MIND THE GAP – Writers on Life, Art & Politics
Look at yourselves. More than 60 years of marriage and you still get on each others’ nerves. Still fighting over youthful infidelities, still accusing each other of wanting to have your bit on the side. Forget emotional problems, I can’t even convince you any more to leave each other little messages on the fridge. You have tried everything. Separate bedrooms. Different sets of friends. Me time. You time. Us time. Giving each other space. Bird-watching. Adventure holidays. You always end up here.
By Mohammed Hanif
Pakistan, America: You guys give bad marriage a bad name.
I have run out of options. I have tried everything. Joint military exercises. Task forces. Military contractors. Spies to spy on spies. Taliban. Anti-Taliban Taliban. The US gave Pakistan Sesame Street as a kiss-and-make-up present and it turned out that like everything else about this relationship, Sesame Street was also a pile of intrigue, kickbacks and ultimately disappointment.
Do you really need a few more generations of Taliban to bring you back together?
Aren’t you embarrassed of yourselves? There is a mini literary industry out there following your marital troubles. Someone just published a tome called Deadly Embrace. Last year, it was Pakistan: Hard Country. We have had Descent Into Chaos, On the Brink, Playing with Fire, Deep Inside the World’s Most Frightening Marriage. There is even a self-help book called How Pakistan Negotiates with the United States. The second part of the title is called Roller Coaster Ride.
How long before they start making vampire movies about you two?
You have become a nuisance for the neighbours as well. You are the new Addams Family and the whole neighbourhood is scared.
When Pakistani kids shout, “Go America Go”, they are not really cheering you on to victory. They are saying: “Just leave.” When think-tank wallahs in Washington say, “Defang Pakistan”, they are not talking about a nail job.
Look, I am a relationship therapist, not your neighbourhood watch. And when I think it’s all over, you become all nostalgic.
You sit there and go through old family albums. There is our General Ayub Khan patting Lyndon Johnson on the cheek. There is a camel in Karachi with a ‘Thank You, America’ sign around its neck. Look at your Jackie Kennedy living it up with the tribal leaders. What is the whole NASA crew doing on the streets of Karachi? Look at our lovely mujahideen dining in the White House. Those were the days.
But you don’t look at that other album. You keep it locked away: spying on your neighbours, turning your backyard into an arsenal, truckloads of dollars and illegal detainees called enemy combatants. You two have more skeletons in your cupboards than the oldest zombie couple on earth.
And then you turn up here and say that you are in it for the kids. That you want to keep it together for the neighbourhood’s sake. Wake up, smell the daisy cutters. Look around, your grandkids are about to have kids. Your third generation is about to inherit your tainted love, they are pledging to continue your blood feud. Give up now, I say, sign the papers and leave. What did you say? You want to apologise to each other? You want one last hug, just another whisper in each others’ ears. Go ahead, do what you like. I am leaving.
Mohammed Hanif is a journalist and an award-winning author. He won the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize and Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for his debut novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes