I have often been accused of writing angry columns that point a finger at society, the government and our national character in general. I was once asked by a senior bureaucrat as to why I was unable to see any good in public service organisations mandated to extend good governance to the people. I told the gentleman in the most amicable manner possible that my eye sight was as good as my conscience and I would certainly write well of any organisation as and when it delivered honestly and effectively. My reply must have caused great aggravation, since we have often crossed paths at many social gatherings after our interaction, but I have mercifully and diligently been ignored by the gentleman.

There has always been one thread that I have often wanted to pick up in my weekly pieces and that is the plight of Pensioners and Senior Citizens in Pakistan. I consider myself more than qualified to do so, since I fall in both of the above mentioned categories. The impulse to write on this subject has frequently been smothered, as anger was likely to flow through the lines. Anger at watching parking spaces reserved for the handicapped and elderly being violated with impunity and on one occasion, witnessing the humiliation of a parking attendant, who had the courage to check a young man for this infringement. Anger at the many cases, where banks had denied loans to deserving individuals (who even had collateral) just because of their age. All this and much more had once prompted me to write that perhaps being old amounted to becoming a liability to state and society, which could be better dealt with by throwing all senior citizens, handicapped individuals and pensioners into the sea.

It was in this frame of mind that I set about researching this subject in some detail. The endeavour entailed talking to former government employees and citizens above the age of sixty-five. One of my ‘subjects’ was a friend of more than four decades known for his criticism and ‘sour’ nature. This individual had served in the military for a fairly long time and I had often heard his angry comments about the dysfunctionality of the Military Accounts Department dealing with pension. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to receive positive feedback about this particular office and the man responsible to run it.

It appeared that revolutionary changes had been implemented in the disbursement of monthly pensions incorporating a direct remission system that eliminated the monthly filling up of claim forms and then visiting the bank for their submission - a practice, which became irksome because of the rush and advanced age of some individuals. It was uplifting to hear that the gentleman known as the Controller of Military Accounts dealing with pensions had turned out to be a far cry from the pompous stereotypical bureaucrat that we come across in government offices. Not ready to change my opinion on one narrative alone, I decided to see things for myself. The visit was to say the least unforgettable, reviving the notion that if there were more public service officials like the one sitting across me, there was still hope. I was completely floored by the gentleman’s professional, courteous and helpful approach and left the office with a prayer for the man.

It was shortly after that, when my and I better half visited a well-known laboratory in Blue Area for tests recommended by our physician. We joined the queue at the counter, when we were accosted by a pleasant looking female sitting at a desk, who told us that since we were senior citizens, we were not required to stand in line, but would be handled by her on a priority basis. We were whisked through all the tests in no time and received another pleasant shock, on receiving the bill, which reflected a substantial discount because of our newly acknowledged status.

The above incidents set me on a search for similar experiences stored in some remote corner of my memory, but I gave up the effort as futile. Nonetheless, it became amply clear that the problem did not lie in rules and systems (most of which were designed for common good), but with the people supposed to implement them. I also felt a resurgence of the notion that as long as good people existed in society and made such incidents happen, all hope was not lost.