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Thursday / July 18.
HomemitwocentsLiving with Anxiety: It’s a Relative Thing

Living with Anxiety: It’s a Relative Thing

When you think about it, in Australia, our ‘daily grind’ is really only the ‘daily fine-grade sandpapering’.

Australians enjoy a peaceful, and for the most part, ordinary existence. We go about our daily life with few obvious dangers. Day to day anxieties range from observing school zone speed limits, making sure the kids aren’t eating too much junk food, keeping them off PlayStation, getting their heads out of Facebook long enough to do their homework, maybe pushing them outdoors… and paying the mortgage on a three bedroom house in the ‘burbs by arriving at work on time.

Peak hour traffic and public transport crushes are about the worst it gets for most of us. We have an extensive and accessible medical system that we whinge about when the elective surgery lists get longer than a few months. Optometrical services are available and affordable for all. The ‘daily grind’ is really only the ‘daily fine-grade sandpapering’. In our country, health and safety are paramount, almost to the point of being over the top. Filling out forms and recognising authorities have become industries in themselves. We are in danger of turning into a nation of civil servants served by suburban clerks i.e. us. Paperwork is king, real achievement equates to the Five of Clubs.

Banal Reigns

Our recent Federal election was fought by clones in slightly different cuts and shades of grey suits, differentiated more by tie colour than dynamic policy initiatives or true leadership. Did we see any debate with real passion? Did we see candidates gripping opponent’s lapels and stuffing their views down their throats? Even the Greens have swapped passion and the occasional public disordered placard waving sit-in for barely audible social media campaigns… No wonder the electorate doesn’t connect with such tepid personalities and banal providences.

How can you possibly go there? It is sooo dangerous! You could get blown up”, they opined across the back fence while risking death hanging the washing without a hat and blockout and wearing thongs on wet tiles

The headlines in our newspapers rarely scream anything vital. The culture of celebrity is widely reported on the front pages instead of page 18. The occasional corruption charge on our leaders may be limited to a local council development application or misuses of MP’s cab charges or, heaven forbid, misuse of institutional credit cards on a few beers and some such other at the local hostelery.

My most recent trip took me away to a Ruddless, Abottless land far from the safety and softness of bike riders with helmets and non-smoking restaurants. I went back to Pakistan to visit old colleagues and remind myself of some special times I had in a very different and challenging environment. Friends, relatives and neighbours remarked on my foolhardiness in such a revisitation: “How can you possibly go there? It is sooo dangerous! You could get blown up”, they opined across the back fence, while risking death hanging the washing without a hat and block-out and wearing thongs on wet tiles.

The very week before I was due to travel to Pakistan, there were warnings issued to foreign citizens in the Punjab to not travel and remain in safe locations. The US consulate in Lahore was closed down, and it was Lahore to which I was heading. No worries for me I thought. I am definitely not an American, although 194cms and white faced wandering around MM Allam Road might present a reasonable target.

I had always found Lahore a peaceful and very liveable city and wasn’t about to change my view. Anyway, despite western media reporting that Pakistan was even more dangerous than 2009 when I was last there,
I was being encouraged by my Punjabis friends not to be dissuaded from coming.

I admit to a little heart flutter as the plane powered down on descent into Alama Iqbal International, but the regular whirr of the new highway from the airport to the city under the taxi wheels and the familiar sights of the Garrison Golf Course and the army checkpoint manned by some serious looking soldiers with serious looking automatic weapons, made me feel right at home.

There was definitely more security on the streets but the roads had improved wonderfully (as I soon discovered, new dedicated 80kms of elevated busway had been built with Turkish help in only 11 months). The city looked green (monsoon just petering out), uncluttered and unhurried – as a city of 15 million can be – and it looked healthy. This was not a city on the edge of chaos.

But the snapshot I bring to you is not the one that presents on the front pages of the The News and Dawn, two national newspapers with massive circulations and the manner of headlines and stories you simply do not see in The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Courier Mail, The Western Australian, The Adelaide Advertiser or The Mercury (apologies to any miffed editors of papers I have missed).

“Dialogue with Taliban only option now” – this was the banner and a direct quote from the Interior Minister – the corollary is that the government has backed down from its position that if the Taliban don’t want to attend a dialogue, they will just start shooting. (A Taliban divisional leader was sacked from his position because he agreed to hold a dialogue without consulting the
big bosses!)

“Police storm sit-in, arrest dozens” – The PTI (Tehreek-e-Insaf) is Imran Khan’s political party. They did reasonably well in the recent elections but were protesting about vote rigging. These guys have true passion for the cause – the name of the party literally means ‘Justice Party’. The actual sit-in was only a few hundred yards from my hotel in Lahore. The 100 or so who were arrested were later released in good faith.

“Curfew in Bhakkar after riots erupt” – a local religious feud between two Muslim sects resulted in deaths and the police had invoked a curfew. No arrests at that stage but one party wants the guilty arrested and hanged… or handed over to them immediately… a rural problem.

“Gadani project to be completed in two years” – The PM has promised the construction of a new power plant in the Sind (southern Pakistan). Nobody thinks the timeframe is achievable but ‘load shedding’ (where power is cut off to entire suburbs of big cities and all of some small towns to make use of what is available) is a significant problem all over Pakistan. There simply is not enough power generated, and succeeding governments have done nothing about it… a bit like public transport in Sydney, only more basic.

“Quetta safer for Musharraf than Rawalpini” – former President/ Dictator Pervez Musharraf is being tried for murder in Quetta (in Balochistan on the western border with Afghanistan and very much out of the way) rather than being tried in Rawalpini which is next to the capital Islamabad (much as Queanbeyan is next to Canberra).

Musharraf (who I have met) would like the comforts of the big city. He has survived four previous attempts on his life, but the local judge reckons because all those attempts were in Islamabad, Musharraf would be safer in Quetta while his trial proceeds. Quetta is to Rawalpindi as Wilcannia is to Sydney.

“Soldier killed in Indian firing at LoC” – Pakistan blames India for random firing of mortars and artillery across the LoC (Line of Control) in Kashmir-Jammu where the border has been disputed since partition. The two countries have periods where they just shoot across the Kargil glacier mountain at 20,000 feet… and sometimes hit something.

…and that folks was the news on a slow day. Enjoy the beach and the footy… and the fact that the lights work all the time.