The Prestige


Tony Montana paid the price for having morals, however deranged. El Jefe Zardari will also pay for his good deeds

It is the year 2008. It has been over 300 days since the passing of the great Benazir Bhutto. In Garhi Khuda Buksh, the final resting place of the Bhuttos, a mass of humanity is gathered. As far as the eye can see are mourners; men, women, children, young, old, short, fat, etc etc ad nauseum ad infinitum. In short, there’s a whole lot of people there. To one side, reporters are busy combing back their hair, preparing for the next in a series of live TV appearances. Farther down, satellite engineers manning their DSNG vans are wiping the sweat off their brows as they struggle to find that ever-elusive sweet spot where both audio and video signals are clear as daylight. In their ears, annoying producers seated in air-conditioned control rooms somewhere in the heart of Karachi or Lahore are yelling incoherently. Cameramen and photojournalists are at the head of the herd, jostling for position and lifting their tripod mounted appendages over their heads in the hopes of getting a clear shot of the dignitaries shuttling in and out of the mausoleum. It is a momentous occasion, as the grieving widower, Asif Ali Zardari, is expected to address the nation. He and BB’s progeny are currently inside the elegant triple-domed structure, while outside, a nation waits with baited breath.

In the midst of this expectant exuberation, a lone journalist stands tall. He has managed to find himself a platform where, if he tilts his head just the right amount of degrees to the right, he will be able to catch a glimpse of the man himself when he comes on stage to make his speech. As he is checking his camera to make sure he has enough memory, a shiver of excitement runs through the crowd: he is here! Hurrying through his pre-flight checks, the journo in question turns to look at the stage and sees his subject, Asif Ali Zardari, standing at the podium. He is about to begin, and a hush descends upon the multitudes that have gathered. Zardari steps up to the microphone and, drawing a deep breath, lets out the rallying cry “Jeay Bhutto!”

The sea of humanity echoes the cry in unison, and for some strange reason, our hero feels the need to reach around to his back pocket and pull out his wallet, ostensibly to throw 5-rupee notes in the great man’s general direction – as a sign of reverence, of course. As he pats his back pocket, a chill runs through his spine. Doing a double take, he looks back at the podium, where the ruler of his country still stands. On his face, the signature grin, from ear to ear and self-assured as ever. Dejected, he turns to the journalist standing next to him and exclaims exasperatedly, “Ten percent my ***! The first time I see Zardari in the flesh and my wallet disappears. How apt!”

The 470-word anecdote above should serve as an effective setup to the joke I’m about to tell you: the man is no ordinary man; he’s a magician with a panache for making things disappear!Seriously though, is there nothing that can faze El Jefe? Memogate, Veenagate, MQM-at-the-gate-threatening-to-leave, Zulfi-hand-on-heart-gate, Osama-gate, Saleem Shahzad-gate, Dr Rehman Malik-gate, Shah Mehmood Qureshi-gate; all of them combined have had zero effect on the president’s health. Zero, that is, if you do not count psychotic episodes. In fact, the president’s current troubles remind me of the fate of another egotistical megalomaniac (no, not Imran Khan), Tony Montana. The cocaine-snorting strongman of Hollywood, who felt himself invincible with each passing day and each successive challenge, was brought down by his own deranged sense of right and wrong.

In Scarface, Montana paid the price for having morals; he refused to kill women and children after butchering many an innocent. In the same vein, Zardari will have to pay several prices for his good deeds: for trusting his friends; for grooming his son to take over the reins of government in his absence; for standing up (or sitting down, doesn’t matter really) to the army that has a country; for finalising an NFC award that benefits other provinces, not just Punjab; for orchestrating an ordinance that will allow the political leadership of the country to launder their dirty undies; and, most of all, for trying to keep a democratically (sic!) elected government to complete its mandatory five years in office.

The magician’s greatest moment is known as ‘The Prestige’. It is that point in the act when, after having wowed the audience beyond belief, he/she proceeds to knock their socks off and reaffirm their faith in the supernatural. For El Jefe, that moment is now. If after braving all of this and still managing to make things disappear; such as the entire Clifton Seafront neighbourhood in front of Bilawal House (now a registered mansion), Zardari is meant to go out without a bang, then there is no justice in the world. For better or for worse, he was the conjurer that was chosen to mystify the masses that we call satra crore awaam. If he can be allowed his prestige, then maybe, just maybe, I’ll think about reaffirming my faith in the supernatural. If he is kicked out unceremoniously after all, I will be forced to continue praying at the Khaki altar.

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