Old Mr Darwin said something about all life evolving to higher forms, which we take to mean that we were monkeys at one time. On the other hand, the Quran has a line about some Jewish miscreants being turned into monkeys. (Aside: With only a few date trees in Arabia, I wonder where the poor newly-evolved simians would have lived in that desert land.)
Here in merry old Lahore, we have our own bunch of folks struggling to return to the primate shape of their forefathers. And it all started about four years ago. An errant Qingqi (oh, who wretch invented this monster?) driver was booked by a traffic warden. Leaving his machine in the middle of the road, the driver quickly clambered up a power pylon that happened to be at hand. There, from ten metres high, he threatened to jump if the warden did not cancel his ticket.
The breaking news-wallahs arrived with their vans and cameras and a few million Lahoris, with all the time on their hands, hoping to be interviewed for television with regard to the monkey on the pylon, gathered for the spectacle of him jumping to his death. The tamasha, however, fizzled out when the high and the mighty of the traffic police arrived, gave the dutiful warden an earful and duly suspended him from work. Then they begged the monkey on the pylon to descend and continue imperilling the lives of other road users.
The event received global coverage, thanks to the phenomenon of breaking news. What little was left was nicely covered by the vernacular press the following morning. This was just too great publicity and there was no stopping the brave people of Lahore from basking in it.
A loafer, habitually absent from work, booted out of his job at a local college, did a Qingqi-driver replay, and had to be begged to please return to the job that he never did. The caper was now in full flow. Then there was the case of the employee of the Model Town Society: Attending work when he thought fit, which was about two days a week, he was dismissed from service. Thankfully, a power pylon was at hand at the corner of Ferozepur Road and Model Town. Up went Monkey Man as a few-million-strong audience materialised as if sprouted from the ground. The breaking news-wallahs elbowed their way to the pylon-side vantage, and pretty soon, the president and his minions at the Society came grovelling for the man to please take his job back and continue without doing a jot of decent work.
Since then, this has been the usual practice: Do no good and when penalised, climb up the nearest power pylon with no intention of throwing yourself to your death. It never fails. Only now the breaking news teams have wearied of carrying on because, as the inimitable Mirza Ghalib said, “Dekhnay hum bhi gai thay per tamasha na hua” — no one has ever come plummeting to his death. But Lahoris being what they are, there is never any dearth of a vast audience.
In these past four years since the advent of the Qingqi-monkey-on-the pylon, Lahore has witnessed at least half a dozen such cases — cases that were reported. But then ennui set in because there was no blood-and-gore excitement and television crews simply gave up on this business. Monkeys still climb pylons, wait up there for some time and when nothing happens, save the catcalls of a dozen spectators, get down and go back to business as usual.
The fault is not in the stars, however; it is in the power pylons. Get rid of them or we will evolve into monkeys!
Salman Rashid is a Lahore-based travel writer and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.