Of Names and
By Shoaib Hashmi
don't know if you are old enough to remember an
actor named Stewart Granger -- his real name was
James Stewart but he changed it to avoid confusion
with the other one -- and for some time he was the
epitome of heroic swashbuckling; in 'Scaramouch'
and in 'Beau Brummell'. And in the last he floored
us all in a scene in which he meets up with a young
and ravishing Elizabeth Taylor, plucks her busy
earrings off her earlobes and says, "Never
embellish anything which is already perfect"!
It may be just the clever script, but it is also
a clever sentiment, and even the Americans have
in the more basic form, "If it ain't broken,
don't mend it." Just as other people have it
in adages akin to "Let well enough alone, and
don't muck around with success!"
And yet it is a sentiment which to us Punjabis is
namby-pamby and sissified and quite alien. If we
see a chance, we believe in 'Dequorating' things
whether you like it or not, and let me tell you
where to look for evidence.
Sidewalk stalls and passing bicycles and mo-bikes
have been bright with national flags these past
days. It was Independence Week and a bit of flag-waving
was much the order. Now as flags go, I have always
felt that ours is one of the most distinctive. I
mean most people have simple colored stripes going
up and down or side to side, ever since the French
invented the 'Tricolour' in the Revolution. Or they
have crosses going here and there, with maybe a
few stars sprinkled in.
We have this bright swath of green, and the crescent
and star, and occasionally we get into a tizzy and
lose our shirts and make a fuss over whether it
is the waning or waxing crescent, but it quickly
blows over. But there is also this wide strip of
pristine white running down one side, and to us
pristine white means temptation. An empty white
space must be ‘dequorated’!
These past few years we had it easy; we had just
made our 'bumb' go ‘boomb’, and we had
fired off all these guided missiles, and rooftops
in town were full of tin replicas of the missiles,
and they were easy to draw, and most of the flags
and buntings on sale were ‘dequorated’
with pictures of them. Now we have fallen in love
with the intended targets of the missiles and they
are no longer in fashion. And so have you noticed
what we are using to fill up the empty white space
on our national flags? Pictures of Mickey Mouse!
As if we were not having enough trouble with pictures
elsewhere. There is a sweet little furor brewing
about the election symbols allotted to people for
the Local Bodies Elections. Actually a bit of skulduggery
with election symbols is a hallowed tradition. One
oft- used symbol -- because it was easy to draw
on wall-chalkings -- was the spinning top, or 'Latoo'.
Then someone woke to its connotations and they started
shunning it, and replacing it with the 'Lota'. A
certain politician of yore, with a habit of changing
parties as need arose acquired the symbol as a permanent
part of his name, and the symbol acquired his political
habits and fell out of use.
The People's Party began with the sword as its symbol,
because the first name of the founder 'Zulfikaar'
is also the name of the legendary sword of Hazrat
Ali (RA). Incidentally the original is in the 'Topkapi'
Museum in Istanbul, and the sight of it is guaranteed
to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand
on end. Along came Mr. Ziaul Haq and, with the kind
of brazen shamelessness he had made peculiarly his
own, he simply excluded the sword from among the
approved election symbols.
This time round it is more peculiar than ever. A
lot of candidates have made a fuss about the symbols
given to them on the vague grounds that even their
families find them funny and rib them! One can see
why the 'Manjee' or traditional wooden bedstead
might cause titters, although one would also have
thought that the renown attached to the thing by
the song 'Manjee Kithhay Daawaan' would be an asset.
Others meantime have made bigger fuss over the symbol
of the mango! Now that is very, very odd. It is
the prince of fruits, and the stuff of poetry, and
in many decades I have never been aware that the
name had any suggestive connotations; and the thought
does occur, if they or their friends do find the
mango unacceptable, what fruit would they like it