Of Names and Symbols
By Shoaib Hashmi

I 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"! Touche!
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 replaced by?


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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