Anwar Maqsood has always had witty observations about current affairs; a caustic comment about politics, a meaningful joke on culture, statements loaded with wordplay.
This is the first time in the many times that I have interviewed him that he doesn’t immediately joke about current affairs.
Instead, he observes, “I just get saddened when I see all these cooking oil ads on TV these days, where people are frying food and tables are laden with food. I want to request TV channels not to air such ads during this time. There are so many people in Pakistan who don’t have any food in their homes.”
He’s seen Pakistan through the ages, surviving political turmoil, wars and military rule. Has he ever seen a worse time than the present, with the country locked down in order to rein in the Corona pandemic?
“There can be no worse time than this one,” he answers somberly, “when the entire world is locked inside their homes for fear of a single sneeze, a single cough.”
“But we have to understand. The world is locked down. Sacred places of worship are closed. Then how can mosques not be closed down? How can the doors of our homes not be closed? If we take care, everything will reopen again soon.”
His quintessential wit, however, is very much in play when I mention that even local cinema and TV has stalled, with shootings left in the middle due to the lockdown.
“That’s maybe the best thing that could have happened to TV and cinema. If they are locked down, new productions won’t come out. I think that’s what will work best for our TV and cinema. For them, jawani phir nahi ani, truly.”
How is he spending his time in quarantine? “I am watching my heath. And I am painting a lot, and cooking.”
Isn’t he also writing about the present day scenario?
“Maybe I will, once all this is over, once I am able to look back upon these times. Right now, though, I don’t want to.”
He points out how despite people turning to God in these trying times, hoarding and overcharging of necessities in grocery stores defies basic humanity. “Even if I do write about this, these times are no laughing matter.”
They certainly are not. In these troubling times, jokes and witty remarks don’t come easy – even if you’re Anwar Maqsood.