Lahore: No gas to turn on the heat, so if I froze to death, would I be a martyr?

Published: January 25, 2014
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The stove fluttered to life for merely a second before going out and I understood that turning on the heater would be a waste of time. The equation was simple – no gas, no heat.

The stove fluttered to life for merely a second before going out and I understood that turning on the heater would be a waste of time. The equation was simple – no gas, no heat. The stove fluttered to life for merely a second before going out and I understood that turning on the heater would be a waste of time. The equation was simple – no gas, no heat. PHOTO: REUTERS

I woke up this morning and found out that, for the fourth consecutive day, there was no gas at home – none whatsoever. The stove fluttered to life for merely a second before going out and I understood that turning on the heater would be a waste of time. The equation was simple – no gas, no heat.

I would have to resign myself to a cup of tea.

I knew that as long as we have our electric kettle and chai (tea) – the answer to all Pakistani problems – we would survive.

The key word here is electric, of course.

There was no electricity either.

And this wasn’t your average run-of-the-mill single hour load shedding, oh no; there had not been the merest flicker of power for hours.

My parents had already left the house, breakfast-less, choosing rather to cast themselves onto the mercy of the break rooms at their respective work-places than on the government. My grandmother was rapidly approaching the stage of ‘chai-withdrawal’; the stage which heralds death if not addressed quickly.

We have a camping stove, the kind that works on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders and is so heavily featured in the news for its tendency to explode. A relative had lent it to us after hearing of our gasless plight and the kind of health and safety instructions they gave us was as if we were about to operate a grenade.

We stared at the squat blue thing, the maid and I.

Baji…” she said, tentatively, “Maybe we can just get lunch from the corner sh…”

“No, no.” I replied.

It was only a metal container of flammable gas at high pressure after all. And my own chai-withdrawal was slowly setting in.

After several false starts and a burnt oven mitt, the camping stove was emitting a beautiful, blue flame and humming in an ominous way – but at least there was tea. We feasted over it and the crumbs at the bottom to an almost empty packet of rusk. A week of ‘gasless-ness’ meant that our supplies of ready-to-eat edibles had run low.

This is the first time for me, in living memory, that we have had no gas at all. For four days we had battled some of the most extreme winter weather on record, aided by nothing but increasing layers of clothing. And it is not just where we live. People everywhere in Lahore, from Defence to Mughalpura, were complaining of this shortage. And the most frightening thing was that no one – absolutely no one – seemed to care.

The news and all of our blessed talk shows were full of nothing but a litany of incomprehensible rubbish; the treason trial of a former dictator, the remarks of a dual national and a drivel about the kind of death it takes to become a martyr.

All of this was utterly useless to the common man.

If I froze to death, would I be a martyr?

Or if I starved, would I care if a dictator died of the hangman’s noose or of a heart failure?

I am not freezing (well, not to death anyway) and I am not starving, and I still find that I care about neither. I care more about the fact that salaries are not keeping up with the prices of food and utilities – and even if I did have the money, there would be no utilities to pay for.

The public could not possibly be so obsessed with upholding the constitution in its present state?

Who watches all these talk shows anyway?

What does all this ‘exposing of the truth’, ‘putting things on record’ and ‘interviewing the public’ accomplish?

A free judiciary has not resulted in any justice for anyone. And the free media is more shackled by the race for ratings than any censorship laws a government could come up with.

Surely all of this was meant to make lives better for the masses – was it not?

Maybe I’m not doing it right.

Maybe the shouting anchorpersons need to be endured at a specific volume and for several hours a day for them to have the desired effect. Maybe somewhere, all this democracy is slowly rebuilding something and in five, or ten, or maybe a hundred years, we will see the result of all our liberty.

Or maybe I’m the wrong demographic.

I am only middle class. What would I know about prosperity or moving forward when I waste so much time over the price of potatoes?

Talk shows are best enjoyed in a well heated room after all, with snacks of course.

How silly of me to question such intellectuals discussions with my petty issues of food and utilities.

Sometimes it makes me wonder if democracy was ever made for the people at all.

Sakina Hassan

Sakina Hassan

The author is currently studying for an Mphil degree at the Centre of Excellence in Solid State Physics.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.