The Dawn: May 1, 2015

PUNJAB NOTES: Why do they want to look like landlords?

Mushtaq Soofi 

It’s amusingly funny to see our young urban elite trying to look like landed nobility with all the clumsiness inextricably associated with the act of aping the old which is not that old if we look at it in terms of time. Both in fact can’t boast of long history. The landed nobility was fathered by colonial masters from mid-nineteenth century onward with the express purpose of keeping the people subjugated. The urban variety came out of the womb of the new state which nourished it with its largesse fulfilling the opaque purpose of broadening its class base during the last six decades.

Our landed nobility is just one hundred years older than their urban counterpart. But the negligible hundred years age difference between the two appear on the social patina like a millennium when looked at in terms of enduring consequences it had for skein of our social and political life.

If you look around you can’t fail to find the eerily visible presence of newcomers; the urban elite dressed in the old robes of honour. They look a tad clownish on the public stage with their newly manufactured physiognomy; their dialogues and persona move in opposite direction suggesting two different worlds. The apparently new negates what is old and vice versa in a spectacle that confounds both the present and the past. You feel as if the present is lost in the past and the past in the present. Urban politicians, businessmen, even bureaucrats are seen on the formal occasions in long and loose shirt, and baggy trousers with sleeveless jacket on the shoulders; the landlord’s clothes. The dress losing its starched stiffness looks shoddy and oddly creased the moment they get up to come to the podium after having been in the chair for a few minutes. They conveniently forget that this dress donned by the landlords was not meant for the eye of the camera. Its shape is loose and its colour invariably white. Both the shape and the colour symbolise comforting lethargy and thinly concealed disdain for work. Why do the seemingly educated yuppies tend to be decadent landlords in their appearance is the question that needs probing.

If you take a round of city’s high-end localities and suburbs you can’t fail to be impressed by sprawling houses spread over acres, at times hundreds of acres against all norms of modern living. Inordinately large rooms after rooms rarely used represent the dark recesses of owners’ minds haunted by the glorious ghosts of the past. All such houses are awe-inspiring modern replicas of mansions and fortresses. Instead of conveying an aesthetic sense of modern urban architecture they embody the monstrosity of raw power of old elite whose idea of beauty is: big is beautiful. The non-human size of what they build, in their opinion, is the measure of their riches and power? A compact house fails for them to be a nifty infographic of richly complex contemporary human living? Why the niggling doubt about their socio-political power imperceptibly lures them to re-creating architectural ugliness of moribund rural nobility is the question that needs investigation.

If you are out on the road or in the parking lot of swanky restaurant, you see the satiated rich in big jeeps and off road vehicles meant for the rough countryside drive. Enjoying ride in such monsters on the city’s bumpless asphalt roads where you have to compete for space amazes you if you happen to have a modern mind. Vehicles designed for rough dirt roads evoke the images of landlords of yesteryears who in the early age of motorized transport used to measure the length of what they called ‘motor’ before buying it. Why the length and the height of the vehicle instead of its efficiency is an arcane source of joyride for the urban elite is the question that needs examination.

If you look at the family life of our urban movers and shakers you again have a sense of déjà vu. Lot many of them are either polygamous or simply philanderers like landlords. The politically correct ones go the traditional way; they prefer to have two or three women as lawful wives. The act has cultural and religious sanction. The non-traditional apart from having wives keep the ‘keeps’, to use the slang. Why a member of the urban elite feel emotionally and sexually compelled to have more than one woman at a time like his peer in the countryside is the question that needs to be looked into.

Last but not the least is the politics. Our city-based political leaders, the representatives of the people with mass urban following are caricatures of landlords. Their authoritarian psychic make-up is egregiously expressed in their personal life and political dealing. They run their so-called democratic parties like fiefdoms treating their political workers and supporters as serfs. They become cultish figures denying space for dissent. They act like patriarchs and whatever they utter has to be accepted and believed as if it is a whisper from the heaven. Why Lahore and Karachi based political parties and their leaders who apparently stand for a new democratic future of the country, need to borrow from the old ethos is the moot point.

Talking of Louis Bonaparte who proclaimed himself Emperor Napoleon III (1851) and his followers, Marx says, ‘…they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle-cries, and costumes in order to present this new scene … in time honoured disguise and borrowed language’. Though the scene where our urban elite appear with the sociocultural trappings of lords’ ethos look like a parody, the reality is that it’s an attempt on their part to gain social and cultural legitimacy by appropriating the symbolism of old order, anachronistic but honoured.

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