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How important is unimportant?

Huzaima Bukhari

“Sometimes we can’t quite put our finger on something important because we’ve got our fingers wrapped around so many other things that are not important.”Craig D. Lounsbrough

An outstanding feature of the present day times is giving undue importance to things that were not considered very important until a few decades back. Some pertinent examples could be in relation to grammar and slang in language, pronunciation, usage of indecent terms, etiquettes, dressing style etc. While much emphasis was placed on such matters earlier, these days, movies and television plays represent the society in general that cares two hoots for these nuances. Driving on the M2 towards Islamabad, my friend and I were listening to a medley of old and new songs and although she happens to be half my age, I found that she not only enjoyed the old tunes but her dissection analysis about the melodies as well as films gave me immense food for thought which has compelled me to pen a few lines comparing the past with the modern.

As far as songs are concerned, the most important focus of attention in the yester years was the singers. This meant that the lyrics, the tune and the orchestra were all wrapped around the vocalists, who were supposed to have mastery over both music and rhythm. In other words, even if they sang without the accompaniment of a band, their tone would still contain all the elements of a musical instrument. If one carefully listens to the original sound tracks, one can easily observe that where the singer’s portion appears, it contains a rather flat and subdued rendition of the background tune, thus underscoring the artist’s talent. No wonder that those songs are still easily remembered, cherished and sung repeatedly on all occasions. They continue to provide a calming effect to any disturbed soul.

Another marked difference between the old and new is the use of percussion instruments. These constitute the heartbeat of songs. Earlier maestros kept them mostly in sync with the remaining orchestra in such a savvy manner that their presence, though adding a lively tinge, did not seem overbearing. Their use was in accordance with the requirements of a song—from emphasis in fast and dance numbers to light tempo in cooler songs but never accentuating beyond necessary. Play a song today, and you will be greeted with such a loud beat that your chest will actually feel the thumping clearly with vibration in every cell of your body—less music more metallic clanging. Drums, tablas, cymbals, tambourines, gongs etc when played solo, can hardly be termed music, other than demonstration of the player’s skill. Thus, most of the songs these days have a conspicuous and monotonous tempo around which some music and lyrics are added in the background. Consequently, quality of melody, voice and even singing skill, get compromised. To make matters worse, computer assisted tuners help to cover up flaws.

What a drastic transformation on the cultural front!

On the drama (stage, films and television) side, a few decades back this not only had a powerful storyline but the language and depiction of scenes were in keeping with moral and ethical values of the society. They contained characters from real life with which ordinary persons could easily equate. The problems shown therein were those faced by the public and were a means to seeking solutions that could be adopted to overcome them or at the most relate to them in a way that could give vent to their own feelings or reflect episodes from their own lives. Intense philosophical ideas were translated into simple and comprehensible words leaving indelible impressions on minds. Efforts were consciously made to avoid depicting negativity or propagating despicable occurrences capable of affecting young ones adversely. Even romantic scenes were filmed in symbolic overtones allowing the entire family to enjoy without getting unduly embarrassed.  

What has happened now? Following in the footsteps of neighbouring India, the once real life Pakistani dramas are being converted into soap operas that appear to make no sense at all. From emphasis on loud and vulgar dressing and make-up the events portrayed give the perception that family values have gone to docks because men and women both are openly engaged in extra-marital relationships, maids at home are dressed to kill, fathers/mothers/sisters/brothers-in-law are poised to deprive their own kith and kin of rights while refusing to submit to their obligations, women are shown as conniving and evil who do nothing but conspire to destroy their sisters and malign men, who seem to have no mind of their own and need to be ‘advised’ constantly, criminal activities go unchecked, supreme achievements include material gains, weird and unhealthy lifestyles, imitating high society, stress on petty objects, while character and knowledge have fallen in esteem, and worst of all, these cannot be watched comfortably in a family setting. As the insignificant grows in substance, it swallows up virtue and good values besides rendering the society shameless. 

One wonders what has happened to the state-run machinery that used to regulate quality and nature of content in the media. It is as if the government is no longer interested in the process of character building of the nation. Rather, it has forced the public to seek entertainment in verbal scuffles between politicians of opposing parties, who talk about nothing constructive other than hurling abuses and accusations against each other instead of providing some concrete solutions to the innumerable problems being faced by the people and continuous instances of administrative malfunctioning on the part of governmental agencies.

There is no check on the quality of production of plays, no stress on educational programmes or inter-school/college quiz competitions, documentaries etc. Gone are the days when intellectuals such as Obaidullah Baig, Quraish Pur (born Zulqarnain Qureshi), Laeeq Ahmed, Iftikhar Arif et al would enlighten people on important issues, when literary discussions were held on various books, both old and new, when renowned poets recited high standard verses, when classical singers and dancers delighted the audience with their exquisite performances. The modern day has witnessed rise of unimportant matters to such an extent that happiness and contentment have taken a back seat in people’s lives while tensions, diseases and mental illnesses have taken over in a way that has resulted in heavy expenditure on doctors and medicines.

During these difficult times, the media should be used as a conduit to boost up public morale, to give them lessons in peace, tolerance, compassion and love, to instill the much-needed national integration, to educate and to improve consciousness. These are essential elements even for the purpose of establishing true democracy which relies totally on the quality of the populace. In the words of Mehmet Murat-ildan, a Turkish writer: “If you keep giving importance to unimportant things, you can never achieve important things.”


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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