I just had breakfast with my aunt and mother; it was one of those meetings where you one gets a quick glimpse of the current zeitgeist. The topic of conversation didn’t start with international terrorism but the international food crisis that seems to be crippling Pakistan and everywhere else. (“You feel guilty just for even having this [in your house],” said my mother, pointing to a bowl of fruit.) In the grand scheme of things, it seems natural that the malaise that seems to be everywhere starts with food…the distress and despair over it seems ubiquitous in this country, and long before my coming I had heard complaints of skyrocketing prices and woeful tales of food riots and suicides. With an atmosphere like that, random bombings and an increasing presence of Taliban in the Frontier seems almost peripheral. Obama was an obvious topic of conversation as well. (“He’s still against Muslims…his policies are the same [as Bush],” said my aunt.) Be that as it may, Obama seems to be more popular than I imagined, and local satellite channels have been singing his praises in brief two-minute public advertisements. Perhaps here, where many non-PPP supporters feel appalled by the fact that someone like Zardari can be president, anyone from any country who seems to exude competent leadership is worthy of media-deification.
(“What do you think of ‘our president’?” asks my aunt. Before I can even muster an answer in my jet-lagged state she blurts out the word ‘chor’. Thief.)
I’m flipping channels. I reach Dawn News, one of 50 new news channels on Pakistani cable. The topic of conversation on this particular talk-show (by Sara Jaffery) is “Understanding Puberty” and how to talk to your children about it. Quite a far cry from the eighties when we used to visit Pakistan from abroad and the only channel was state-owned PTV (Pakistan Television). I’m not exactly sure what the management of that channel would have thought of this during the days of Zia’s public Islamization.
There is also and endless array of cooking shows at this time. There seems to be at least one every half-hour on most channels. I watch a few of them with my mother. She turns to me and says, with an appropriate apprecation of irony “There’re about ten cooking channels on, and people can’t afford to but food.”