Using ‘Altaf Bhai’: The joys of studying politics

Published: November 7, 2011

I uttered Altaf Bhai's name and the security officials treated me as a VIP. PHOTO: AFP/ FILE

Being a student of political science comes with handicaps in a country where debate on current affairs and peccadilloes of politicians is ubiquitous, yet awareness of an academic discipline dedicated to the study of politics is scant.

There’s one particular incident at Lahore airport that I vividly remember, when being a student of political science got me entangled in a rather bizarre situation.

As I walked inside the international departure terminal, I noticed that yet another security check had been installed. Some men in shalwar kameez stood listlessly, as airport security personnel fiercely rummaged through their luggage.

Being a ‘laadiss’ from a privileged background, I typically would not have been subjected to such insensitive scrutiny. But fate had it planned otherwise, when a scowling security official approached me.

“Madam, what’s in there?” he questioned sternly.

“My belongings,” I replied curtly.

“What do you study?” he asked, stroking his mustache with his fingers.

“Political science. Is this a relevant question, Sir?” I inquire sharply, in an annoyed tone.

My answer eased his frown.

“Our future politician! You must be following Sherry Rehman’s footsteps.”

Why are people so stupid? I thought with a grimace. Instead of striding away with my baggage — something I should have rationally done — I chose to correct him. “No, I am not,” I replied curtly.

“What?” he asked suspiciously.

His expression darkened and his eyes narrowed. Alarm bells rang in my head and I half-expected him to fumble through my suitcases just because I didn’t want to be a Sherry Rehman-inspired politician.

But I still foolishly chose honesty over an easy escape — at least for the time being.

“Just because I am studying politics, does not mean I am going be a politician,” I retorted.

“Kyun, jee (why not)?” he asked sounding almost offended, with his hands on his hips and face contorted in a dreadful scowl.

My exchange with the grouchy security officer had clearly taken an awry turn.

But then, I simply decided to fib my way out of the strange situation.

“I am following Altaf bhai’s footsteps, I mean,” I said with a wayward smile.

“Oh…,” his voice trailed off in confusion and he looked slightly intimidated.

He screamed to the security officer handling the baggage screening, “Clear Madam’s baggage quickly!”

With a secret laugh, I relished the unforeseen advantage of studying politics. If only it could also get me first-class seating, I thought wistfully while walking away with the airs and graces of a VIP.


Maria Waqar

A journalist working for The Express Tribune. She can be reached on twitter at @MariaWaqar

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