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Burglar or saviour

The Pakistani nation has been living like the Sidney family from Eden Phillpotts’ famous play for four decades, waiting for something sensational to happen. Is their wait over?

Burglar or saviour

The English poet, novelist, and dramatist Eden Phillpotts’ famous one-act play Something to Talk About is one of the trilogy entitled Three Short Plays: The Market-money; Something to Talk About; The Purple Bedroom, published in 1928.

The play is about an event that finally ends the humdrum routine of the Sidney family. They have lived generation after generation without ever having something really adventurous and thrilling to talk about. “Nec elata nec dejecta” (neither happy nor dejected) is an all-time family rubric. For lack of any newsworthy incidents, the maximum thrill they get is from the natural cycle of deaths and births in the family. Their dreary lifestyle through centuries literally brings them to a point where they thirst for anything that may inject a bit of vigour in their otherwise monotonous lives.

They get that chance as the famous burglar of England, Wolf, comes to their house one Christmas evening with the intention to conduct a robbery. Right when he is struggling with the family safe, Guy Sidney, the family son, enters the room. Upon discovering the burglar, he tells him how honoured he is to find “the great Wolf” under his roof. The boy then, along with the whole Sidney family, ‘excitedly’ watches the burglar open the family safe. Though Wolf uses his signature crude slang threatening to ’plug’ everyone, they are so thrilled to see the famous burglar that Lord Redchester even gives him the password to the family safe. The whole family is excited to finally have “something to talk about”.

If we adapt the idea of this play up to this point, it does relate to the particular situation of our country. Has the Pakistani nation not been living like the Sidney family for four decades waiting for something sensational to happen? The dominant theme of our life these days is that our nation, after decades of drab and wearisome collective national life, has finally got something to talk about.

Imran Khan, riding high on his change-rhetoric, has met with popular support and resultantly, has led the nation to a frenzied excitement. About four times in our chequered history so far, the powerful military syntax has unplotted the low-keyed and short-lived democratic narratives. In the past thirty odd years, our nation has been bogged down by rising inflation, unemployment, corruption, and collective low self-esteem.

Both on internal and external policy fronts, we have not been able to achieve anything worthwhile, except perhaps the loss of human capital in our so-called proxy war against terrorism, that we could flaunt in front of other nations. The green Pakistani passport does not command an instant respect even in the Middle East. The dollar’s steep stride upward, the rising petrol prices, electricity shortfall and resultant load shedding have literally brought the nation to its knees.

If Imran Khan has said to his nation “Good folk, mere noise repels —/ But give me your sun from yonder skies!’” They would have answered, “And afterward, what else?”

But like a ‘Prometheus Unbound’, Imran Khan seems to have brought us light and a ray of hope because he has, for the last 22 years, struggled against the corrupt demigods of our politics, and has finally made it to the top. Now, as far as jumping on the PTI bandwagon is concerned, in Robert Browning’s words in Patriot into Traitor, it is “roses, roses all the way” for Khan, and if he had said to his nation, “Good folk, mere noise repels —/ But give me your sun from yonder skies!’” They would have answered, “And afterward, what else?”

We have been pulled out of our despondence for a while and, like Aeschylus’s Bacchae, a great number of besotted people have rallied around him. Media is abuzz with predictions and anticipation. Our streets are astir with the popular talk on how he is likely to pull it off as prime minister. The entire nation is going berserk lapping up his pledges in the first victory speech. The nation has pinned its hopes on a new charismatic leader who is known for chasing his dreams home, standing up against any form of high-handedness and speaking truth to power. After languishing in resignation and opium-eating of political promises, they finally have something to talk about.

What makes Khan’s presence in the driving seat important is our country’s past and what our political leaders have done with it. We have been slaves to a navel-gazing family politics, feudal lords, and capitalist supremacist business mafia who preferred filling their own nests over developing Pakistan into a country that could matter to the comity of nation in the true sense. They have cashed in on our collective amnesia.

Imran Khan does not have the unconditional support of all parties and he is likely to face the strongest ever opposition in our parliamentary history — his stint as Pakistan’s prime minister is going to be his litmus test. Does he have the grit to honour his pledges made to the nation? Does he have the pluck to brave the odds against his will to stem corruption? Does he have the talent to make Pakistan an economically strong and independent country? Would he be able to finally resolve the Kashmir issue? Would he be able to deliver in education and health, energy sectors in the real sense? How would his foreign policy be our open sesame?

Imran Khan now has the responsibility to save this country from “going down” as he said in his election campaign.

In our frenzy, we have given our dear “Wolf” the password to our safe. Burglar or saviour, it is for him to decide, but we have got “something to talk about”.

Sibghatullah Khan

Sibghatullah Khan
The writer is a PhD and teaches English Literature at National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad. He may be reached at [email protected]

One comment

  • Dr. Faisal Arif Sukhera

    Dr. Sibghatullah Khan’s literary piece about Imran Khan repletes with literary charm. His syllogistic style wields a lucid expression.The wealth of picturesque language has endowed a very well thought out essay with the energy of freshness of a sun beam on a winter’s day. His style brims with phrases that cling to the readers’ mind and they are glued to the essay till they read the last word. The essay reaches its pinnacle when we read, “After languishing in resignation and opium eating of political promises, they finally have something to talk about.”

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