There is a lot of absurdity going on in Pakistani media, particularly with the electronic version. Considered largely vibrant, free and willing to hold powerful circles accountable, it is however not indicative of an ethnically and religiously diverse, culturally and linguistically plural Pakistan. All it tells is a single story, and single stories tend to be dangerous.
Where it could become a unifying force for an already-fragmented society, it works as a means to further augment fissures of strife among different strata of Pakistan society.
Electronic media in Pakistan remained Balochistan-blind for more than a decade, ignoring issues that confronted the country’s largest province that now have turned into troubling genies hard to put back in the bottle. But, all of a sudden, when a U.S. lawmaker introduced a concurrent resolution in the U.S. Congress after holding a public Congressional hearing, Pakistani news channels had overnight met a messiah who had cured their Balochistan-blindness.
With their new-founded eyesight towards Balochistan’s issues, they have been doing more harm than good to help solve the conflict. One of such misadventures is Wasu Aur Main, a reality TV show featuring a renowned pop singer, Shehzad Roy, and Wasu, a Baloch poet and folk singer employed in the police department in Jafarabad district of Balochistan.
Roy finds Wasu after someone had shot and posted a video of the latter on YouTube, showing him eulogizing Pakistan’s forefathers and telling Pakistan’s brief history of political turmoil and military takeovers in his poetic Urdu. Subsequently, Roy goes all the way to Jafarabad and casts him in one of his music videos.
Then comes the reality TV show.
Wasu is a man of wit, a funny one. On the other, he is naïve like many of his contemporaries in Pakistani society, fed with misinformation by the same media that ignore real issues and showcase a fabricated history.
In the show, Wasu requests a visit to Bangladesh, erstwhile East Pakistan that broke up from Pakistan in 1971.
Once in Bangladesh, Wasu tries to find flaws in its society rather than appreciating the country’s advancements in various fields of life (Bangladesh still remains a developing, third-world country, still it has come a long way, leaving Pakistan far behind in many field of life).
In various parts of the show, the host seems to make fun of this common man’s follies, without realizing that had Wasu been provided the same education as he with a kind of environment he was brought up, the latter probably would have done wonders.
In one of the shows, Wasu proudly tells Shehzad Roy the history of his people, but Roy behaves as if he doesn’t have the slightest of regards for this common man and his people. Instead of highlighting the plight of poor people in Pakistan, the supposed theme of the reality show, one can easily see the difference between Pakistani elite and the common people, and the kinds of worlds both live in. Even the title of the show is questionable as I find it derogatory, implying that Wasu could not stand equal to the host of the show who comes from a privileged segment of Pakistani society.
Sadly, most of the people in rest of Pakistan have a bad repute when it comes to their knowledge about Baloch and Balochistan. Last year, when a reporter from BBC’s Urdu service took to streets of Lahore and asked people if they could name a single city or a major town in Balochistan, responses from Lahorites naught but defiant shrugs.
This was epitome of ignorance in a country where people religiously follow news and happenings that take place across the country.
In a country where 60 percent of the population cannot name a city or a town of the largest province, adventures (read misadventures) such as the reality TV show Wasu Aur Main can be highly risky. They not only lead to further misinformation and erred perceptions but help further fragment a country that has failed to find a single national identity in the past sixty-five years.
I had a chat with a Baloch friend of mine recently, who happens to work in the development sector in the province. That means he is among those ‘privileged’ people who travel to Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore for seminars, trainings and workshops related to their work.
His revelations were startling and indicative of a pre-conceived image of a Baloch, similar to that of Wasu’s. For people participating in these events from different parts of the country, a good-looking man in a three-piece suit, or even in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, was not synonymous with a Baloch, my friend tells me. In their view, Balochistan is a big chunk of wilderness where some aliens, probably with goofy noses and groin-kissing beard, live with a culture of pre-historic times and are so ghettoized from the rest of the world that all they know is how to build a ‘teepee’ of their own and live in it for the rest of their lives.
My friend’s observations and experiences may not sound alien to readers who may have faced similar situations because of ill-conceived notions and perceptions about them.
In the backdrop of this all, Wasu Aur Main definitely forms wrong perceptions about Balochs among rest of Pakistanis who, for instance, refer to the former as Balochi, not knowing that Balochi is the language Baloch people speak.
Wasu, doubtless, does represent a large segment of Baloch population, and even is a more literate and free-thinking version of folks that surround him in his native Jafarabad district who unfortunately have been denied access to education, and thus modernity, by the state. But the way Wasu’s ignorance and naivety are presented as that of a people is definitely debatable.