PTA - a correction
Last week, Pakistanis suffered some three minutes of unmitigated shock and awe. It occurred after the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) announced that it would not allow the mobile operators to carry text messages containing swear words.
After registering some initial outrage, however, the nation broke into uncontrollable euphoria. It had to do with the list of swear words that the PTA issued to go with their directive. The list, in case you haven’t seen it yet, is spread over two documents (Urdu, English) and it has been researched, compiled and prepared by the PTA — May God bless them.
Going through the list of 1,695-word list, one cannot help but appreciate the admirable step taken towards standardisation, dissemination and promotion of local swear words. In the history of the country, as far as I know, this is a first, and it should be welcomed as a step in the right direction. (Rumour is that PTA is preparing a textbook based on this list and may even start offering short diploma courses in Effective Communication Skills. It’s just a rumour, though.) Since I have read the list, let me make some quick observations and dispel some common misnomers about it.
If you read this list from start to finish, one thing would be immediately clear to you: there are hardly any imaginative or well-crafted cusses. That, to my mind, is the clearest indication of the well-meaning nature of this ban: it has been designed to impact the unimaginative lot, that is, those who have been responsible for the depletion and degradation of our nation’s rich heritage and have rendered so many of these robust words and phrases into clichés. For that reason, I feel confident that this ban would not affect most residents of Lahore, who almost never resort to the hackneyed and simple constructions that are listed in the PTA document, and instead prefer a complex formal mixture of curses. In that sense, the ban is a warning shot for the rest of the nation to up their game otherwise they will have no option but to hold their peace and watch others have all the fun — at least over text messages.
Many quarters, including the local and foreign media have reacted against the inclusion of (apparently) ‘innocent’ words in the ban, words like: flatulence, tongue, fairy, headlights, fingerfood, love pistol, deposit, etc. As the more perceptive readers may have guessed already, these words have been included by the PTA to illustrate, highlight and underscore the vast potentialities of ordinary objects and nouns. If you pause and look around — even if you are located in a dull spot like your writing desk slaving over a column you know nobody’s going to read — you will inevitably find at least three things that you could effectively deploy to offend somebody you wish to insult: pens, pencils, blades. If you are more imaginatively inclined, one could suggest other objects that could be used to swear, like talwar (which, quite amazingly, rhymes with shalwar), or heera (which rhymes with keera), or champoo (rhymes with bamboo), and so on. Indeed, if one is willing to put in the effort and go the length, there is nothing that’s beyond your reach — chairs, tables, cycle stands, toasters, tractors, parks, ducks, ponds, footpaths — not even words like ‘to’ or ‘and’ are off-limits.
All this brings us, via an unusual route I admit, to our weekly poem. Moniza Alvi is a British poet of Pakistani origin and is among the foremost voices in contemporary British poetry. Exquisite, spare, and always affecting, this is a poem from her 2008 collection, Europa. Go read.
The Sleeping Wound
By Moniza Alvi
Hush, do not waken
the sleeping wound.
It lies on its crimson pillow,
red against red.
The long wound in the afternoon.
The long wound in the evening.
no longer red,
it opens its eyes
at the most tentative kiss.
Bilal Tanweer is a writer and translator. He teaches creative writing at LUMS