Of Babra and other Sharifs

By Asif Noorani for Dawn

Way back in 1915, when M F Hussain (Maqbool Fida Hussain) was born his mother named him Maqbool (which means popular). She had no idea that her son, born in a modest household, would become the most well known South Asian painter of the late 20th and early 21st century.

But not all names bring good luck to those who have to live with them. I had a clerk working for me, whose name was Raees (rich) but the man led a difficult life in the monetary sense. So was a man called Akhtar Nawab. He had neither the finances nor the mindset of a nawab. Haseena is a common name among the fair sex, but most girls with that name are anything but. Haseena Moin was charming in her salad years and is still quite pleasant to look at.

What is true of names is also true of surnames. The one Sharif (noble) who really deserved the surname was Babra Sharif. Even when she was at the peak of her career, the model turned actress (the unisex term actor was not used in her heyday for a female of the species) was on the dot for her shooting. She never threw tantrums like some popular film stars do. She never spoke ill of anybody including those who, out of sheer jealousy, lost no opportunity to make snide remarks about her. When the time came for her to call it a day, she retired gracefully, unlike our politicians in power who are forced to leave disgracefully from their offices.

But not all Sharifs are noble like her. In fact I have yet to come across anyone with that name or surname who could live up to it. Babara used no unkind words for her rivals, but this person (shh! no names please, make your own guess) left no opportunity to pass disparaging remarks about a lady with whom he once played a game of musical chairs. One afternoon he came to the Karachi Press Club, where he went on and on, speaking ungallantly against the first and so far the only woman prime minister in the country. The speech over, a callow journalist not known to be a good judge of human beings, invited the guest to visit the book fair in the club’s backyard. “I am sorry I have an important meeting to attend,” he said and took off in one of the four limos that were parked outside the club.

The same journalist, out of sheer curiosity, followed the fleet of cars on his humble motorbike and you know where did our favourite Sharif go to? “It’s elementary, my dear Watson,” Sherlock Holmes would have said. Our friend was seen downing a large glass at the Punjab Lassi House at Burnes Road. In those days mobile phones, with cameras, were not available otherwise the young journo would have had a prize photograph.

While on Sharifs, I must refer to the news item that appeared in the June 17 issue of a respected English daily. It had a screaming headline: “Shahbaz richest member of Punjab assembly”. In the introductory paragraph, the report said that the Punjab chief minister has assets of Rs 489.64 million in the country and abroad. The details are mind-boggling. But the question remains, is it merely a tip of the iceberg? Those who follow him, in the list of declarations made in 2010, also fall into the category of filthy rich. These were the figures submitted to the Election Commission by the members of the Punjab Assembly. What would have been no less relevant was the figure of the taxes that they pay. Sadly, those figures which should be abysmally low are not mentioned. Don’t you think such declaration should come from the head of the state and the head of the government also?

Perhaps, mine is a case of jealousy. I still move around in my old and but reliable Suzuki Khyber. I paid more income tax than what the chief executive of the country paid. The tax figures paid by him and some other bigwig were revealed in a report, published in the newspapers according to the NAB, when Gen Pervez Musharraf elbowed him out of his office. I have no bungalow. I live in an apartment. The fault is mine. I was always more interested in books than in lassi. So, why crib?

Asif Noorani, a seasoned journalist, is the writer of three best-selling books including ‘Boom, Boom Shahid Afridi’.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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  1. June 26th, 2011

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