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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Foreign Desk
Pakistania: The Elephant and the Ants
by Abbas Zaidi
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It was only from The Tilong Bulletin that I learned that Yousuf, Pakistan's tallest man in the world, was in Tilong for a one-week visit. The paper also had an advertisement from Ahmed, my colleague and the Chairman of the Association of Pakistani Teachers in Tilong, inviting public to meet Yousuf in Mega Hotel over "High Tea".
     Next evening an overexcited Ahmed dropped in and said that despite the high entrance fee, the party was a hit. He asked me to meet Yousuf and write a piece on him for the local press. He took me along to the City Inn, where Yousuf was putting up.
We went straight to the minimally-lit banquet hall where in a corner Zaki and Javed, also teachers, were sitting left and right of a stranger. Zaki was the President of the Pakistan-Tilong Cricket Association and an official cameraman at every Pakistani gathering; Javed was the Patron-in-Chief of the Pakistan-Tilong Friendship Association. Yousuf was not there. Ahmed introduced the stranger to me as "Dr. Nawaz, Yousuf's cousin, manager and translator". He was a short, emaciated man about thirty-five years of age; his lean face, protruding eyes and aquiline nose spoke of a hawk in man's garb. The light of a red bulb falling faintly over his face gave him a dramatic, if not a bit scary, touch.
     'Why are you late? You must be chasing girls, or masturbating imagining Sharon Stone!' Dr Nawaz addressed Ahmed as he shook my hand. Ahmed hugged him from behind, gave him a squeeze and said,
     'You are my Sharon Stone!'
     Ahmed then introduced me to Dr Nawaz as "the most influential teacher-cum-journalist in Tilong".
     I was greatly surprised at the extent of the frankness between Ahmed and Dr Nawaz, though Zaki and Javed did not show any emotions. After a formal handshake with Dr Nawaz I took a seat in front of him. Javed, true to his reputation as a glutton, was eating from a pile on a big plate; Zaki was constantly whispering into Dr Nawaz's ears while stroking and pointing at his video camera; Dr Nawaz patiently nodded and shook his head.
     'I wish to meet a Pakistani who is either a big businessman or very influential here,' Dr Nawaz said.
     No one answered. I suggested that he see Haji Seyal Khan, a Pakistani businessman who had married a local woman and been living in Tilong well over three decades; he had a few contacts in Tilong, but he was not known to be an influential man.
     'Fantastic!' shouted Dr Nawaz, 'Give me his number.' I did. Dr Nawaz's body language was levity-ridden and his manner of speaking rather brash.
     Meanwhile the media people arrived. Ahmed and Dr Nawaz moved to a different table. Zaki and Javed also moved with them.
     'Yousuf is one in a billion! A world heritage that must be saved. He is only twenty-seven, and the people of his height do not live very long. That's why I have taken upon myself to take him around so that he could get donations. For the present tour, it is my money that he is using. I have done that on purely humanitarian grounds. He is in Tilong to get donations for his expensive treatment in the US,' said Dr Nawaz.
     'I will do whatever I could to get Yousuf donations so as....' said Ahmed.
     'I will certainly hold a charity cricket match to get Yousuf a lot of money!' Zaki interrupted Ahmed.
     'Yes, the Pakistan-Tilong Friendship will be the platform where people will come together to help the needy!' Javed put in. At that the City Inn manager joined the press conference and announced that as long as Yousuf and Dr Nawaz stayed in his hotel they would not be charged for food and lodging. He also said that he was putting an Inn van at Yousuf's disposal so that he could move around anytime he liked.
     After the media people were gone, Ahmed almost shouted at Zaki,
     'Why did you interrupt me?'
     'I want to help Yousuf as much as....'
     'Now cut that shit out!' said Dr Nawaz, 'I have only two more months left and then I have to be back to work.'
     'Where do you work?' I asked.
     'I am a professor of economics at Yale.'
     I almost jumped! Yale had been the unfulfilled dream of my life and here was a man who actually taught there!
     'Why of all the countries have you come here?' I asked.
     'This is one of the countries that we planned to visit. I had sixteen thousands dollars when Yousuf and I left Pakistan two weeks before. I told him that the moment my sabbatical and money ended, I would be off to Yale,' he answered.
