Just about any book to go under the ink includes a reference to the
European Renaissance in one context or the other. Be it about trash-
talking parrots or Michael Jackson’s playground encounters, the great
body of western literature would have you believing that everything
except the Big Bang came in result of the Renaissance – or at least has
a explicit association to it.
The Renaissance is the vivid story of how a group of intellects across
Western Europe turned towards the wisdom of classical (mostly
Greek) literature, science and art after more than a millennium of
ignorance and superstition – and changed society, as we know it.
Think of scientists seated in underground bunkers rote learning
Aristotle’s Physics quite like matriculate students in Faisalabad
before an English grammar exam. Or picture Venetians carving
delicate nude statues while feasting on the last few Dodo birds. That
was pretty much the Renaissance.
Yes, we Asians are quite spiteful of this great age of progress in the
arts, science and society. Firstly, not all said and done about the
Rennaisance holds true. When a great deal of Europe was barbequing
school teachers for stammering in their recital of the Bible, a few
schools of Muslim philosophers were considerably less dogmatic in
their approach to life in general. As well known a philosopher as Ibn
Sina wrote comprehensive essays on medicine, agnosticism and rap
music many centuries prior to the European Renaissance.
But despite this, the fact remains that the west eventually moved
towards the progress of the 20 th century, we remained at a standstill
and the Chinese kept reproducing.
During the 1940’s, every other middle class American owned a Ford
T-Model. Pakistan had an average of two donkeys per capita. During
the 60’s, Marylin Monroe was singing off-key birthday greetings for
the President on national television. The only female ditties we heard
were on refurbished radios as Noor Jehan’s war songs struggled for
radio waves as Indian soldiers cooked breakfast by the Ravi. As
powerfully exemplified just above, we have fallen far behind.
But fear not: our time to catch up with the rest of mankind is already
upon us. Whereas the European Age of Enlightenment took a few
hundred years to really make an impact, it is my humble desire that
with honest, unselfish patriotism; and with serious, powerful mass
media outlets such as Akhbar-e- Jehan at our disposal, we may be able
to significantly accelerate the spread of this movement.
But before the uninformed PTI member in you gets overzealous
without any knowledge of what it is they are rooting for, let’s analyze
this great resurgence of the Oriental mind.
In a little less than half a decade, young men in Pakistan are
becoming funnier, more informed; the girls are resolutely more
assured, bolder and confident. It would be convenient to attribute
this phenomenon with a scholarly exploration of the socio-political
landscape, the economic conditions of the country or the rising of a
few, inspiring writers; but unfortunately, the root cause here is not
an orthodox one.
What this movement stems from is to be found in the wonderful
word of Internet piracy; or more specifically, torrents. Do not tear
away the magazine just yet. This may seem like a Speilberg climax,
with no dinosaur carcasses after nearly two hours of T-rex running
around like Shoaib Akhtar in the fifth over of a spell, but this is a
serious research paper here.
It is apparent that from a strictly academic perspective, this would
not make for a very impressive introductory paragraph: ‘In the
beginning of 2010’s, the people of Pakistan looked to escape decades
of hypocrisy and ignorance. There had long been an age of
indifference, where enlightenment was to be seen in superstition and
unproved theories. But with the learned use of torrents, the creative
minds of the country opened up to what lay beyond their immediate
surrounding.’ Really does not seem like an excerpt from a Will
Durrant book. But as Pikachu’s ascendancy to North Korea’s
premiership after his father’s death should prove to us, history does
not always have to have to sound politically correct.
Torrents have allowed us to obtain a tremendous array of once
inaccessible movies, music, e-books and Miley Cyrus screensavers. It
is a world of increasing knowledge and awareness, which as made
with a price tag but later made free for all; not for any noble cause,
but because there happen to be a lot of poor people in third world
countries who can’t afford $9.95 Blue Ray discs of trailer-trash films
such as Olympus Has Fallen – and don’t really care if it’s immoral or
‘Torrents are immoral, illegal and a wrong in society.’
‘Really? Well, a minute ago my father just told me he is getting
divorce with my mother and plans on marrying his high school
sweetheart – who happens to be a guy.’
A changing world calls for changing ethical standards.
Just as Europeans far excelled Muslim philosophers in the use of
Ancient Greek science and knowledge, Pakistan has far
overshadowed the rest of the world in the use of torrents. We are fast
consuming this sea of knowledge and wisdom. We are in a race with
the rest of the world – and by the looks of it, we are far ahead.
