Early this week there was this delightful story in the papers about how an advanced party of the underground army of Neopteran insects of the order Blattodea whose ancestors existed in the Carboniferous period 320 million years ago had decided to disrupt a meeting of a parliamentary body in Islamabad. Apparently while members of the senate standing committee on national health services were discussing health related issues, an additional secretary who answered to the name of Hashim Popalzai discovered there was a cockroach on his plate. Subsequently he found another member of the tribe, probably a distant cousin, was hiding under a samosa. Later it transpired that Hashim Popalzai might be needing eye glasses for he pointed out sotto voce to a reporter that there were actually three unwelcome guests on the same plate and not two. Numbers are important in Pakistan what with the amount of fuss being made these days over the national census.
A discussion ensued over the unhygienic food being served in parliament. The committee chairman stated that insects in food will not be tolerated and the matter would be taken up with the senate chairman Mian Raza Rabbani. All fingers pointed to the catering company who in turn put the blame on the Capital Development Authority accusing them of not fumigating parliament. It was not very clear if it was the building or the parliamentarians that had to be fumigated. Nevertheless the argument used by the caterers is the most ludicrous I have ever heard. ‘The cockroaches were not in the food, they were on the plates.’ So, whose responsibility is it to ensure that clean crockery is placed on the table? Now if they had consulted me my first advice would have been to place the kebabs and samosas on paper napkins to check if the snacks started to move of their own volition. My second recommendation would be to stop feeding the freeloaders altogether and give them numerous mugs of herbal tea, as the Chinese used to do to their elected representatives.
Cockroaches are a familiar sight in every nook and corner of the world. And from what I can gather most of the ones that swim through the drains and land in Islamabad appear to gravitate towards the senate committees. In Karachi the vermin appear to prefer civilians. Once, when my wife was alive, and we had invited a few friends to dinner I had sent my cook to get a bottle of lemon pickle from the market. Just before dinner I happened to open the bottle and lo and behold, lying just under the lid in full majesty, was a cockroach on its back, arms folded in eternal repose. I quickly closed the bottle and asked cook to prepare some chutney. The next day I wrote to the company that produced the pickle and asked the managing director if I should send them the bottle. Back came the terse reply ‘How do I know you didn’t put the insect in the bottle yourself?’ I spoke to my editor and he sorted out the fellow.
People react differently to the appearance of these insects. A farmer in Sukkur after feeding me Palla, a fish which swam against the flow of a river and is barbequed over a charcoal fire once told me a king sized cockroach made a sudden appearance and sat on the rim of the charpoy. The farmer did what any sensible person would do when he was not in a position to step on the termite. He casually picked up one of his slippers and gave the field commander of the Neopteran tribe a mighty whack which resulted in an instant homicide. Had he been a member of a senate committee he would have at least had somebody to complain to.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2017.