     'What is your program after Tilong?' I asked.
     'Next week we will be in the States. I will put Yousuf in a school to learn English and then he will be independent and will not need me any more. He will become an instant millionaire! He will become America's ambassador-at-large. You know in America you can do anything. Yousuf will find a Jewish agent and you know the Jews can extract money even from stones! Meanwhile, however, I request all of you to get him lots of donations. Please!'
     'I will not let my brother leave Tilong without a sackful of dollars!' said Zaki laughing and punching the air.
     'Why don't you go up and see Yousuf and I will get in touch with Haji Seyal Khan,' Dr Nawaz glanced at all of us.


Ahmed pushed the door open and I saw Yousuf lying in a giant bed, reading "Spoken English". He did not seem very happy to see us. He got out of the bed and stood straight; he was an exceptionally big and tall man, and in blue jeans and white T-shirt he looked quite handsome. Zaki introduced me to him and he shook my hand and we settled in the sofas. Javed picked the apple basket from a table and sat on the floor.
     'Yousuf dear!' began Ahmed and introduced me, 'This friend of mine is a great journalist and you can say whatever you want and he will get it published in every corner of the world.'
     Yousuf looked at me meaningfully, bared his blackened right leg and began,
     'This is what happened to me after a Rawalpindi operation. For three years in front of my paralyzed father I was forced to crawl on all fours because my leg was in plaster and there was no one in Pakistan who could get me decent medical treatment. Even before this injury, because of my size and weight, I could not bear to stand upright for long periods of time. A millionaire gave me a job in his five-star hotel as gatekeeper, where I had to stand for hours on end and let the scions of Pakistan's elite be photographed with me. I was treated like a rare thing in a rich man's personal museum. The salary I was paid was an insult. I used to weep tears of blood, but no one took notice of me. Perhaps they thought I was nothing more than just a very big man. They perhaps never thought I had emotions, feelings and self-respect. Is it my crime that I was born in Pakistan? The only thing I want is to earn a simple, honorable living,' his heavy voice was compatible with his size.
     Yousuf had abandoned himself to despair till Dr Nawaz appeared. He convinced Yousuf to sell whatever he had, borrow whatever money he could and go abroad and try to raise money for medical treatment in the US. Dr Nawaz told him that he would contribute substantially to Yousuf's asset. They did collect donations in Korea, Hongkong and Singapore. Tilong was their fourth destination.
     'But you will be gone to the States next week,' I said.
     'Dr Nawaz wants me to go to a few more countries and get donations for my treatment and education in the States,' he replied.
     That was our first meeting.

After two days I read in the paper that the City Inn was planning even a bigger "Evening with the Tallest Man" than the Mega Hotel one. Meanwhile I had completed the article. I invited Yousuf and Dr Nawaz to come over and have dinner with me the evening following the City Inn event.
     At the appointed time Yousuf and Dr Nawaz with Ahmed, Zaki, Javed and Haji Seyal Khan came over. After dinner I read my article aloud and translated it for Yousuf's benefit at the same time. My article was a criticism of the Pakistani government and the high-ups who had ignored Yousuf; it also requested the people of Tilong to help him. Yousuf liked it very much and requested me to have it published immediately. But Dr Nawaz requested me not to publish it because 'We are on a noble mission and not on a collision course with anyone. I would not mind if you introduced me and my work to the people of Tilong.'
     After that we started chatting,
     'There is no fucking liquor available in Tilong.' said Dr Nawaz.
     'This is an Islamic state,' said Haji Seyal Khan.
     'So is Pakistan, and everyone drinks there! But I don't mean that I want liquor; I just gave an observation. Tilong, I must tell you, is a great place. For the first time in my life I feel I am an ordinary person; everywhere people mob Yousuf and no one even looks at me! At Yale I am the center of everyone's attention. My research papers are a must for every mother-fucking Ph.D. candidate. I am a damned king there! But here I am just a wee thing! This has actually humbled me.'
     To my question he said he had published countless research papers on economic theory in America's best journals. 'Economics is my love and life! That's why I have not married; I will never!'
     I told him that only the other day I had read a book on the theory of primitive accumulation. At that he gave a start, but then recovered,
     'I have forgotten about this accumulation thing since I moved into Marxist economics.'
