The Pakistani Renaissance

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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

illegal.

‘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

lives?

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

Pakistani.

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

social circle.

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.

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