The Ghost Ship

The national parliament is currently something of an irrelevance, a kind of kabuki theatre

Chris Cork June 08, 2016
The writer is editorial consultant at The Express Tribune, news junkie, bibliophile, cat lover and occasional cyclist

Spectral vessels abound in myth and legend as well as reality. The best known of the latter is probably the S/V Marie Celeste, found drifting and sans crew in the Atlantic between Portugal and the Azores in 1872. Mythically the Flying Dutchman, immortalised by Wagner in his opera Der Fliegende Hollander, probably tops the list of familiar names.

The current government of Pakistan as an entity hovers somewhere between myth and reality, a very corporeal — yet ghostly — ship underway with a large crew but sans a captain, currently on dry land recuperating from something other than seasickness. The crew is going through the motions in his absence and even meeting with the Cap’ns chair vacant to conduct the business that will keep the ship head to wind, trim the sails occasionally and ghost along in the sultry airs of a heavy summer.

There is a version of the suspension of reality that we experience when visiting the cinema or watching a stage play in operation. We know that what we are watching is not ‘real’ and that the story being played out is an artificial construct, but we watch to be diverted, entertained, lifted out of our humdrum and taupe-tinged lives to another plane.

It is a dramatised version of reality, touching nerves and emotions as the story plays out and our sympathies run between the characters, sometimes in favour and sometimes against. We leave the cinema or theatre discussing the performance between ourselves, sometimes awestruck but more often dissatisfied, grumpy that things did not turn out as we wished, or this or that character failed in its portrayal.

With close to 200 million in the audience at the world’s biggest drive-in cinema the good ship Pakistan sits in the middle distance, becalmed, seemingly — and there is no reason to imagine that this is a state of stasis that cannot persist into the future.

And here is the curious thing. Far from the state falling into disarray, the governmental equivalent of the sky falling, there is a remarkably rapid transition from faux democracy to a kind of neutral stability. The crew is doing just enough to make sure running aground is not an option, and the military are sufficiently savvy with compass and sextant to ensure that whatever course they may choose then the sails will be set accordingly.

The national parliament is currently something of an irrelevance, a kind of kabuki theatre where the performers are known for their extravagant and stylised makeup, and the provincial assemblies smaller versions of the same. They can drift along like this virtually indefinitely in the absence of any meaningful activity below decks, either in the form of a mutiny or by a restart of the antiquated steam engine that powers the single screw when not under sail.

Various offices of state bustle about rearranging the deck chairs from time to time, banning this or that in order to prevent the cargo — the nearly 200 million — from becoming a restive audience prone to chucking their ice-creams at the screen. Budgets are still being allocated, banned groups wander the lower decks and a corrupt civilian officer cadre ensures that the various pulleys, ropes and ratlines are all in good-enough working order to hold the whole ghostly edifice together.

With the Cap’n communicating with the world via the fragrant and breathless Tweets of First Daughter, a person elected to nothing by nobody and representative of nowt beyond the brigade that wears sunglasses atop their heads, indoors, at night, and has a fondness for the occasional handbag of a value only slightly less than the national budget of the Maldives — one might be led to wonder just how temporary, or permanent, this state of affairs is.

I do wish the Cap’n a speedy recovery to robust good health but have a lingering concern that another stint at the wheel with the Straits of Panama yet to be negotiated may not be in his best long-term interests. Perhaps a position in a land-bound crows-nest somewhere with First Daughter working the remote and the wraithlike crew shepherded by some martial Marines would do the trick? Bon voyage! And good luck to the shadowy barquentine Pakistan and all who sail in her.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2016.

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nadeem | 7 years ago | Reply And the band played on ....that is until they realized that the Captain took the first life boat out.
Motiwala | 7 years ago | Reply Well, Captain Crook, is headed to Davy Jones Locker. Or it will be marooning/ being dropped off, on an inhabited island.
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