An upright and self-absorbed judge sentences a petty criminal and, while doing so in open court, passes remarks mainly in pique along the lines of "a thief's son will always be a thief". The convict vows to corrupt and spoil the judge's son to seek his own revenge for his hurt pride. As the plot thickens and leisurely moves forward spanning a few years and pits the son against the father in a gripping court room drama, the judge gets chided for his remarks which he had earlier uttered in complete isolation from the South Asian society as we know it, corrupt, haphazard and confused. But the damage is done and the son befittingly meets his comeuppance in the form of a jail term notwithstanding his blood line but one which is consistent with the lifestyle he has acquired over a period of time irredeemably damaging his father's squeaky clean, albeit utopian, image.
The above story line may occur every day in human relationships but was the main theme of the 1951 Bollywood epic "Awara" besides offering the usual masala of song and dance, romance and, at times, hyperbolic script (I have omitted some details for the sake of brevity). The social incompatibility between young men and women who are attracted to each other is masterfully filmed by Raj Kapoor. Who would have thought that such an apparently old and defunct storyline still has the power to spellbind and captivate the public. The Malik Riaz, Arsalan Iftikhar and the Chief Justice triangle is an eerie reflection of that. The tragedy may lie in the fact that with the passage of time, instead of diluting over time, the main theme of revenge in such a storyline still lives on no matter how big the stakes.
The main difference between "Awara" and the present day judicial/real estate soap opera may be that the latter is happening at the highest level where seemingly respectable members of the society including generals, politicians and journalists may have become pawns in this vicious and ruthlessly unscrupulous game of subterfuge, revenge and conspiracy theories. The editorial wisdom wrested by the profit hungry TV channels in order to milk the situation by running embarrassingly and painfully long Bahria Town commercials literally out of the blue is astounding, to say the least.
The average South Asian mind's fascination with successful but corrupt people may be the real culprit here equally shouldering the blame if not more than even an avaricious real estate tycoon. I remember listening to a friend's heart wrenching story who had lost out in the upheavals of the real estate speculative activity in the Musharraf era. Although, on the one hand, he wanted to minimize his losses by selling a Bahria Town "file" he had in possession whilst mentioning Riaz Malik in a rather unflattering tone, and yet he was enamoured of him for being a wily operator who would pull the right strings in the corridors of power (read military high ups) to keep his business afloat.
The concept of Bahria Town may be an enviable and glittering model of real estate enterprise but a closer look will reveal quite a few chinks. Although, it has to be said, that even the innocuous looking initial transaction one makes when buying a Bahria piece of property by paying the membership fee may be open to legal challenges. For example, my afore-mentioned friend's main grievance against Bahria was that it would make more members than it had land for just to grab the membership fee upfront. It was quite often complained that more open files(a file normally materializes into a plot of land upon completion of development) were issued to members when only a fraction of the property had been contracted to be bought by Bahria Town itself. Needless to mention, there are thousands of dissatisfied customers who lost their life savings as result of such speculative activity and quite understandably felt robbed to put it bluntly.
Life may have been a lot more smoother had there been signs of a meeting point between the relatively cleaner section of the society represented by the Supreme Court who have very noble intentions of strengthening rule of law and the mindset which only knows the language of greed and graft. But alas the chasm between the two may have widened instead of narrowing since the 1950s when my father's generation loved "Awara" and came out of cinema houses humming its melodious songs while boisterously discussing its dialogues and screenplay in the aftermath(my father still does).
In this age of information the TV channels will be well advised to leave the decision of airing Bahria Town commercials to its professional editors which with every passing day are looking suspiciously like a blatant attempt to prejudice the court hearings.
The whole Arsalan saga points to one very solid and immovable reality, ie there is hardly any improvement in the protagonists' role be they judges' relatives, rent seekers, deal makers or greedy businessmen. So much is the degeneration that being born in a privileged position is deemed a birthright to prosperity even more so than in a society sixty odd years ago. Unless people like Arsalan Iftikhar becoming a magnet for profiteers is not frowned upon by the society as a whole there will always be room for real estate establishments to be born overnight and eventually ending as ghost towns to be consigned to the dustbin of history.
Neither the chief justice nor the SC has taken a hit (although the jury is still out on this) from this sordid episode but there is a visible difference between the present CJ and some of the previous judges' conduct in such situations, ie their relatives deeming their father's position as a legitimate ladder to success leading to the making of extremely lucrative careers out of that. And that, needless to mention, should be the yardstick for the bench seized of the matter.
Tariq Bashir can be contacted on email@example.com . Follow him on www.twitter.com/Tariq_Bashir