COMMENT: Annual round-up, 2010 —Munir Attaullah

Security is a fact of life these days. We regularly bemoan all those extraordinary precautions taken for this purpose that cause such inconvenience to the general public, and are severely critical of the lapses that still occur. But, really, we need to thank those charged with such responsibilities for their efforts

As per tradition, this final column of the year is devoted to sharing with readers that mélange of happenings, statements, and absurdities of the past year that tickled my fancy. We proudly consider ourselves the ashraful-makhluqat (the greatest of all creation). These snippets from our theatre of the absurd are meant to be a salutary and sobering antidote to such wishful conceit.

I begin with an allegedly old anecdote that I at least was unaware of until recently, but is surely a classic worth recounting. Immediately after the end of the last Great War, a famous French actress was accused of collaborating with the occupying German Army on grounds of having an affair with a Nazi General stationed in Paris. This is what she had to say in her defence: “My heart and soul always was, and remains, French; so what if my **** is international?”

Bravo, mademoiselle! Will our starlets ever be similarly forthright when responding to those frivolous lawsuits filed by some of our publicity-seeking prudes, alleging grievous hurt to their nationalistic sentiments by working visits to India by our starlets?

My next offering is from a tittle-tattle biography of the Hollywood celebrity Warren Beatty I read early in the year. The author claimed that Beatty, who allegedly lost his virginity comparatively late at 20 and become a one-woman man after he married at 54, “…seduced 12,775 women, give or take, during those intervening 35 years; a figure that does not include daytime quickies, drive-bys, casual gropings, stolen kisses and so on.”

Wow! What a record (an average of a different lady, each and every relentless day). Even the legendary Casanova (modus operandi: “I tell every beautiful woman she is intelligent and every intelligent woman she is beautiful”) and a modern-day Arab sheikh would have to tip their hat to such dedication. But is that really believable? Perhaps I should seek expert guidance from our own local celebrity, Imran Khan?

In any case, the credibility of the author suffered an immediate severe blow in my eyes. He went on to claim that Joan Collins, the British actress, had the following to say about her torrid and exhausting bedroom encounters with Mr Beatty: “It felt like an oyster in a slot machine.” The trouble is, there are two strikes against that being true. First, that quote is the property of the American comedian George Burns; second it makes no sense any way for a woman to say that. For, Mr Burns, when asked a sensitive leading question at his then age of 80-plus, chose those immortal words to picturesquely describe the functioning of a certain by now flaccid part of his male anatomy during his frantic attempts at a particular activity.

Sticking with a subject that is taboo to discuss openly in Muslim societies (but not elsewhere), the media reported that the drains in the Athletic Village in Delhi became clogged during the recently held Commonwealth Games. The cause? Used condoms flushed down toilets by athletes. The story did little for the ‘Shining India’ image. Apparently, the 8,000 or so condoms supplied free to the athletes in line with IOC policy, had been snapped up before you could say ‘Warren Beatty’.

But the subcontinental psyche will be relieved to hear that that the record of 130,000 free condoms distributed during the Athens Olympics in 2004 was never in danger. Zaid Hamid would probably attribute this IOC policy as another devilishly deep and cunning Zionist plot to undermine the moral fibre of mankind, the better to control it. I see it more simply as how the times, and social mores around the world, have changed since my youth.

That morality is largely a relative matter, and such modernity knows no bounds but is always sure to attract a raised eyebrow or two from conservative elements, is well illustrated by the following two other stories reported early this year. In an age where time is at a premium, some enterprising Catholics have apparently set up an automated ‘Dial-a-Confession’ system in Paris (“For advice on confessing, press 1; to confess, press 2; to listen to some confessions, press 3”) that has met a modest public response. As you know, ‘the confession’, as a means for obtaining absolution for sins committed, is an integral part of the Catholic faith. But the Church says the service has no value because, for the remission of sins through absolution, the intermediation of a priest is necessary. But surely this little technicality is easily resolved: how about a certified priest listening later to the recorded confession in his spare time, granting absolution, and leaving a recorded message himself for the guilty soul?

The other story was the reported opening this March in Oslo of the world’s most luxurious prison. Each of the 252 inmates of this maximum security prison has his own room, complete with flat-screen TV and en-suite bathroom, and windows without bars, overlooking gardens. More than € 1 million worth of modern art adorn the walls, and amongst other facilities worth a passing mention is a high-tech recording studio. Did I hear someone say criminals were meant to be punished, not coddled, by society?

Security is a fact of life these days. We regularly bemoan all those extraordinary precautions taken for this purpose that cause such inconvenience to the general public, and are severely critical of the lapses that still occur. But, really, we need to thank those charged with such responsibilities for their efforts. That no untoward incident occurred this Muharram was no mean achievement. For, foolproof security is an impossible task. How difficult, is well illustrated by the botched-up real life test operation carried out by the Slovak airport security authorities in early January.

In this trial, eight pieces of contraband were unsuspectingly planted by the authorities in the luggage of randomly chosen passengers departing on commercial flights at Bratislava airport. The airport security system successfully detected and intercepted seven packages. But the eighth, containing 90 grammes RDX (a lethal explosive), escaped the system and got loaded on the flight to Dublin, at which airport it also escaped detection. What followed was a frantic three days of red faces all round to track down the unsuspecting Irishman with the travelling bomb in his luggage, and retrieve the package from his flat after a massive police-cum-bomb disposal squad joint operation. The final macabre touch to the story was the temporary arrest of the innocent but bewildered Irish businessman before he was released, once the muddle was sorted out.

In August it was reported that a top Iranian footballer was sacked from the national team for not fasting during Ramadan. That needs no comment by me.

But surely the most astounding story of the year was allegedly that about a 70-plus old Indian yogi who claims he has lived without food and water for the last six decades. What is more, apparently a team of Indian doctors at a prestigious Indian medical school, after a strictly monitored successful two-week test of the yogi under laboratory conditions, have reluctantly verified the claim.

If you are gullible enough to believe that story (and cyberspace these days makes it easy to circulate such nonsense instantly, worldwide) there is little else I can do but to wish you the best for the coming year – Dailytimes