     I told him that I had read Marx's theory of alienation.
     He was becoming visibly agitated,
     'After years of research I have found that theory is no more than mental masturbation!' he told me in a shrill tone, 'Next semester I am starting international economics after divorcing the bitch of economic theory!'
     After that Dr Nawaz ignored me and started talking to Haji Seyal Khan on the possibility of meeting the high-ups of Tilong. Ahmed and I had a long discussion with Yousuf, as Zaki videotaped all of us. Javed consumed all the food and fruit that had been left over. Yousuf was very happy with me and called me his "elder brother".
The following day was a public holiday. Around midday Ahmed came over with a Chinese fellow whom he introduced as Mr. Chong, Manager of Mega Hotel. Ahmed said that Mr. Chong wanted to make me his most valued customer and for one year whenever I ate in the Mega banquet hall, I would be given a fifty-percent discount.
     'Yousuf is apparently very impressed by you. We want you to ask him to have a public buffet dinner in Mega Hotel.' Ahmed said, as Mr. Chong nodded.
     I said that Yousuf was leaving the following day, but Ahmed said he was not.
     'They can stay in Mega Hotel, free!' Mr. Chong grinned as he spoke. I said I would let Dr Nawaz know.
In the evening I bought farewell gifts for Yousuf and Dr Nawaz and went to the City Inn. Zaki opened the door for me.
     'What do you know about Ahmed?' Dr Nawaz almost shouted at me after tucking the gifts in a corner.
     I said Ahmed and I taught in the same college but I did not know him inside out.
     'You know Javed was Ahmed's spy here! He tried to get through to Yousuf!' this time Zaki opened his mouth.
     'You know the high tea in Mega Hotel? It was Ahmed and Javed's stunt! They got their share from the Mega Hotel manager,' said Dr Nawaz.
     'How do you know?' I asked.
     'Through me!' said Zaki, 'Javed told me himself because Ahmed did not give him the promised share. You know Javed and I have been best of friends.'
     'Ahmed gave me an indication that he would give me, I mean Yousuf and I, the lion's share of the profit,' said Dr Nawaz.
     Zaki now addressed Dr Nawaz, 'Forget these vultures and tell me when you want to see the Governor. His son is in my class and I give him free tuition. Tomorrow evening? OK?'
     'OK!' said Dr Nawaz.
     'But you are leaving tonight.' I said.
     'I am negotiating with Don King and we better stick here. Besides, we spent thousands coming here and you want us to leave empty-handed? For God's sake think about this Yousuf chap who has come to have a very high opinion of you!' Dr Nawaz almost shouted at me. Yousuf looked at me and gave a sheepish smile.
     'We the government employees are not supposed to meet any high-up,' I said, looking at Zaki.
     'Have you ever watched the National Geographic channel? Maybe they don't show it in this forsaken land! I tell you: One ant can kill an elephant if it bites him in the right place. If you all Pakistanis get together you can work miracles. I am a believer in human volition that can move mountains! When will we Pakistanis learn to be united?' said Dr Nawaz.


Two days later the newspapers published a front-page account of Yousuf meeting with the Governor. In the photo on the paper Zaki, Haji Seyal Khan and Dr Nawaz flanked Yousuf and the Governor. On the next page was Zaki's short interview in which he said that the Pakistan-Tilong Cricket Association had sponsored Yousuf's visit to Kuala Tilong. Also, there was a photographed interview of Dr Nawaz in which he said that he wanted to establish a business school in Tilong along the lines of Yale.
     Later on in the evening Dr Nawaz angrily told me over the phone that Zaki had requested the Governor to make a donation to his cricket club after lying that he had sponsored Yousuf's Tilong visit,
     'I almost came to blows with that husband of his own mother! I would have killed him had Haji Seyal Khan not intervened! I am telling you for record: The Americans are right when they say that for money Pakistanis can sell even their own mothers!'
     I promised to have a statement on Yousuf's behalf published to preempt Zaki's getting any money and hung up. As I was planning to write the statement, the phone rang again,
     'Do not try to publish anything about the Zaki affair. The fewer enemies we have in Tilong, the better,' it was Haji Seyal Khan. A few minutes later someone knocked at my door; it was the City Inn van driver followed by Yousuf. We had a long talk; he appeared very unhappy over everything. He complained of Dr Nawaz who had delayed their departure to the States; so far he had received not a cent by way of donation; he told me that he would return to Pakistan if nothing happened in a week's time. Before leaving, Yousuf asked me to translate a few Punjabi situational dialogues into English; I did.