To best understand how this movement came to be, we must look at
the people most responsible for it, the Francis Bacon’s of the Torrent
Age. There are the data-mongers; the people who download file upon
file of movies, television specials, series and books. They sell their
father’s police service medals in order to buy hefty hard disks. They
stack up gigabytes of files almost as passionately as the US Army does
on spam cans during a war. They are the library keepers of this great
sea of data. They inspire, influence and instigate others to follow in
this unending pursuit of digital-based knowledge. An Islamic saying
goes, ‘Seek knowledge even if thou must go to China’. Yes, they will
add every imaginable Chinese film to their collection, even the one in
which a dog gets caught in the manhole and spends the rest of his
days playing Chess with a fire breathing Dragon.
Then there are the ‘seasoners’, members of the fraternity of seasons.
They will watch each and every season, old and new, in isolated
weekend marathons (or in groups of three if one of them has just had
a breakup). I have personally witnessed 17-year olds in Mughulpura
finishing complete seasons of Frasier and House of Cards. The analogy
of that is a Jew gyrating to Nusrat during Passover.
And then you must only look towards your Facebook to see how
imperative a role these ‘seasons’ play in the lives of youngsters
around you. Unlike the U.S. (where episodes are seen on a weekly
basis or through TiVo; or some other recording module if a little
catching up needs to be done), we tend to swallow them up over one
weekend in our bid to finish every season American and Nicaraguan
broadcasters can throw at us. Research has shown that the bucket list
for the majority of upper-middle class youth consists of finishing
each episode that has hit the airwaves. It starts from I Love Lucy to
the latest spinoff of Sabrina the Teenage Witch (The Vampire Diaries).
These young men and women, who just ten years ago would have
been watching Veena Malik host a musical Top Ten countdown show
(in which the number 7 song was often left out) are now busy
watching a college professor cook up some meth and sell it around
town. Images of Uncle Sargam’s nose are being superseded by
incestuous conflicts on Game of Thrones. Torrents have opened up
the world right in front of their laptop screen.
Then there are the IMDB250’ers (inspired from the 49’ers due to
writer’s block). The sole objective of these visionaries is to watch the
entire library of 250 movies that happens to make it to the IMDB’s
Top 250 Films list. These 15-22 year olds, young men and women,
will watch through it all: from countless images of male genetilia (No,
your innocent daughter is not an exception to this process of
becoming Munni/Sheila) to films from countries they didn’t know
existed. Nothing bewilders one more than the sight of a 250’er posses
no acquaintance with themes such as existentialism, and still
suffocates through countless Godard films just for the sake of moving
one up on this esteemed list.
So now that we have met the visionaries, what effect have these
people and this torrent movement in general had on our unassuming
When I was growing up, which was not too far back, moving images
were most comfortably displayed on television screens, and
knowledge was as far as 50 search terms away while Yahoo! and the
little runt on Lycos coughed away things you were not looking for. A
search for ‘Best Protein Powder’ usually came up with a link to the
personal homepage of Patrick the Poodle-lover. The only evil we
partook was downloading one-off singles on Napster after a thirty-
minute wait. It was here that the playlist was truly born, musical
tastes diversified; but this was as far as it went for the average
The benefits to the Torrent Age are not just as deep as sarcasm
allows us. The spread of art and knowledge in any form will does
have true positive aspects. Films such as Zinda Bhaag are well-timed
confirmation of this. For good filmmakers to be born, there needs to a
social milieu where films can be taken seriously as an art; in which
people can freely watch, discuss and dissect other films and learn
from them. There needs be open access to the original sources of art
in the form of films, books and music (and not just their trailers,
‘making-of’ and sneak previews as found on Youtube.) Torrents fill in
that gap in a very convenient way.
A few years back, there usually was the one rich kid who proudly
showcased his collection of 500 DVDs in his father’s movie shelf. But
unfortunately for him, his movie savvy-ness was of little worth in his
Rich kid: ‘Say, what do you guys think about Woody Allen’s
Manhattan? I think the black and white cinematography really added
to the ambience of the film.’
Friend: ‘I think Stallone was awesome in Rambo. He has big muscles.’
Friend 2: ‘I think Arnold was more muscular in Predator.’
Friend 3: ‘Is Woody Allen muscular?’
But thankfully, most of us have progressed beyond this stage.
Fortunately or otherwise, torrents have been largely responsible of
doing this on a mass scale. Whether, we like it or not, our lives and
near society are being shaped by torrents every day. Everyone is on to
it. It is the summertime goal of every pencil-box carrying girl or boy
to finish the iMDB’s 250 Films. People are less envious of their
friends’ looks, bank accounts and automobiles, and more of how
many seasons they have watched over the weekend.
Reawakening to Aristotle’s writings led to a steeplechase in
uncovering the mysteries of the natural world. Now, the race is for
who can live through the most Tarkovsky films? Who can listen to the
most albums from a genre of which they don’t have the wildest clue
about? Who can discover the secrets of life fastest by learning
palmistry through scanned PDF files? Of this golden age,
pretentiousness is the driving force; knowledge and awareness are
the addeds bonus.