- If I’m allowed to dream…
Ours is a nation of small men, with a government perpetually fixated on small things.
I am fortunate enough to have grown up beneath skies rich in colourful kites of all shapes and sizes, marking more than just the celebration of Basant. To me, the kites signified a time when it was acceptable to enjoy life and not be forced to justify your happiness to a council of grimacing uncles.
The morning skies were eventually stripped of their coloured companions because they were deemed unsafe. They were not deemed so by a meticulously conducted, peer-reviewed study, but a chain of anecdotes. Your friend’s friend had an uncle who was decapitated while driving a motorbike, as his neck tragically got caught in glass-coated kite string. Interestingly, your friend’s friend also had a cousin who got mauled by a runaway buffalo on Eid-ul-Adha, but unlike the allegedly ‘Hindu’ tradition of Basant, Eid is not at risk of being banned.
The logical solution would’ve been to regulate dangerous kite string covered in powdered glass. Australia holds the famous ‘Festival of the Winds’ on bondi beach from time to time, featuring thousands of amazing kites and zero decapitated skulls. Kites are flown all over the world, right next to bunches of balloons as symbols of light-hearted, family-friendly fun. Was there a way to let the kites stay up in the air in Pakistan? Apparently not.
Just like that, the kites disappeared – and with it, a festival that was at the cusp of gaining international fame, and a country at the brink of being internationally recognised for something other than angry bearded men and flying shrapnel.
The government then descended upon the bane of upper class aunties and uncles of Bahria Town and DHA, answering to an ominous smoke signal. No, not cigarettes. Shisha. Where easy-to-use, portable cancer-sticks popularised by colonial powers continue being lobbied for by large corporations, it was the small artisanal smokes that were quickly identified as the heart of our nation’s health/moral crisis. The rich tradition of shisha circles was put to an unceremonious end.
But wait, what’s that? I hear music, laughter, sounds of jubilation from a marquee housing a glittering assemblage an hour before midnight. In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan? By what right, sir jee? May we introduce you to the Punjab Marriage Functions Act 2016? It is no longer acceptable to serve more than one dish of food at a wedding, and marriage halls must be vacated by 10:00 pm.
Just like that, the kites disappeared – and with it, a festival that was at the cusp of gaining international fame, and a country at the brink of being internationally recognised for something other than angry bearded men and flying shrapnel
These are the sort of bizarre rules you imagine were put into place by a parliamentarian for no other reason than simply him having a bad day; the equivalent of an angry music fan ranting on Facebook on how Coke Studio should be ‘banned’ from making awful covers of Noor Jahan’s songs. It’s reminiscent of an 11-year old’s tantrum about school, and how the ‘gormint’ should ban social studies teachers from giving their pupils homework.
One reasonably muses at times whether the police has two or three other duties to perform than raiding weddings and shisha parlours; harassing young couples in traffic; ransacking homes for vodka bottles; confiscating kites; arresting people who eat food during fasting hours on Ramazan; and cracking down on dance parties. The reason cannot be public safety when we haven’t yet unanimously agreed upon the need for seat belts. It cannot be public health because it is still acceptable to slaughter animals in our front yards.
The public is prohibited from protesting to these constant micro-encroachments on our social territory, by citing more ‘important’ problems. An atmosphere of fear is fundamental to a despotic system, because fear makes people more inclined to give up their civil liberties. You don’t care about having your phone calls monitored, when you’re told there’s an external enemy banging at your door.
The public is dangerously accustomed to these invasions. Yes, we don’t need kites to survive. We don’t need to dance at mehndis after 10:00 pm. We don’t really ‘need’ alcohol or shisha parlours to be legalised; surely an argument can be made in the ban’s favour simply from a public health and safety point of view.
But as small liberties disappear one by one, the cumulative effect on the public psyche can be devastating. For one, the public can be trained to see law as an inconsequential and subjective list of don’ts put on the refrigerator door by your overbearing and prudish mother; petty rules and regulations that you can choose to ignore because they’re too restraining and don’t make sense.
On the other hand, these rules contribute to a national temperature that is perfect for the growth of despotic elements and religious radicals. Blocking roads and vandalising public property while declaring oneself a ‘Qadri Sunni’ and chanting ‘tun tuna tun tun’, should be nobody’s idea of a fun afternoon out with friends. But what are the legal alternatives, when the human mind naturally seeks entertainment and excitement?
One may be accused of being naïve, bringing up the crisis of entertainment in a country that’s beset by existential threats like war, poverty, malnutrition, and polio. But regulations like internet blocking, censorship of art, and crackdowns on weddings, often takes up federal resources rather than freeing them to be better utilised for, say, improving obstetric services.
We need more than just a more educated Punjab; we need a happier Punjab. We need a Pakistan that sings and dances, spreads cheer and joy, and – if I am allowed to dream – fly a kite.