Revelry for relief: Fiddling while Sindh sinks

Published: December 20, 2010
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A masquerade ball at a time of national crisis may seem heartless but it works

The sensitivity of young people today should ideally never be gauged by the first question that comes to their minds when a bomb goes off in Karachi: Will there be school tomorrow?

Instead, Karachi’s generation-next should be assessed on how much hard work, effort and time its members put into relief camps and charity distribution, placard holding and general running around they did in an effort to contribute to alleviating the pain of the people hit by the flooding this summer.

There was a definite perception that young privileged girls and boys just live in their bubble on that side of the bridge and don’t really care about the other humans they share a country with. But if the flood relief efforts are anything to go by, let alone the home schools and separate year-round efforts, a different picture emerges. Some of the good work included personal charity drives, pitching tents at much-visited spots such as Agha’s Supermarket’s parking lot or outside the Forum to urge people to donate, working through school networks to send out appeals for water, blankets, toys, books, food, medicines. Others spent school hours packing the material, or badgering their factory-owning fathers to arrange trucks to be dispatched to the villages. The older ones even jumped onto the trucks, braved looting and the unchartered territory and headed into the swimming fields of Sindh.

For others, there was another ingenious way to try and solve other people’s problems. So what if you can’t make it up to Tori Bund and hand out Peditral and ORS to diarrhoea-cramped survivors? You could instead attend a masked charity ball! But first tickets needed to be sold, somehow, at this extraordinarily difficult time.

“So, who’s coming?” I ask.

The ticket-seller replies in an attempt to sound casual, “The usual schools.” A list is produced.

“Wait a second,” I quickly scan it. “Why is this school included? Oi! Come back here. Why are these melas on the list?”

Someone else joins the conversation. “Do we have to pay?”

“Oh right, yes,” responds the ticket-seller. “Only RsX,000. But please do come, OK? Did you get the Facebook notification?”

[It was a non-school, completely private masquerade ball]

“Yeah, I did see that. But?”

“Limited tickets till Friday only. Then, I’ll be super busy figuring out the masks and all. But I could make an exception for you.” A ticket is flapped in my face. “So, it’s a yes?”

I hesitate for a second too long to answer. A sanctimonious well-worn phrase is trotted out for special effect:

“But, it’s for charity!”

That hurt, as did the arched eyebrows and innocent wide-eyed questioning by the ticket seller. What kind of person are you? You can’t buy a ticket for charity?

My excuses don’t stand a chance. My parents already gave X amount of rupees to the prime minister’s relief fund. Or, did you know how expensive goats were this Eid? Anything to cover up the fact that I didn’t own a ‘gown’ or a ‘masque’ or simply, didn’t think it was appropriate given the scale of the devastation.

“Honestly,” cajoles the ticket-seller, reading my mind. “You could come in a dhoti even. Forget gowns. Come in your school uniform if you have to! OK. No, wait. I take that back. That would be extremely embarrassing if you did.”

Someone else pipes up helpfully to join the attempt to persuade me to fork over the rather strange amount of cash. “My mum, khala AND phuppee will be there. How much parental supervision do you need?”

When I murmur that my close friends aren’t planning on attending a ball, the ticket-seller reacts with chagrin and indignation. “What am I to you?”

The sidekick butts in. “We’ve hired a contingent of security forces, no need for your mum to go all emo.” Let me get this straight. They’re “hiring” a security contingent to guard a party while they simultaneously lament the lack of security everywhere else?

But it didn’t matter. I wasn’t going. Later, I was showed pictures of the party, suits and long, covered gowns milling about with little glasses of Coke. It was all rather tame.

And yet, the organisers not only broke even, they managed to set aside a decent ‘profit’ that was sent through various NGOs to the flood survivors just in time for Eid. I’m still a little divided over the phenomenon of revelry for relief. Is it akin to fiddling while Rome burns or is it better to do something, anything rather than not play at all?

Meiryum Ali

Meiryum Ali

A freshman at an ivy league school who writes a weekly national column in The Express Tribune called "Khayaban-e-Nowhere".

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