By Rabia Ahmed –
Every year in the British Houses of Parliament a gentleman called ‘The Black Rod’ carrying an ebony stick (engraved with a motto: Shame be to him who evil thinks), wearing black buckled shoes, silk stockings and black breeches marches up to the door of the Commons chamber.
His job is to summon the Members of Parliament to the House of Lords to hear the Queen’s speech at the traditional State Opening of Parliament ceremony. Well, the door of the chamber opens only to be slammed shut in the Black Rod’s face and is not re-opened until the Rod has knocked on it thrice with his stick.
The above is a re-enactment of an incident that occurred in 1641 when King Charles I entered the House of Commons accompanied by armed guards to arrest five members of Parliament. The King believed that these men were plotting against him and he tried to arrest them on a charge of treason.
This set off a chain of events that resulted in the Civil War, and in King Charles l losing his head, literally. The re-enactment symbolises the Commons’ refusal to be pushed around by the Monarch or any member of the House of Lords, it symbolises in short the independence of the House of Commons. This independence is underlined by the members of that House of Commons making their noisy way in a disorderly group to the House of Lords to hear the monarch’s speech.
Do you suppose the day will ever come when our traditions will reflect (in such humorous, interesting ways) our independence from whatever it is we need to be free from now, something we need to commemorate? Let’s take it province wise.
In the KP, many, years from now on a declared public holiday, the following ritual might possibly take place: starting in Karak all the way to Peshawar, a group of women, and women alone will march boldly through streets and bazaars decorated with buntings and flags for this occasion. Heads held high, the women will push away any man who tries to stop them, and several will try to bar their way, but only ritualistically. New groups of women will join the procession along the way and those who are tired will stop, to be elaborately feted by onlookers. Until at the main gate to the Peshawar University, the gatekeeper, a man with a long beard tries one last time to bar their entrance. The women surround him will laugh as a body, whereupon he covers his face with a wail, and stands aside to let them in. This will be a symbolic reference to the time, perhaps a hundred years earlier when the elders and scholars of the community dared to stop women from leaving their homes without a man, or from getting an education. The day will be called Malala day. It will also be a national holiday.
In Baluchistan, years from now, will be a sort of pantomime in which young men are wrestled to the ground by others dressed in what looks suspiciously like military uniforms. Accompanied by boos and dodging the occasional tomato from spectators, the attackers will take the young men, now hooded, away with them. The crowd re-assembles that same evening to watch the same young men spring out at their captors and take them away to jail where everyone eventually gets together for a celebration. This day will be called Recovered Person’s day. It will of course celebrate a time when persons no longer go missing in Baluchistan
In Sindh will be ceremonies in which shops and other businesses will have their doors knocked on by men, who when the door is opened stick out their hand, obviously demanding money. In a gesture strikingly like the Black Rod re-enactment, each shop keeper slams his door in the man’s face, leaving him to face a rain of squishy tomatoes from the crowd. This day will be called Bhatta day, to commemorate freedom from the time businesses were forced to pay ‘protection money’ and there was no official protection from this extortion.
In the Punjab there will be a street event like an obstacle race open to all citizens. Participants will be required to bypass various large transport containers and plaster lions to reach certain nominated tandoors, where the winners receive halwa poori on the house. Nothing galvanises a Lahori as much as the prospect of halwa poori and they almost all get around the containers one way or another. The provincial government initially objected to the prize, saying that to feed so many people was exorbitantly expensive, but nothing else would satisfy the public; the government had to give in and agree to feed practically the entire city because by the time these events take place you see, governments in this country will be more representative than they are now, and particularly in matters such as these they will knew where their duty lies. We all know what this is meant to commemorate. Let’s just wait for the story to complete itself.
Meantime in Islamabad an annual tradition, the oldest of all, occurs just prior to the Budget speech. Just as the Prime Minister reaches out to pick up the papers on which his speech is written, a man dressed as The Common Man marches up to the podium and pours a cup of oil all over the Prime Minister’s palm. This is meant to recall the time when government officials were used to having their palms greased. The tradition is that when the oil is poured over his palm the Prime Minister must strike himself on the forehead with his dirty hand in eternal penance on behalf of his office, bow to The Common Man, and say, ‘Nawazish!’ After this he is free to proceed with details of the budget, his dripping oily forehead a reminder for him to be honest with the nation’s funds. Oh and this event will be called the ‘Chai Pani routine’. By the time all this happens, no one will know exactly why this name sounds so right, but it just will.