A strange character
He is the one around you, a big manipulator
FREEZE FRAME BY SYEDA AFSHANA
I am here
on this street corner.
I am calling out
The haze of shouts
blurs my entreaty.
The lamp on the pole
blinkers your vision.
smothers my being.
surround you in vain.
Roads are blocked
Pathways of deceit
Angels chase me.
Ghosts stare you.
I am bound to
stand and wait.
You are enticed to
move and go.
I am colourless
I am happy.
You became a chameleon,
you are sadly inhuman.
As kids all of us must have felt fascinated and bemused on hearing the most famous and celebrated story of Arabian Nights Ali Baba and Forty Thieves. One of the fictional characters based in Ancient Arabia, Ali Baba, was a poor woodcutter who happened to overhear a group of thieves, forty in all, visiting their treasure store in the forest where he is cutting wood. The thieves’ treasure is in a cave, the mouth of which is sealed by magic—it opens on the words Open Sesame. When the thieves are gone, Ali Baba enters the cave himself, and takes some of the treasure home.
These days so many names are linked to “Ali Baba”. That’s why we hear “Ali Baba” yellings associated to the names of all the presumably ‘prominent’ people. Ala Saddam: he was a big Ali Baba. Bush: he was a bigger Ali Baba. Nonetheless, Bush and Saddam are only the tip of the Ali Baba iceberg. The label can apply to a multitude of other persons or typified characters of certain nations.
In fact, there’s another aspect to the Ali Baba labeling phenomenon. The name Ali Baba has become somewhat of a misnomer. Ali Baba was an indigent man who became rich unexpectedly by stealing from the treasure of notorious thieves. His most notable traits were an incredible credulity and a kind of bigoted unawareness to looming danger.
So, even though he surely wasn’t the villain in the story, and certainly not the cunning, his name has become synonymous with sham and sting nowadays.
It isn’t that astonishing. Ali Baba was poor. However, he wasn’t completely upright. He laid his hands on all that was ill-gotten.
Well, those were bygone days. Things have changed and so have the thinkings. If, at all, we could have the remake of this story today, we would see Ali Baba nourishing the evil men, the Forty Thieves, to use them someday for fulfilling his ulterior motives. Or, may be Ali Baba would himself hide in one of the oil pots to express his sympathy with the evil doers! Our mutated Ali Baba would not stop there, but would multiply his forty men to forty thousand and may be more.
Coming to Kashmir, Ali Baba is enormously conspicuous and very much metaphorical. It would be interesting to see Ali Baba in a new avatar, in more than Forty Crafty Roles, from Nayak to Khal Nayak. The legendary Ali Baba would not be alone but his clones and dummies would dot every nook and corner.
In fact, we would see Ali Babas galore. Our streets, mohallas, offices, educational institutions and centres, banks and business establishments would thrive on existence of Ali Baba(s). Not strange, that most of our politicians would have already graduated as supertime-Ali Babas,’ and mind you, that would initiate debate as to whether we should have any government policy for code of conduct for Ali Baba, his behavior, actions and dealings with common people, and also his dress code.
The Ali Baba of yore would be anything but a naiveté in life. He would require a hardened, brutal and unscrupulous mindset with a soft, gentle and elitist demeanor. He would require being adept at twisting and distorting that which is real, alive and important to replace the same by gimmicks, slogans, muck-racking and subtle-slander.
Ah! He would be techno-savvy and media-savvy too. A laptop, palmtop, and whatever would be tucked unto him and he would talk in air about the Net, the Bluetooth, Facebook et al. He would be there to hog the limelight wherever there would be the glitz and the glam. The paparazzi would adore him for all the eccentricities.
The Ali Baba (metamorphosed) would go lock, stock and barrel for gaining riches, fame and name. The raison detre of Ali Baba would be moolah—at all costs. Ethics, principles and steadfastness would be his bete noire. He would occupy high positions through fawning and flattery. And then, dabble in all kinds of fraud, sleaze and manipulation to justify his occupation.
The Ali Baba of present-day would make it a point to get his progeny settled anywhere he finds a chance to slay someone else’s merit and stake. Trampling down all rules and regulations, he would knock over and mould ways to see his kith and kin having a smooth sailing in life. Be it politics, bureaucracy or any other establishment, he would lay the plush foundation for his mediocre Gen Next.
The contemporary Ali Baba would steal or snatch, and even beg or borrow to flaunt his false prestige in a society. Be it marriage ceremony, religious pilgrimage, rasm-e-chahrum or any other social gathering, he would do all things to keep up his phony and bogus social stature.
The reality remains that existing Ali Baba is a unique creature who rocks his colors every now and then to fit in any situation gratifying to him. He swaps and swoops his outfit over and over again. He is a shallow person. Even as ghosts are flabbergasted to see him changing roles, the people surround and admire him. He is applauded for his knack of passing on charade as chivalry. The facade he puts up is rarely exposed.
Glorified for every wrong, he is bound to get huge social acclaim. And, why not?! His blinkered vision is as dogmatic as the society he lives in. A place where sanity is scorned, criticism is shown contempt, and rectitude is ridiculed, Ali Baba is assured to have a field day. He will keep crawling up the ladder of “success”. No surprises!!
(The author teaches at Media Education Research Centre, MERC, University of Kashmir)
Lastupdate on : Sat, 5 Mar 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 5 Mar 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 6 Mar 2011 00:00:00 IST
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