The way it was: On rewriting literature and laying eggs

Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

Salome had to take off her seven veils to make the desired impression. In comparison, a poet can disrobe the universe with a line. What awesome power he commands!

The ceremony began rather informally at the new department premises for the PhD programme in Fine Arts at the Punjab University. Later, the guests were requested to walk to the Senate Hall, which I fear has been in more frequent use than the National Senate. There, Dr Musarrat Hasan gave a brief address of welcome, hoping that ‘Pakistan, so glaringly quiet for such a long time, is soon to find a cultural voice’, something which Dr Khalid Mehmood, the department co-ordinator, thought should have happened fifty years ago. He felt that it was time a better image of Pakistan was projected, which could, for a start, be done by appointing cultural attaches to our foreign missions. Excellent suggestion, I thought. For once the embassies could spend some time on planning how to present a worthy image of Pakistan by organising cultural activities and exhibitions of our creative endeavours.

Here a digression is in order. In the sixties, when I was a student in England, the Indian high commission would regularly organise music concerts of India’s eminent musicians like Ravi Shanker. Cultivated British citizens would make great efforts to get an invitation. I believe some invitations were even sold in the market. Pakistanis, on the other hand, took great pride in the fact that our high commissioner played excellent polo and was reported swimming in the same pool as Christine Keeler. People of my generation would know who was Christine Keeler, the Lady who shook up the British establishment. Incidentally, when Jacky Kennedy visited Pakistan and was escorted in a horse-drawn buggy, inherited from our British rulers, to the Horse and Cattle show, there were whispers next day that Jacky had fallen for our tall, fair and handsome Field Marshall. How we fantasise and delude ourselves.

But coming back to the ceremony at the Fine Arts Department, finally the chief guest, Lt-Gen (retd) Arshad Mahmud, who is also the PU vice-chancellor, spoke to the guests. He talked of objectivity in education, education’s role in development, including human resource development, saying: ‘We haven’t even started the process of education’. They [students] have come to learn and not be taught. They [students] should seek guidance, but learn themselves’. The VC confessed that there was need for better educational environment, because, ‘learning is no longer prized in [this] society,’ and, ‘there could be more objectivity in education’. How true.

Since General Ziaul Haq’s time, our students have been raised on lies. Those who lie to their children should know that, when confronted with even a morsel of truth, their moral and intellectual edifice, howsoever deceptively raised, collapses like a house of cards. Ideological lies, the radical ones or the funded ones, are a hundred times more poisonous than social lies. Objectivity in education is a splendid agenda for education.

Unfortunately, words, like pretty faces, can be deceptive. What do we indeed mean by objectivity? Can what is happening in the Department of English Literature at PU be called a function of objectivity? Shouldn’t elements with private retrogressive political objectives be collard by the VC? Does ‘objectivity’ mean raping literature because it does not measure up to the size of someone’s beard? Objectivity in teaching literature means enabling a student to survey the world and then decide what he or she considers is literature and what is verbose. But if Zia could censor the Quaid’s speeches, why not make an attempt to cleanse literature of all those dirty images which so easily conjure up in vulgar minds.

Literature has always been a threat to established morals and manners. No wonder Plato sweated so much about it. Frankly, if I were asked, I would say that limits have to be drawn. Honest men should not be encouraged to rape locks. In olden days they were only used to lock doors and cupboards. How sick people have become these days in their endeavour to get into the Guinness Book of Records? But jokes aside, poetry in particular and literature in general is essentially subversive. It incites people to aspire to be taller than they are. It refrains from concealing. Revealing things and meanings can easily lead to obscenity and violence. Salome had to take off her seven veils to make the desired impression. In comparison, a poet can disrobe the universe with a line. What awesome power he commands!

Out with them, I say. But if for some inappropriate reason this can’t be done, it is recommended that words acknowledged more obscene or improper should at least be replaced by more appropriate ones. Words, for instance, like occupation should replace copulation; male chicken should replace the word cock in response to women being sometimes called hens. The letter F and C should also be removed from the alphabet because they enable hairy minds to form obscene words. It is proposed that all four-letter words should be converted into three- or five-letter words. It is amazing what mischief a pair of words can generate when coupled (oops!) together in a word. Moby Dick should definitely be renamed Moby Duck, which is more decent. Words such as free should be simply uprooted because it can encourage misdemeanours. For instance, free can become freedom, which can lead to freedom of expression, freedom of choice and even free sex, and what is worse, free vote.

Similarly, as a precaution, other words such as reason and thought, likely to corrupt the minds of our young should also be deleted. Thinking should be made a religious offence. Wedlock should be made illegal because locks, under no circumstances, should be allowed to wed. Moreover, the later half of the word comprising four letters L, O, C, K including the two most offensive letters, namely L for London and C for Cantonment, should be erased from the Islamic English Dictionary. Incidentally, the letters LOC do not mean Line out of Control. The letter K can be retained because it stands for King, as long as it doesn’t become King of Hearts. On second thoughts, O can also stay as long as it agrees to stand for Obedience. For the future it would appear more seemly if women could be persuaded to lay eggs and hatch them. What splendid omelettes could be made of the eggs, I cannot cease to wonder?

There is, however, one small irritant. Women might insist that men were better endowed to lay them. But apparently there is nothing to worry because I am told that the men who go about smearing images of women on hoardings are quite adept at doing the job.

Prof Ijaz-ul-Hassan is a painter, author and a political activist