*Recounted “off-the-record” by Media Assistant Moolvi to our intrepid correspondent, Farhan Faltoo.
HOURS BEFORE THE CONFERENCE:
I couldn’t understand why Chairman Bilawal fixed on my camera setup; one palm set flat against his chest and the other cupping his fleshy cleft chin.
We idled in the hotel’s dull banquet hall, beside the square of long conference tables clothed in white linen with pleated skirtings. Astagfirullah; whoever picked the dreary pewter carpeting with unseemly orange flowers should hang from the nearest flagpole.
The brat of a chairman wore his royal airs; you know that nosebleed pose of his with the head upturned slightly? But no one told him he looked an idiot when undertaking such with unruly, windswept hair and a baggy smoke-gray jacket they sell twofer at the jumma bazaar (open-air market).
What irked me most was his calling me moolvi in that nails-on-chalkboard voice that could shatter diamonds. I'm certain the most tone-deaf sheep bleated more melodiously.
Humph, moolvi. As if every bearded Muslim male sporting a skullcap went round on a crappy old bike teaching little kids the Koran. I have to fit in the workplace, for the love of God. Can’t very well dress as a gay bellhop in a forest of facial fur.
Muttering cusses, I glimpsed my watch. Post-haste fire up the video feed for Maulana’s big speech later and rush back to the party HQ to press his foppish turban. What a life.
Some months earlier, a rich distant relative, also an MPA from Maulana’s party, found me a gig in his media cell. The position demanded technical skills, so I was told, but I’ve since starched more shalwar kameez than rigged cameras.
When I griped to my relative about being a gofer, the smug twit announced it was this or I sell prayer beads by the roadside. Bah, his family always looked down on mine, may Allah smite them.
Keeping his pose, the brat addressed me with the glazy eyes of a meth addict. “This camera points at the Maulana, mmm?”
I nodded heavily and stole another glance at my watch. Why’s he loafing about the hall hours before the conference? Isn’t he due for a manicure or something?
His centipede-thick brows closed together and a gloominess overcame him. “Must you focus on his face?”
As opposed to what? His overlong nostril hair? “Yes,” I explained, insistently tapping the tripod. “I have the camera far back so his beard fits the frame.”
Irate clucks echoed through the hall. “Impossible," he boomed. “We cannot allow that today. Use his speech, but no video.”
My breath cinched for a beat. “You’re kidding. He’ll depute me to the Taliban! Boss even bought a bespoke turban for the occasion.”
He checked the cuffs of his banana-yellow tunic; his lips thinned to slits. “Moolvi sahib, we can’t have his lechery pollute our united stand against PM Khan.”
My forehead creased like a paper fan. “What the devil are you saying?”
A wan smile broke his stony demeanor. “He can’t control his winking and we have women in front-row seats. You see the problem, mmm?”
I gawked at him, speechless. There were rumors boss consorted with trannies, but hey, nobody’s perfect, and what he did behind closed doors was none of my beeswax.
“Preposterous,” I said firmly. “He is a most pious man.”
The brat hee-hawed and slapped his thigh. “Shabash (well done), you’re sillier than a billy goat. The Maulana, my friend, would bone a lipstick-wearing watermelon.”
My shoulders humped and I heaved a tired sigh. “Fine, you let him know. I have ironing to do.” I spun round and started toward the exit.
“No. No. No,” he crowed, stamping his foot as a surly child. Then he huffed up to me. “My party cannot appear responsible for this.”
I arched backward and gulped. If I stay within earshot of this banshee, my eardrums may soon self-combust.
“Well, you’re the one saying he can’t go on-air. What do you want from me?” I asked timidly.
He rubbed his palms, bright-eyed. “Technical malfunctions, yes?”
This mother-lover! “There are none,” I snapped back.
“Fine,” he said, shrugging. “We’ll just pin this on you. Who do you think he’ll believe? Hah.”
An invisible combine began cornrowing my gut. If only I’d recorded this exchange, but would the boss trust me still? He hasn’t kept his influence all these years by siding with lowlives over the lords of Pakistan. Ah, fudge…
He faked a sad face and took a gentler voice, “Do this and we’ll hire you for better pay, mmm? We don’t need his sleaze causing a scandal right now.”
The combine silenced and I fidgeted with my skullcap. “Is this okay? The boss will raise hell when he finds out.”
The brat lazily waved away my fears. “He’ll be fine once he knows we’re sending over company tonight.”
My mouth formed an O. Islamic republic, my smelly socks. They should rename it Sodom.
“Now then,” he said, grinning. “Your first job is to find a suitable sacrifice. Any ideas?”
My hand shot up at once. “Will an MPA do?” I asked, simpering.
THE HEADLINE NEXT MORNING:
The opposition's multi-party conference — hosted in Islamabad by the PPP and termed an 'All Parties Conference' — ran into an unpleasant situation on Sunday with JUI-F chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman complaining that his speech had been "censored".
"The government stops our voice from reaching the public as it is, but today the APC also prevented our speech from airing," the JUI-F chief complained.
"I wish to record a protest with the PPP," he said, adding: "This is highly unreasonable."
At this, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that it was "at the request of one of your MPAs that we kept an in-camera session," which the party chief denied. "We did not request such a thing," he said.
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