Welcome to Pavlovia –Farrukh Khan Pitafi

When the court had ruled only to block one website, PTA’s decision to block a number of others was uncalled for and appeared symptomatic of a ‘holier than the Pope’ attitude

Rome was not burnt in one day. Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, however, devised the means to burn the impact of conditioning in the minds of dogs and men alike. He would serve a meal to the dogs, and simultaneously ring bells. Then one day he only rang the bells without any food and discovered that the dogs were salivating. Hence started the epoch of Pavlovian conditioning. In his documentary work Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore showed how the new alerts issued by the Department of Homeland Security were being employed to condition the average American citizen.

In Pakistan, however, we do not need any homeland security department to condition us all. The pervasive official ineptness, coupled with the omnipresent clout of the fanatical terrorists does it for us already. We, the citizens of the naïve republic, are being toilet trained all over again. You head to the loo and open the tap only to find there is no water. To know if there will be any supply of water, from the tap or the sky, you try to switch on the telly, yet the woe of all woes, there is no electricity. Take out a bucket to get water from somewhere else, and approach the car and you realise it is CNG load shedding today. This is what was going on with the digestive system of the working class before the corps of elders decided to take some affirmative action and gathered in an air-conditioned chamber in Islamabad to decide how to save electricity. After a prolonged and convivial meeting, an edict was passed that you will no more be allowed to marry after dark, or if you insist on doing that, you will do it within three hours. Likewise, shops will not be allowed to open after eight at night.

I am sure the new austerity drive will bear fruit one day, let us hope not in a too distant future. Till then, I think, I will have to say goodbye to my sleep, as my phone rings in the dead of the night with calls from distraught paan and cigarette vendors being harassed by the police for showing the cheek of keeping their stalls open. Laws in Pakistan have the uncanny habit of being lost in translation. One day I am sure the same rule of closing shops at 8:00 pm will remain, without any serious interest in preserving electricity.

Terrorists and journalists alike — for in the new age journalists play a crucial role of spreading terror unleashed by the terrorists — are busy in warning us that we will be sent to the gods if we are not complacent. So much is their terror that the Khadim-e-Aala of Punjab had to remind the terrorists that Punjab is not their enemy. But for businesses there is hardly any difference between the terrorists and the Punjab police. If one will not ask them to shut down, the other will ensure that they are closed. But while you can condition people to complacence and servitude, how would you condition them to go mad?

Isaac Asimov’s science fiction Nightfall comes to mind immediately. A world quite similar to ours, with the only exception that instead of one sun, it has five. That essentially means that there are no nights for millennia, save one when after thousands of years there is a unique solar eclipse. The inhabitants of this world, having hardly ever encountered darkness, have not invented electricity or any other lighting option. When the night falls, they go mad and burn everything down, bringing civilisation to an end.

So someone, somewhere, wants us to go mad. And I do not think that it is such an impossible goal any more. Dwellers of such extreme summers already live on the brink of insanity. All you have to do is to walk into the explosives dump and light a fuse. Hence the government, the courts, the fundamentalists, the services sector and the media, all are sitting in the very dump, occupying some important nook or corner, trying to light a fuse. We are game already.

Recently, I did have some taste of this very madness. When the Lahore Hight Court ruled to ban Facebook, within a day Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) banned YouTube, Wikipedia and from time to time other sites, including Google. Being a firm believer in the virtue of scientific and technical advancement, I was livid. I am never a great fan of content insensitive to any faith, less so my own. However, I thought that prohibiting an entire nation from answering any incitement was not the solution. And when the court had ruled only to block one website, PTA’s decision to block a number of others was uncalled for and appeared symptomatic of a ‘holier than the Pope’ attitude. I did what I do best and immediately posted a number of blog posts against the decision. And then started an assault on my nerves. Just for defending my freedom of choice and my right to protest the assault on my faith, there was a torrent of hate messages declaring me a blasphemer and an infidel. I am still clueless why in this age of information explosion our fellow citizens cannot draw a distinction between acts of attacking a faith and challenging a ban that is meant to achieve nothing but to further ostracise Muslims and our country all over the world.

I could have understood the attitude of those who hate cultural diffusion and dialogue, but if I were expecting any rights groups or liberal intellectuals would come to our rescue, I was sadly mistaken. Perhaps a success of the prolonged war on terror is that everyone is weary and, in a characteristic symptom of the Stockholm syndrome, bonding with the assailant. Or perhaps everyone is fearful of a backlash. But somehow a sad script of the Pavlovian republic has been written. Who has written it, I would not know, but under the influence of my own madness, I want to meet and hug the scriptwriter, to thank him, with an explosive suicide belt strapped around my chest. Welcome hence to Pavlovia.

The writer is an independent columnist and a talk show host. He can be reached at farrukh.khan@pitafi.com



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