This is a true story. It is not made up. The protagonist must remain unnamed for he would prefer it that way. We will, therefore, simply call him X.
It was in September 1977, that X served in the martial law complaint cell at Peshawar. Some of the cases that came for redress concerned the mindless nationalisation of private businesses executed under Mr Bhutto’s reforms. One such case for denationalisation was for a Nowshera-based rice husking mill. At some point during the processing of the case, the owner, a hunchbacked gentleman, somehow got the notion that X was using delaying tactics.
One day, the owner entered X’s office, came around the desk, opened a drawer and slipped in a small packet. The packet contained Rs30,000, the oil to get the works going. X was tempted: here was his chance of going on the much wished for European tour, which he could not otherwise undertake on his captain’s salary. Nor, indeed, could his father finance such an undertaking, having gone bankrupt only a few years earlier. But the thought that made this foolish man return the packet was: how will I justify the expense?
Shortly afterwards, he left the army and went to work for a multinational firm in Karachi. Now, as luck would have it, a very close friend from the army was posted at the National Logistic Cell in the city. Within weeks of the pair meeting up, it was known to X that the friend was making a goodly sum of money in graft for berthing ships out of turn at Kemari — the going rate at that time being Rs40,000 per ship. Not that X was very bright and sensed the insalubrious carrying on. Nothing of the sort; only the friend made no bones about it.
Now, this was a time when the new Honda Civic hatchback had just hit the market in Pakistan. The friend fancied the car which, it has to be admitted, was a pretty thing at Rs80,000. He, therefore, suggested that X sell his old banger (purchased with a loan from the company he worked for) and that the friend will get him a new Civic. No generosity there, only a very devious slant.
The car was to be registered in the friend’s name but maintained by X. The friend would borrow it whenever he needed to gallivant off with his girlfriend, for he feared the chance of his wife spotting him in his own car. Despite the temptation of driving a brand new machine, X refused.
This was a time when X’s father was doing some work in Karachi, frequently visiting from upcountry and borrowing X’s car to go around the city. X was worried that since his father knew he had purchased the car with money lent by his employer, there was no way he could justify a brand new auto that cost more than twice as much as the company gave out for car loans.
The devious friend plied X with several untruths that he could trot out to fool his father but X was adamant. It would be known not just to his father but also to his colleagues that he was indulging in something unholy to be able to purchase an expensive new car. Since he could not justify the ownership of the new Civic, he was not taking it.
X continued to drive his jalopy while the friend moved from car to car. But in order to not raise questions, he was very careful to always purchase slightly used models. Still, it was clear that the man was living beyond his major’s salary. His father, who also lived and worked in Karachi, apparently never questioned his son about the source of his income. Surely, the old man would simply never have suspected any wrongdoing on his son’s part.
Now, we have a certain Dr Arsalan Iftikhar who has risen from a Grade-18 government job to become the owner, by his own admission, of a business empire worth Rs900 million. One wonders if the thought of justification for his meteoric rise ever came to his mind. Or, if the family ever brought up the subject.
Banish the thought.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2012.