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August 8, 2016

Doraemon vs Doraemon

Opinion

August 8, 2016

A robotic cat named Doraemon is in the crosshairs of the PTI. The party wants the Japanese animation series, dubbed in Hindi, banned on Pakistani channels “because of its negative influence on our children”. The plot of the series revolves around Doraemon who has been sent by a boy from the 22nd century to improve the situation of his great-grandfather, Nobita, in order to mend the fortunes of his descendants.

I must confess that I have watched this animation for hundreds of hours because it used to be my daughter’s favourite show and it was forced upon me (alongside her favourite food).

The main objection raised in the resolution submitted by the PTI at the Punjab assembly pertains to the dubbed language. According to the resolution: “The language that is used in the cartoons is destroying our societal norms.” Coming from the PTI, known for using cultured language, this is a disarming argument.

The language used by the Indian entertainment media is more Urdu than Hindi. It marks a victory of a lingua franca over an artificial Sanskritised Hindi promoted by the Indian state. According to the Concise Encyclopaedia of Languages of the World: “Urdu and Hindi share a common grammatical system. They mainly differ in their writing systems, in their lexicon borrowed from Sanskrit or Persian and Arabic resources, and the minor aspects of syntax.” Even when considered two separate languages, Urdu and Hindi are closer than we like to admit.

While India has tried to Sanskritise Hindi vocabulary, Pakistan has made an effort to artificially introduce Arabic and Persian words into Urdu through its textbooks and official media. Both countries, however, have resisted the temptation to purify the two languages by purging ‘alien’ words. Turkey, under its language reforms undertaken in 1930s, expunged so many words of Arabic and Persian origin from its vocabulary that today’s Turks can’t read or understand the language that was used before that period. Luckily, a similar effort by Reza Shah of Iran to purify Persian did not succeed.

I have no ‘chinta’ that my daughter has picked words like ‘shakti’ from this cartoon serial because they have only enriched her vocabulary. We need to realise that we have stopped interacting with Persian and Arabic; we look down upon national languages and refuse to borrow words from them into Urdu, while Urdu does not absorb English words readily. As a result it is getting poorer by the day and we cannot close more doors upon it.

When the Indian foreign minister angrily reacted to our prime minister’s speech on Kashmir a couple of weeks ago, she said that Pakistan would not get Kashmir till “Qayamat”. Her parents, I am sure, have no need to worry that she has become a Pakistan sympathiser by using such Arabic words.

What our children and even our young men watch and read should worry us and all the content we get from the Indian entertainment industry is not benign. Take the example of Bollywood cinema. Most movies are adult grade and unsuitable for children, yet most Pakistani families watch them alongside small children. Our own television channels do not grade their programmes according to age and shows based on re-enactment of gory crimes are often aired in the early evening hours when children are glued to television sets.

One more worrying thing is the narrative of a love affair in a typical Hindi movie. The love affair at the centre of a Hindi movie often starts with the hero harassing the heroin. It is due to his persistent sexual harassment that the heroin finally falls in love with him. Any wonder then that Delhi is the sexual harassment capital of the world; and the problem is extremely serious in Pakistan as well.

While it would serve no purpose to ban Hindi movies, and there is not much that could be done to influence their content, we should at least try to teach our youth to consume entertainment, both local and foreign, more critically.

Children do not learn from animation alone. They also learn from textbooks. It has been argued by many experts that textbooks have an enduring influence on the minds of young students and our official textbooks are dripping with content full of violence and hate. The PTI government in KP has hardly taken any step to purge such material from textbooks and aim at teaching children the value of diversity, pluralism and peace.

Going back to Doraemon, his character seems to have some resemblance to our two leading politicians – Imran Khan and Mian Shahbaz Sharif – and I will explain why. Doraemon has a pocket from which he produces toys, medicines, and technology from the future. While Doraemon uses these gadgets to assist Nobita, they often cause more problems than they are meant to solve.

Insaf is the greatest gadget that the PTI takes out from its pocket to flaunt at every street corner. In the last three years, we have seen how this gadget has malfunctioned in the province ruled by the party. Here is one example taken from a news items that appeared last week. Nowshera and Swabi (home districts of powerful office holders) have been the largest recipients of government funds for the past three financial years running (2013-2016). These districts have received a total of Rs11.45 billion and Rs11.87bn respectively. In sharp contrast, Tank – counted amongst the poorest districts of the country – received a mere Rs1 billion during the same period.

Can social groups and geographical areas be excluded from the idea of justice? Should governments be allowed to steal money from poor areas before they spend it honestly on more developed regions? If I am from Tank, should I worry if the funds stolen from me are being spent judiciously and honestly in Nowshera and Swabi?

Khadam-e-Ala’s favourite gadget is development. However, this gadget fails to work out of Lahore’s municipal boundaries. One wonders why he chose to be a chief minister rather than taking the glorious post of the mayor of Lahore. According to an analysis of Punjab’s budget carried by this newspaper last week, 58 percent of the district-based development budget of the province has gone to only one district of the province, namely Lahore. The district that comes second on the list – Multan – has received 3 percent while Punjab’s poorest district, Rajanpur, has received a generous 0.72 percent.

According to one estimate, poverty in Lahore is 7 percent while it is 70 percent in Rajanpur. Should we blame the Almighty for this difference or make people like Shahbaz Sharif accountable? Aren’t Imran Khan and Shahbaz Sharif responsible for the deaths of patients in districts whose money has been stolen? Aren’t they accountable for the lack of education and poverty in those areas? It is such injustices that have shaken the foundations of this country, and torn it into two parts. A mansion in Banigala or a flat in Mayfair comes second.

I have only one question to ask from the mover of the resolutions: did Imran Khan watch Doraemon when he was young or did he watch it later – like me?

The writer is a social anthropologist and development professional.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @zaighamkhan