First it was the Gutenberg Press which printed the Bible and ensured that the Old Testament was bound in a single volume. This put a lot of fancy scriptwriters out of work. Then it was the typewriter, which protected people with awful handwriting, provided employment to thousands of women in offices and shops and threw many more scriptwriters out of work. Then it was the computer, which provided instant communication and useful information. After using it for a month, I was informed that my name had popped up in a random survey and that I was the lucky winner of five million dollars. The instrument also put me in touch with the nephews of a clutch of Central African presidents who had stashed away millions of dollars in offshore banks, and had either died from gout or couldn’t leave the country for one reason or another — and desperately needed my help to get the money out.
Of course, we had the telephone. The only problem was, a housewife who had taken the wrong bus, had missed her dentist’s appointment and couldn’t let him know. She landed in a café which was full of tourists with cameras and was heard saying “Oh how I wish I had a phone I could carry everywhere with me”. It was apparently heard by a Japanese tourist and sometime later the world had the universal communicator — the mobile phone. Unfortunately, at the best of times, it is an unmitigated nuisance; especially in December when lots of clubs, councils, guilds and societies in Karachi decide to hold their elections. The one which I dread the most is the ballot vote at the Karachi Gymkhana, especially when there are four or more candidates standing for president, each promising to introduce change, root out corruption, start a new chapter in good management and install the kind of professionalism never before seen in Pakistan.
Then there is the Arts Council in Karachi where rivals promise to introduce change, root out corruption, start a new chapter in good management and install the kind of professionalism never before seen in Pakistan. The messages are fewer by comparison. And now it’s the turn of the PACC where candidates are promising… well, by now you must have gotten the hang of it. Sometimes a representative of a candidate decides to phone me… just when I am enjoying an afternoon siesta, or listening to the music of Manuel de Falla. If the caller is a female, I politely inform her that canvassing is illegal and the candidate could be disqualified if I chose to report him. If the caller happens to be a male, I usually answer “Cafe Firdous”, which puts a swift end to any further communication.

But one afternoon, a couple of weeks ago, I was far, far away on a Pacific isle fringed with coconut trees. A full moon cut a jagged silver path on the ocean. A wahine with a gardenia in her hair and a garland of hibiscus around her neck was swaying to the strains of a guitar which was playing “Sweet Leilani”. The witch doctor came up to me and said I could leave the island but I had to first marry the chief’s fat daughter. Just then I heard the strains of Pato, a Uruguayan tango which happens to be the ringtone on my mobile phone. This time, it was the Arts Council election. I was saved. “Would I vote for so and so? Of course I would, mate. The fellow has sterling qualities. There’s only one problem. I’m not a member of the Arts Council.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2014.