Day 2: Kissa Khwani by The Citizens Archive of Pakistan – “PTV & Radio Pakistan”

Source: Kuch Khaas/Muhammad Waheed Photography

Source: Kuch Khaas/Muhammad Waheed Photography

The Citizens Archive of Pakistan, a platform dedicated to documenting oral history, organized a three day event called “Kissa Khwani” in Islamabad, named after the famous Kissa Khwani Bazaar in Peshawar, which was meant to promote the tradition of preserving oral historical accounts and storytelling. On June 21, 2013, the second episode of the three day event, “PTV and Radio Pakistan” was held in Islamabad.

The panelists included Agha Nasir, veteran broadcaster and producer, the pioneering director of Radio Pakistan and the former Managing Director of PTV, Muhammad Zubair, the former Director International Affairs of PTV and the first director of PTV Academy, and playwright, screenwriter and former columnist Ahmed Saleem, who created plays like “Amaawas” and “Kaala Pul“. Kanwal Naseer was also supposed to speak at the event but did not show up for some reason. The event was moderated by journalist, columnist and news anchor Farrukh Khan Pitafi.

A sister event was held in Lahore in which the panelists included Seemi Raheel, Salman Shahid, Naveed Shahzad and director and producer Ayub Khawar and was moderated by Adeel Hashmi and Alizeh Khalid. I really wish I were in Lahore to hear these brilliant speakers. The headline from the more interesting Lahore event was “Zia dictatorship ruined it all“, which was also discussed in Islamabad and immediately brought to mind the hazards of state-imposed censorship.

The Islamabad event kicked off with Agha Nasir presenting a historical account of the formative years of All India Radio. He was actually the only panelist in the entire three day event that mentioned the tragic Kissa Khwani Bazaar massacre, an Amritsar massacre like carnage, at the hands of the soldiers of the British Raj. Nasir mentioned that All India Radio was modeled after the BBC itself and was launched in 1935.

Remarkable pioneers such as Z. A. Bokhari, A. S. Bokhari and Patras Bokhari were engaged for establishing the state radio. Radio stations in present day Pakistan were established in Lahore at the YMCA on the Mall and in Peshawar. According to him, the Peshawar station was donated radio apparatus by Marconi himself. The monthly budget of a radio station used to be Rs. 1,500 per month and its main purpose used to be educational programming.

Agha Nasir expressed great satisfaction over his work at the Radio, despite the fact that it offered low income. According to him, the satisfaction of the work was the greatest factor why great names such as Saadat Hassan Manto and Z. A. Bokhari , apart from many prominent actors and stars, were attracted to the medium.

Muhammad Zubair lamented that the present day media is directionless and has become excessively moralistic and sardonic in its approach. He observed that radio was a medium that empowered him with the faculty of visualization during storytelling. He mourned that television was a medium which actually took that ability away from him.

He complained that the mandate of Pakistan Television of “education, information and entertainment” has eroded over time. He expressed his concern over the degeneration of the media and criticized the growing sensationalism and commercialism. He also expressed his concerns over the lack of censorship.

Playwright Ahmed Saleem mentioned producers and writers who pushed the frontiers of tolerance. He mentioned Dr. Anver Sajjad, Agha Nasir and Iqbal Ansari to be some of the most important names in this regard.

He recalled how his play “Amaawas” became a landmark in pushing the limits of tolerance on state television. The play was directed by Iqbal Ansari which portrayed the female lead played by Bushra Ansari demanding a divorce from the male lead played by Asif Raza Mir. The play stirred a great controversy at the time.

He recalled that people wrote to them objecting to the content of the play, worrying that it could corrupt the minds of women. He also recalled that they received threats from religious groups and clerics for airing such a play. However, he paid a tribute to director Ansari for encouraging him to express himself in the play as he pleased, even though the daring director had to offer an explanation and an apology once the play ended.

He also recalled working for the documentation of the Silver Jubilee celebrations of PTV. However, he left disgusted when many producers started claiming credits for things that were obviously were not their contributions. However, he said that he was proud to write scripts for Shireen Pasha’s landmark documentary on Cholistan.

He recalled that government interventions started plaguing PTV during Yahya’s regime when Tagore and Nazar-ul-Islam were banned in East Pakistan while adding more Urdu content, alienating the Bengali population.

Saleem recalled joining the newspaper “Aman” in the 80s as a television critic and used to interview TV stars. His interviews were criticized for being politically loaded such as the one involving actress Marina Khan in which he quoted her of criticizing the construction of Faisal Mosque in Islamabad. She said that many schools could have been built with that money.

Questions and answers session saw someone asking for a direction for the media. Mr. Zubair said that Pakistan was not prepared for freedom of media in its years of infancy and needed stability instead. He also insisted on the importance of following religious guidelines.

Agha Nasir recalled that PTV was issued one directive per week during Zia’s regime. Directives were about things like how the dopatta should be worn on air, that female singer should not gyrate while singing and that duets should be banned. Nazia and Zohaib Hassan’s duet also came under fire, despite the fact that they were siblings. The puritanical disciplinarians responded that not everybody was aware of that.

Moderator Farrukh Pitafi conceded that the media is rightfully criticized by the audience for sensationalizing reporting, distorting facts and commercializing and trivializing information, as well desensitizing audiences. He said that Pakistan was a classical example wherein space was expanding and quality was diminishing.

He said that poetic license of freedom was being used in news in Pakistan instead and that anchors have been guilty of such excesses. However, he also made a point that educated audiences would demand better content from the media and that the population explosion has been making things worse.

Almost unanimously, the panelists agreed that excessive freedom of expression is inappropriate. Ahmed Saleem gave a similar reply to my question why people were so fond of censorship in Pakistan. I found that rather disappointing coming from a writer.

