Is there reason enough to be optimistic or should we remain mired in pessimism?
hat is going to be the state or progression of the arts in the coming year can best be predicted by a jotshi or a najumi but the indications so far are that the coming year will be violent and turbulent.
Going by a correlation between the objective reality and the arts, it can be said that it will be reflective of the restlessness and lack of fulfilment that has been surging over the recent years.
The world is far from peaceful and the war in Ukraine, the first since World War II in Europe, portends changes as the conflict prolongs. The region, considered safe for the last 70 odd years, is now hedging itself for change, both territorial and political. The world is still to fully recover from the Covid-19 menace and the news of new variants tends to shake the confidence. In reaction, two approaches have emerged, one of fear and the other of defiance. The long battle, though is resulting in fatigue and a listlessness that is very close to resignation - the patent reaction to scourges in the pact that morphed into superstition and ritual with quasi-religious overtones.
In Pakistan, there is anything but certainty. The political turmoil is getting louder and the economic situation more desperate. The crises are being aggravated by the rising tide of violence. Most had thought, simplistically, that the violence was a thing of the past and sounded bugles of victory parades. Those in know of the intellectual confusion about the legitimacy of violence realised, however, that it will raise its head again and possibly with more detrimental consequences. The justification of violence for a good cause with religious colouration is fraught with danger. But the idealisation and the glamour associated with it have found more legitimising mention in our literature and the arts. There is danger in this approach as violence can become unhinged from its cause and claim autonomy. The threat is becoming increasingly apparent.
Is there reason enough to be optimistic or should we remain mired in pessimism with the usual rant about things going from bad to worse? In the field of epidemic and pestilence, is there some light?
In Pakistan, governments make announcements about granting relief to the artistes and for the promotion of the arts. With every change of government, the pledge is renewed and makes headlines but actually it is no more than old wine in new bottles.
The climate controversy and the opposing stances taken by the developed countries and the developing world can be seen as fraught with either inaction or inadequate measures.
One has reason to sense that the world is becoming more intolerant of other people’s views in the name of religion, sect, race and ideology and some of our most cherished freedoms are under threat. The freedom of expression, the guarantor of a healthy society, is accosted by fears, prejudices and oversensitivity. India, an acclaimed bastion of democracy in the post-colonial era, is seen to be becoming a coliseum of these opposing views. It is becoming narrow and stingy towards its diversity. Even comedy is under the sword as it is seen as laughter at the expense of another.
The television became more respectable in the last three years as the films disappeared from the public spaces due to the fear of the contagion. Now cinema is facing greater resistance from people’s habit than the fear of the Covid-19 itself. Even the traditional television is facing a challenge – as beaming is being replaced by streaming. The technological development first created a niche; it is now enveloping the mainstream. The medium and the habits that it generates condition the expression and it is difficult to say whether television and films will regain the glory of their recent past or become obsolete.
In Pakistan, governments make announcements about granting relief to the artistes and for the promotion of the arts. With every change of government, the pledge is renewed and makes headlines. Actually it is no more than old wine in new bottles. A few changes in the punctuation marks and the addition of an extra digit do not change the thrust of the argument, the promise or intention.
But the real challenges will be from the restrictions on the freedoms that are death knell for the arts. The areas that are “no go” are becoming bigger in the country and the expression is either cutting its coat according to the cloth or seeking safety in flight to other climes or by just keeping mum.
The writer is a culturecritic based in Lahore.