A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a small marquee on the side of the road by the roundabout outside Lahore’s Wapda Town. The sign on the marquee said in Urdu, “Come join us in our battle to eradicate obscenity and nudity.” Now these two nouns (fahashi-o-oryani in Urdu and Persian) have been flogged to near-death in Pakistan since the auspicious day of July 5, 1977. And since that day, I have been on the lookout to join in the fun and games. Sadly, with a singular lack of success.
It was in the pre-dawn darkness that I read the sign and the roads were deserted. I, naturally, presumed fahashi-o-oryani were not due to begin until sometime later and duly returned at a more reasonable hour. Agog, I peeked into the marquee, holding on to my eyeballs to keep them from popping out of their sockets. But nothing. The tent was empty and forlorn.
There was no tamasha to my great disappointment. The inimitable Ghalib was similarly let down for he once said, “Dekhnay hum bhi gae, peh tamasha na hua” (I, too, went to watch but the show didn’t happen). His case seems to be very like mine because now, since Ralph Russell’s seminal work on the poet’s life, we know everything about the man: He was a libertine.
The Wapda Town show was a short one. By nightfall, the marquee was gone. It was clear who had won the battle against obscenity and nudity. Having said that, the forces of evil choose battlegrounds of their own liking. Within days, a letter appeared in all English language dailies saying that some park in Islamabad was no longer a ‘family park’; that ‘immoral’ young couples visiting the park openly engaged in all sorts of unmentionable activities. Being immoral, and young to boot, we can expect little else from them, can we?
How I wished this new fahashi-o- oryani show were taking place in Lahore to save me the tedious four hour journey to the capital. But wishes so far have not turned into horses, or else I would have ridden a first-class Arab steed to Islamabad.
This takes me back to the time when a famous political mullah’s brother became the minister for tourism of this sorry land. With nary a clue about the trade, he concerned himself with fahashi-o-oryani, fulminating daily against its excess in the country until I began to believe that it was us – and not good old Bangkok – that was the biggest bonking house of the world.
National dailies, especially Urdu ones that thrive on the business of fahashi-o-oryani, carried his outpourings twice weekly, sometimes more often. He called down fire and brimstone on the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) motels for being nothing but houses of harlotry, declaring that in his tenure he was resolved to cleanse them. I don’t know what the mullah sahib did, but the result is very clear: The PTDC stands on the brink of bankruptcy, currently up to an eighteen-month default in payment of staff salaries. What’s more, unable to run the motels, the institution is leasing them out.
Obviously, tourism in Pakistan was running on fahashi-o-oryani. Once the mullah eradicated that evil, tourism died on its own.
Rewind to poor me again. Why on earth have I always missed the fun and games? And, there is hardly a PTDC motel that I have not stayed in! Since I cannot see the tamasha, I must be going blind. QED.
PS: There is a television (misre)presenter who also authors Urdu columns to bandy about all manner of lies about our history to an ignorant audience. He, too, is overly concerned with fahashi-o-oryani. His parents – sagacious folks – knew what their offspring was going to be one day. They very wisely named him after oryani.