He narrated how a news anchor misrepresented CM Shahbaz Sharif’s medical aid to him for undergoing a liver transplant as an act of corruption. He noticed that it came as a surprise to him since he was a political critic of the Sharif brothers. Yet the generous and praiseworthy deed of the leader was painted as a vile act by a news anchor with a political agenda.

But this story made me doubt his understanding of freedom of speech, which he later mentioned to be a positive tool if used properly. He recalled how they used to wonder what they should play and write about after the death of dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in 1988. But they frequently followed their heroic struggle for freedom of speech with the warnings of the need for discipline and order.

Revolutionaries of yesterday, with the exception of Mr. Zubair of course, have become the conservatives of our times.

But it is hardly a surprise.

Note: This is not a paid post.

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The Difficulty of Gandhi’s Philosophy

Photo: Margaret Bourke-White

Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha or “Firmness in Truth”, which is a fancy name for letting the world know about the atrocities targeted at you by boldly enduring them (although it has a much deeper meaning), has been widely criticized for its insanity. However, as insane and cruel (although this is not the right word to mention here, but this is how its results are perceived) this concept may appear, you cannot claim that it doesn’t work.

Violence and vengeance are so tempting. As a matter of fact, whenever an act of violence is inflicted upon you, vengeance is the first thing on your mind. Societies around the world, East and West alike, take pride in vengeance and it is seen as a symbol of might and strength, while abstinence from it is seen as a sign of weakness. Probably, that is why Satyagraha has been widely rejected as practiced by Gandhi, but not completely.

Now to get to the point why talking about it is even required. Believe it or not, the concept in theory is as relevant today as it has ever been and will always be. In fact, I would go as far as saying that it has been used prominently in history. The concept could play a vital role in forming public opinion, the impact of which is enhanced in the modern times of advanced communication, at least as compared to the period during which Gandhi was alive.

However, whatever plays a great role in forming positive public opinion can equally be vital in the formation of negative public opinion. This is a vital aspect to Satyagraha ignoring which completely destroys its utility. Utility, I say, because the pragmatic world needs a practical use for something. Obviously for Gandhi it was the way of living, more like worship, but not everyone can be expected to be as devoted to this unorthodox concept, which may appear bizarre to many.

In order to practice Satyagraha and in order to use it for what it is meant for, it is indispensable to remain consistent. Once you take this path, you will lose all that you have achieved if you divert from it, or in other words, if you resort to violence. And that is the greatest difficulty of Gandhi’s Philosophy, so much so that even the most ardent of his followers, which are becoming an extinct breed of people, find it a hard pill to swallow. Let us examine the practical Satyagraha just for the sake of understanding this post and having some fun.

But before that, it is important to explain that non-violence or Ahimsa is the fundamental requirement to Satyagraha, which is primarily why it is such a difficult concept.

Person A is Person B’s best friend. Person B happened to rape and kill Person A’s wife. This obviously put an end to their friendship. During the trial of the case, the court finds insufficient evidence that Person B is guilty. However, Person A is convinced that Person B committed the crime. Nevertheless, Person B is acquitted. Person A has a few choices to make now.

a) He could go and kill Person A in the good old fashioned way, especially if the death of Person B is the main aim of the court trial.

b) He could plead to a higher court to review the verdict hoping for the death sentence for Person B.

c) He could plead to a higher court to review the verdict and forgive Person A if the court’s verdict decrees a death sentence for Person’s B.

d) He could simply ignore the courts, no longer pursue criminal prosecution, be at peace with it and forgive Person A.

First of all, it is extremely difficult to think from the perspective of Person A who has suffered a traumatic loss. However, suppose that he is a person practicing Satyagraha, and to make things even more relevant to the point of the post, suppose that he is a person who holds a high public office with both Person A and B recognized widely in public and the case is followed vigorously by the media.

Now a word about the society these persons live in. They do not have to live in a society that believes in Satyagraha, let alone the thought of practicing it. However, let us suppose that it is a liberal society that considers rape and murder a grave crime, yet believes in the sanctity of life and generally disapproves of capital punishment even if it doesn’t mind it being used as punishment for such crimes.

Now such a society, or any society for that matter, will have sympathy for Person A. However, they would expect Person A not to resort to option A, which is taking the initiative of killing Person B, even if some of them may think that Person B deserves that. They would consider option B the right of Person A and if Person A is able to successfully pull off option C, it would do wonders for creating the right image of Person A. Whereas, option D may offer solace on a personal level, but would not have any use whatsoever in the given scenario.

However, there is another point to it. The puritan Gandhi followers, if any around at all, or at least those who are familiar with it in theory and that of Gandhi’s personality, could object that using Satyagraha for gaining public sympathy and popularity is against the very spirit of it and the concept must be practiced in itself without the thought of achieving such vile aims.

While that sounds correct, you must not forget that Gandhi advocated Satyagraha as a way of fighting tyranny, oppression and violence. It sounds like an insane and almost a suicidal strategy but it could work if practiced with devotion. Therefore, the idea of using Satyagraha for building a better public image is not wrong at all and as a matter of fact, Gandhi had been doing so himself all along.

However, the major, and perhaps the only difficulty and hurdle to the practice of this philosophy and way of living is the temptation to violence. The concept of Satyagraha seems almost contrary to the human nature, as humans have a violent instinct. The concept offers a peaceful and non-violent alternative to vengeance and further violence to resolve violent disputes, but in the end many would question if it is realistic.

It has its limitations, yes, but you can extract its essence for application if not use it the way Gandhi advocated and practiced it.

That’s how you would find it in history.