I wish the first episode of “Coke Studio” had been better. Not just better, the best to date. I wish that first episode had featured the triumphant return of the Benjamin Sisters, singing with Arif Lohar, Abida Parveen, the ghost of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and a reunited Junoon. That every song was such a masterful fusion of rock-pop-qawwali-ghazal-bhangra and bebop, that rainbows erupted from our ears and we evolved to achieve the power of flight. Then, maybe, we would have been distracted from the wretchedness of the last few weeks. Instead, we got an episode that just divided us further as a nation. Viewers, already traumatised by the constant assaults on their sense of safety, which have forced them to confront their utter helplessness, lashed out at one another over the quality of Komal Rizvi’s vocals with misdirected anger. Another episode as divisive as this, and I am worried that fans and critics will form gangs and start target-killing one another.
You cannot blame them for the intensity of opinion though. In a month that has seen us suffer unique forms of humiliation on a national and global scale, Rohail Hyatt’s creative output has become our only potential source of pride healing. We seek dignity in his ability to pair obscure folk musicians with YouTube sensations. Everyone wants an episode of “Coke Studio” to be so universally magnificent that it is all we can think about, talk about and care for. Anything less and we will use it as a receptacle for our rage. After all, where else can we dump the fury we feel. Poor Rohail will wish he, too, could retreat behind the safety of faceless independent commissions, the fog of conspiracy spouting analysts and Rehman Malik’s afro. It is the same place that the military leadership is hiding in the aftermath of the tragic assault on PNS Mehran.
The only detail we can all seem to agree on is that the assault took place. Beyond that, everything else is personalised fiction. The terrorists might as well have been living Rorschach Blots, each one an embodiment of our individual paranoia. Since the attack, we have been subjected to theories so creative that the truth, whatever it may be, can only be disappointing. The terrorists were RAW agents. They were CIA. They were cast members of the Star Wars films. They were uncircumcised (overheard from someone who claimed to know the cousin of the brother of the doctor performing the autopsy). TV channels rushed to fill the gaps in their knowledge with whatever conspiratorial nonsense their talk-show hosts and panels of ‘expert’ analysts could spew with diarrhoeic urgency. Even the authorities created muddled confusion, not being able to settle on the number of attackers. There were four terrorists. There were six terrorists. There were 12 terrorists and a foreign-trained partridge in a Star of David-shaped pear tree. Apparently, announcing that an unconfirmed number of terrorists, most likely linked to the TTP who have already taken credit for the assault, infiltrated the naval base with expertise and suspected insider support, is too difficult a statement to articulate. To expect an apology for the lack of precautions taken and a full and thorough investigation whose findings will be made public, that is fantasy.
Instead, the ISI will continue to trot out any number of professional obfuscation specialists dressed like the president of the local chapter of the Che Guevera Reenactment Society, while the military leadership will continue to believe in the myth of the Useful Extremist. If you attempt to suggest that maybe it’s time for civilian oversight of the top brass who are incapable of tying their own shoelaces without shooting innocents in the face and creating monsters that go boom in the night, they will glower menacingly and start muttering about coups.
All I’m saying is, the next episode of “Coke Studio” better be spectacular.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 26th, 2011.