Friday, 10 April 2009

A TALE OF TWO ECONOMIES

JAI HO

Many of us watched the Oscars with a lump in our throats when A. Rehman was given a standing ovation by the American movie establishment. Rehman, a Muslim from a country not considered by us to be friendly to Muslims being eulogized by Hollywood traditionally controlled by those of the Jewish persuasion. But Rehman’s obvious talent overwhelmed them all. Jai ho!

There he stood saying simple but powerful words “I had a choice between love and hate. I chose love!” A simple Muslim of simple origins made us all proud with his talent. Jai ho!

What would he have been had he been in Pakistan? First he is a convert from Hinduism to Islam in 1989. Here probably he would have been in grave danger. Quite possibly, some zealot might even have snuffed out his talent. Yet in his Oscar win at one point he said Allah o Akbar! Jai A. R. Rehman!

For many years we have comforted ourselves by saying that Muslims have no opportunities in India and that Pakistan was made to give Muslims opportunities. Indeed Pakistan has given a lot of opportunities to get rich. Stories of excess wealth are visible to us in the form of government dispensed licenses and plots, gains from misuse of power, and other forms of abuse of public office. Indeed wealth has been created and new class of the rich shows off its Porsches, Range Rovers and other expensive toys. Their lifestyles could even dwarf some of the well heeled rich and famous in India and the west. While we laud wealth and power, talent has no place in Pakistan. Jai power!

The rest of us run around serving these princes of wealth and power. Talented musicians like A. R Rehman play at their pleasure. They play at the expensive weddings of their children. They play and the aristocracy hardly notices them. They do not even keep quiet. They do not even pay attention or give them the feeling of stardom. The stars are the aristocrats who managed to make their wealth through government manipulation. Jai power here!

In Pakistan this would have been the fate of A. R. Rehman. He would have been a mere court musician. No Oscars! No recognition! Many a talented Pakistani musician has been forgotten. They leave behind some good music which we buy pirated versions of. None is honored! There are no Nur Jehan avenues or airports. No Nusrat Fateh Ali squares, universities or buildings! No concert! No prizes! Certainly no major movies that could get them to the Oscars! Kiya Hua?

We are all aware of how bollywood is full of Indian Muslims. And they are widely respected in India. We have seen Salman Rushdie come out of India. Now we see Fareed Zakaria another Indian Muslim large on the international stage. Darwin seems to be at work: Indian Muslims are flowering under competition and are beginning to show major talent. Jai ho!

Darwin is right here too. We in Pakistan face no competition. Our path to success is rapid gains through actions such as raiding the exchequer, friend of the powerful, influence peddling or power-broking. Lives of privilege-- where the tax payer picks up the tabs from Umrah to polo, from mujra to pia travel and from plot to stock—have led to generational deterioration. Hard work is looked down upon and he who competes internationally is only a kami kamin! Ministers, the well connected and the powerful are not supposed to dirty their hands or even consort with kami kaamins such as A. R Rehman or N. Fateh Ali.

The answer is simple! Our leaders in Pakistan wanted to save themselves the hard work of competition. They wanted and got easy rents—handouts from the government. The army, the bureaucracy, the landed, the licensed industrialist all got it easily. They took no risks! They worked at no innovations! They developed no products. They competed against no one for their ill-gotten gains! Nor was there any accountability! Kids now see that the path to success is rents and influence. Hard work and talent does not pay. After all what did we do to Salam? So Mehnat Kiyun?

We did produce talent for no country of 200 million can be devoid of talent. Hashim Khan and his family, Imran and his cousins, several cricketers and hockey players, the wrestler Bashir, and of course Abdus Salam. Now thank god a few younger people like Mohsin Hamid and Daniyal Moin are beginning to blaze some sort of trail. Our young musicians (eg salman and Janoon) and the talented Pirzadas, will they have an opportunity for an Oscars? No! For our elite are too busy destroying all institutions and talent cannot emerge without institutions.

These few talented people struggle against odds. They get little recognition at home and work against huge odds. But most of our younger generation is lost. The rich kids are given to pleasure and privilege and the poor are turning to religion out of desperation.

All I can say is we should be grateful to the almighty that some Muslims remained in India and have learnt to compete under odds. Those Muslims are going to be competing internationally and give us something to be proud of while our elite which shuns excellence and hard work remains extravagant in its rent and privilege. So thank you A. R. Rehman. And Jai A. R. Rehman and the Indian Muslim! Jai ho!