Next evening while browsing the Internet, I casually searched the Yale economics department. Dr Nawaz's name was not there in any capacity. I got suspicious and sent an e-mail to one of the professors there inquiring about Dr Nawaz. The professor's reply came the next day saying that there was no "Dr Nawaz" at Yale. I decided to put that in the press.
     Two days later I learned that Dr Nawaz and Yousuf had moved into Haji Seyal's house. It was believed that Dr Nawaz and the City Inn manager had quarreled over the division of the profit from "An Evening with the Tallest Man". That was not reported in the press. There was, however, a prominent news item with a couple of photos: Yousuf was shown sitting in the manager's room flanked by Haji Seyal Khan and Dr Nawaz, opening an account with the National Bank. The reporter had requested the people to put donations into Yousuf's account; the account number was also published in the paper. Haji Seyal Khan had deposited seven thousand dollars. Next day it was reported that many people were putting money in Yousuf's account. Interestingly there were Zaki' and Ahmed's photos as they were depositing three thousand dollars each. In the evening Yousuf came over with the same driver; he wanted to talk to me in English. To my surprise, he was able to communicate a number of situational expressions in good English. After the English lesson was over, Yousuf told me that initially Dr Nawaz wanted to open the bank account in his own name only, but on Yousuf's stubborn insistence and threat to tell the media people, Haji Seyal Khan and Dr Nawaz gave in and Yousuf's account was jointly held with Dr Nawaz, though Yousuf was the main account holder. I told Yousuf that Dr Nawaz was not a Yale professor; he said that I should have it published in the papers. 'At this moment I cannot ask him about that, or he will dump me,' he said.


A month later, people had either stopped being curious about Yousuf, or were wondering why he had not gone back. There were rumors about Dr Nawaz having an affair with the police commissioner's daughter. One day I was shocked to read in the paper of the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the Tilong Business School. The ground was broken by the Governor himself. Dr Nawaz had been put in charge of the 5 million-dollar project. The contractor for building the School was Haji Seyal Khan.
     At that point I got my media friends together and explained the situation. Most of them said that they had been suspicious of Dr Nawaz for various reasons. However, they were too afraid to expose him because now he was a well-placed man. I decided to have a word with him, and so I left for Haji Seyal Khan's residence.
     Haji Seyal Khan was not at home. In the living room Dr Nawaz was sitting on a prayer mat, reading the Koran, while Yousuf was walking about dragging a cane. He looked very contented, and said hello to me with a smile. Dr Nawaz stood up and hugged me saying,
     'Allah be praised that you are here at last! Have you read about my business school?'
     I ignored his question and asked why Yousuf was carrying a cane. Dr Nawaz said that Yousuf's leg was giving him a little problem and he was going back to Pakistan for treatment.
     'Pakistan? You know what happened to Yousuf in the Rawalpindi hospital?' I said.
     'Because he did not go for the right treatment! This time he will not go for the allopathic treatment, but for the traditional herbal one and Allah willing he will be all right!' he said in a polite tone.
     'But what about taking him to the States? The English language course? The Jewish agent? Don King?' I said.
     At that he went up to the prayer mat, got hold of the Koran, returned to me, opened it in the middle and pointed out to a verse,
     'Allah be my witness! The Koran says the Jews are the enemies of the Muslims. You have not been to America; but I have lived there all my life. Do you think it is easy to compete with the Jews, or even the Christians who say that----Allah forbid!----the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, was a false prophet? The Ku Klan Klux people are getting more and more powerful, and Yousuf will be a most visible target. Don King is a murderer, a criminal and has publicly said that he will even auction his own mother to get money! Besides, there are temptations all around there. In America at every step you are offered alcohol, women and all those sinful things. Ask Yousuf and he will tell you that since moving into Haji Seyal Khan's house----Allah bless him!----we have not missed the early morning prayer even once. To live in an Islamic country is a different thing from living in a vice-ridden country! After death we will be brought before Allah. You know what that means.'
