthy” comments above). Having spent the last six months in body-camouflaging coats and sweaters, being so exposed is jarring and I find myself clutching and pulling at my clothes all the time. But after a while this heat saps even one’s self-consciousness (small mercies).

Mullah Mansour, whose death has become the latest topic to excite Pakistani airwaves since Panama Leaks
Mullah Mansour, whose death has become the latest topic to excite Pakistani airwaves since Panama Leaks

Turns out I am not the only one who is conscious about my summer wear. While driving into Fortress Stadium the other day, I was angrily turned away by military police for being ‘inappropriately dressed’. I had been wearing shorts and a T-shirt and hadn’t really thought much of it.

“What,” said the guard, “do you think you’re wearing?”

My first thought was that he was judging my muffin-top, and I clutched at my T-shirt some more.

“You can’t enter this place…dressed like this.” He put special emphasis on ‘this’, as if I were stripper in a church.

“Whats wrong with it?” I asked, and the man told me shorts were forbidden in military-controlled areas for reason of modesty.

“You’re joking, right?” I blurted. “It’s 100 degrees outside, what do you expect me to wear?” Judging by his military fatigues, knee-high leather boots and stern aloofness, this was not a question for which he had much sympathy. So I made my way, bare-legged and shamefaced, back to my place. You’d think the military check-posts have better things to do than police casual-wear, like catching terrorists and their sympathisers. But you’d be wrong, because my calves are apparently more of a pressing concern.

I was thinking of this when I heard that Mullah Mansour, the new leader of the “good” Taliban, had been droned out of existence this past week (announcing an open call for Pakistan’s Next Top Terrorist), and it was revealed that he and others like him travel quite freely and even have Pakistani IDs and passports (some have even been to Qatar with these documents). Chances are he wouldn’t be wearing capri pants when entering a military shopping complex, and therefore would have passed unencumbered by interrogations.

I jest, but the assassination did bring back the same tired debates about drones and sovereignty and American might versus Pakistani freedom, to which I have nothing to add except to remind those that expressed shock and outrage that Osama Bin Laden himself was hiding out here for years, so it doesn’t surprise me that others have been too. Turns out Quetta is where they congregate, which is sad because it was always such a lovely city and is now unlikely to be a place one can wear shorts for a good long time. (I’m being flippant, but you need flippancy sometimes to keep national lunacy at bay.)

One of the joys of being back in Pakistan is watching the plethora of news channels (it feels like there are seventy-three more of them, each anchor with more hairspray than the last) and news of Mullah Mansour’s death made a refreshing change from the ongoing Panama Leaks fiasco. Two things on this: First, I didn’t think it would remain a story for as long as it has. The news (#surprise) that the very, very rich take their wealth offshore is naturally upsetting, and I can relate to the anger felt by the general population. (Full disclosure: I do not own or co-own an offshore company.) It is upsetting but it’s not technically illegal, as Imran Khan quickly pointed out when he himself was implicated for buying a flat in London with an offshore account.

But second, and far more important, we can’t keep attaching the word ‘Gate’ to things and then sit back to marvel at its historical implications. It doesn’t work for everything. The Panama Papers was a mysterious enough name for a scandal. It conjured images of clandestine meetings, beach-front cocktails and stylish linen outfits, and I really believe we should have stuck with it.

Write to