In a unique, if bizarre, effort to project Pakistan’s positive image to the outside world, organisers of the Punjab Youth Festival invited a Guinness Records adjudicator in October 2012 to witness a three-day attempt by Pakistanis to create or improve different world records. We are not just great at fighting within and without, we are also world beaters in some strange, though little known and even less valuable, kinesthetics, is seemingly what the event was meant to showcase. Over 42,000 people, for instance, assembled in Lahore’s National Hockey Stadium and collectively sang Pakistan’s national anthem, breaking the previous record of 12,000 people having done the same thing in India some time ago. What turned the exercise rather frivolous was the type of some records reset — such as making most number of flat-breads, or wearing a cricket-kit in shortest time possible, or laying down a chess board in the quickest time possible. While these require a certain level of skill, or deftness, they don’t necessarily show that Pakistan has become an athletic powerhouse or that there is a lot of serious institutionalised sporting activity taking place in the country. Most records were either feats of organisational skills –24,000 people carrying colour cards and standing in an orderly manner to make Pakistan’s flag –or display of individual talents — 34 frog-leap jumps in 30 seconds. In a rare proof of a lot of individual talent having been brought together at the same place, the participants managed to create the world record for creating most number of world records in a single day.
While the participants of the festival, the breakers of records and interested onlookers may pat themselves on the back for being involved in, and standing witnesses to, something unprecedented in Pakistan, or even the entire world, the inane nature of the achievements at the festival lends it the air of an exercise in providing the people a fake high at a time when almost everything about the country looks dark and gloomy. This may be a good idea but the cynics are left wondering if all the millions of rupees spent on it from the public exchequer could have been better spent on, say, providing missing sporting facilities at public schools.
And when the attention is not distracted by the less than ordinary records recreated in their dozens and the huge expenditure to make that happen, eyebrows are raised over the political quotient of the event. Though promoted as a healthy outlet for youth of Punjab, or of Lahore in particular, the festival was more than just a sporting gala. Hamza Shahbaz, the young parliamentarian from the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PMLN), and his father Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, both made more than ceremonial appearances, giving charged political speeches as records were being broken left right and centre in front of them. Tongues are waging that it was a political stunt put together by the PMLN to counter the rising appeal of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) among the Punjab youth.
Even if we can ignore politics for a moment, few will remember next year that Pakistan broke the record of breaking records in 2012.
Editor’s note: Readers can find more about Herald’s Annual list of Contenders and Pretenders here.