     'But what about Yousuf's future? You said in America one could do a lot. And do you have to leave a place like Yale and come to a forsaken place like Tilong?' my voice was now heaving with anger.
     'Tilong is an Islamic place and with Allah's blessing I should give my best to bring it on par with any western country. Enough of America! However if you are that keen on America, take my passport and take Yousuf with you; but if he falls prey to sin, it will be your responsibility!' he tried to thrust Yousuf's huge hand into mine as he spoke.
     'But I think Yousuf deserves something good,' I said.
     'Who says he does not?' he said to me and then turned to Yousuf, 'Come what may, you must clinch what belongs to you! That's what makes a man and that's the secret of my own success in life! When the business college starts giving profit, I will give Yousuf a portion of it every month, whether he is in Tilong, Pakistan, or in the States under your able supervision,' he winked at me and gave a subdued chuckle. At that Yousuf left the room. Dr Nawaz craned his neck towards me and said confidentially,
     'Haji Seyal has offered him to become his department store's sales manager; every evening only from 5 to 9 Yousuf should be available to the customers to have themselves photographed with him after they have bought goods above 50 dollars. But he has refused. I respect his decision. Ask him to join a circus in Pakistan and they will give him good money.'
     Bruised and beaten, I left.


After three days of my encounter with Dr Nawaz, Yousuf phoned me in the evening. He seemed very worried. I asked him about his leg; he said it was ok. He told me that all of a sudden Dr Nawaz had decided to put him on plane to Pakistan. He also said that there was a good amount of money in the bank, but, although he had secretly taken the passbook from Dr Nawaz's briefcase, he had no time to withdraw it, as he was leaving the next morning.
     'Why?' I asked.
     Yousuf said that two days ago Zaki came over and proposed that in order to make a lot of quick money Yousuf act in a pornographic gig with a Filipina, his own housemaid, who was willing to do that. Zaki claimed that Yousuf's pornographic stint would find an instant international market and he would claim only twenty percent of the profit. According to Yousuf, Dr Nawaz only looked on as Zaki spoke; Yousuf however punched Zaki so hard that he fell down and fainted. Within hours Dr Nawaz had given him a ticket to fly off to Pakistan.
     Next morning I reached the airport where Zaki, Ahmed, Javed and Haji Seyal Khan were also present. Zaki had a bandage on his left cheek, but was in an upbeat mood, carrying his video camera around his neck. Yousuf was sitting in a corner, playing with his cane. Dr Nawaz was also there holding a passport, a ticket, a briefcase and some luggage. He told me that he was leaving for Yale and would be back in two week's time after disposing off "my things and responsibilities in Yale". His flight was ready; he left. So did the rest, leaving Yousuf with me. Yousuf's flight was two hours away. A few people came and asked for Yousuf's autograph; he obliged. I tried to dig things out of him, but he would not say much. I asked if he had enough money; he said he had one hundred American dollars. I asked if he needed anything; he said he did not. I asked if he would like to return to Tilong; he said it all depended on Dr Nawaz and Allah. I asked if Dr Nawaz was his cousin; he said he was not, but a childhood friend of his brother. I asked if he respected Dr Nawaz; he looked away. He was quiet for a while. Then suddenly he asked me to call the City Inn van driver over immediately. I did so and in fifteen minutes the ever-smiling driver was there. Yousuf asked me to get his boarding card and wait. He returned after an hour and sat with me. I did not think it right to ask where had he been.
     Now it was Yousuf's time to leave.
     'What have you learned in Tilong?' I asked him.
     At that he firmly established his cane on the floor, got up and said,
     'Please give my cane to Dr Nawaz when he returns,' and made for the departure lounge after hugging the driver and me. Before he could enter the lounge, a Chinese woman came rushing and asked for his autograph. I went forward and gave him my pen; he wrote for her,
     "Yousuf from Pakistan" and walked away. Before I could wave him goodbye, someone pulled my arm; it was the same woman,
     'Are there many like him in Pakistan?' I ignored her and turned Yousuf's way. But the giant had disappeared somewhere in the crowd of passengers.
     'Poor man,' I said to the driver, 'All the doors seem closed on him!'
     The driver looked at me with a confused expression,
     'Doors? I don't know about the doors, Sir; but he just closed his account with the National Bank.'


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