of GT Road
Yeh Radio Pakistan hai
PBC has nearly stopped airing transmission on medium wave in the main stations of the country
By Alefia T. Hussain
The medium wave Pakistan Radio channels have fallen silent. Does this mean that the traditional radio we knew is dead? This issue came into view recently when the medium wave channels of Radio Pakistan underwent major changes: at a stroke, Radio Pakistan Karachi MW 828 kHz was switched off, the hours of Lahore's 630 kHz drastically reduced to the minimum (30 minutes, only to broadcast Punjabi Darbar), and because the spare parts of Khairpur's transmitter can't be found that too is switched off. Resultantly, most of the MW programmes in Karachi and Lahore have switched over to 5 KW powerful FM transmitters that cover the radius of 30 to 40 kilometres as opposed to MW that could reach people living even hundreds of kilometres away.
Out of the 31 MW transmitters across the country, 29 are operational of which "only 4 are fairly new, while the rest need replacement," says Director General Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) Murtaza Solangi. "Despite a lot of problems related to their age-old technology, we are running the 29 stations with great difficulty."
The transmitters, Solangi explains, "are obsolete. One of the operational transmitters, based on the analogue technology, is in Karachi. It was installed in 1948. The companies have stopped producing the spare parts of those transmitters. The age-old MW transmitters frequently break down. Quite frequently these transmitters need spare parts which are hard to find."
One naturally points fingers at the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation bosses for authoring the corporation's misfortunes because they probably spend too long whining about the state of affairs, rather than innovating. Could they have done more to save it? "PBC has submitted replacement plans for the obsolete MW transmitters. MW transmitters are at least 10 times more expensive than the FM transmitters. Last year, the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) allocated funds for the replacement of Muzaffarabad, Multan and Hyderabad transmitters as well as the establishment of new MW stations in Chaman, Parachinar and Gwadar. But due to financial crunch no money was released for the projects," says Solangi.
So, once again it boils down to money matters. "PBC is not a commercial undertaking but a national service provider and it can't survive without the massive financial support of the government," he says, adding that the PSDP funds are released on quarterly basis, "The year started in June. We have yet to get the first release for the new year."
Here one is reminded of the radio license fees that used to be collected by the Pakistan Post Office for PBC till some time ago, which during the last government of Nawaz Sharif got abolished. "Unlike PTV, which collects around Rs. 2.5 billion from the public through electricity bills, PBC today gets nothing from the public for running the stations from Gilgit to Karachi", complains Solangi.
One fact is that medium wave no longer plays the central part in our urban lives -- and particularly young people's lives -- that it has done in the past. Dramas, current affairs, music (now our public radio dare not air Indian hits) has declined in quality; it stands nowhere near the standard of the 60s or 70s when the likes of Sadat Hasan Manto, Shaukat Thanvi, Mirza Adeeb, Sufi Tabassum, Nasir Kazmi and the melodies of Nur Jehan, Farida Khannum, Mehdi Hasan and many more filled the airwaves. Comperes such as Yasmeen Tahir, announcers Mustafa Ali Hamdani were regulars. Today Radio Pakistan does not mean as much.
"PBC has no other options but to adopt new technology," says Arif Waqar, a senior producer at the BBC Urdu Service. "We are living in an age of such a ruthless competition that we can either progress or die. There is no standstill in the media which Radio Pakistan has been so used to for decades."
Medium wave travels straight to the target area and is less susceptible to atmospheric noise. But it cannot cover long distances like short wave. While a SW signal can come directly to us from Europe or America, a MW signal cannot. We need several boosters on its path. On the lowest end of the spectrum is FM signal. If SW can go thousands of miles away from its originating point, MW can travel for hundreds of miles, and FM cannot go beyond 25 miles. On the plus side, however, FM has the clearest reception and can register the minutest variation in sound.
Arif Waqar adds a political aspect, "when the media was fully controlled by the government, they needed SW and MW along with all the boosters, to centrally control the public opinion. Now in a radically changed scenario, with dozens of private channels at work, Radio Pakistan has lost the monopoly over air waves, and is no more interested in a technology of 'remote public control'."
For him, FM and DAB (Digital Audio Broadcast) are the order of the day. He maintains that the new generation is not ready to compromise on the sound quality, and for them, the SW and MW are already obsolete.
True. The new FM radio -- of speech and music -- is blaring in cars. Predominantly commercial in nature, boasting of a state of the art technology, voice quality far superior to anything we've heard before, this crop of radio stations is challenging our traditional radio listening. The typical FM listener is probably a fellow dressed in low-cut jeans, a skin tight shirt and spiky hair. Not the traditional listener in the far off village, tilling the fields from sun up to sun down -- because he can simply not catch the waves. And this is a major FM folly.
A Lahore-based ex-producer who conducted a programme on agriculture seemed terribly upset with the decision of PBC to close down the network over night. "We were not informed ahead of the closure. We were told one fine morning that the transmission has stopped. It shocked us," he says.
He admits that the sound quality of MW transmission was bad and the quality of the programme had also gown down. "Before, say 20 years ago, the producer went to the farmers, discussed agriculture issues with them and then designed the programme based on the feedback they got from the fields. Now, in the recent years, due to the lack of resources, the administration discontinued this practice and instead invited people from the agriculture department to the studio to hold discussions. As a result, the programme got removed from ground reality. The farmer could not associate with the issues, and felt that the suggestions were not worthy of listening. Basically, the programme lost its feel."
He says, the feedback from the field that they used to receive in form of numerous letters reduced.
Another blow to the programme, the producer adds, was the shift over from MW to FM. "The programmer that focuses on farmers and their related concerns will not have a listenership in Lahore or Muridke. It has to reach the far off areas -- the target audience. And that's not what the programme is achieving."
This brings us to the advantages of a public domain MW radio station. As Adnan Rehmat, Media Analyst and Country Director Internews, pointed out in another article written by the scribe that appeared in the Shehr section of TNS on August 30, 2009, that "a state-run radio attempts to reach out to the larger audiences and addresses a wider variety of issues, such as farming, trading, health and more that may not be commercially viable for a local station. Basically, to educate segments on issues that find little commercial appeal but serve a critical role in addressing major information gaps."
Rehmat believes that if broadcasts have been ceased or restricted, it should only be on the paucity of listening audience.
According to the Gallup survey conducted on the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation in July 2007, 39 percent of radio listeners tune in to radio. Of which 91 percent listeners tune to Radio Pakistan and only 7 percent tune to other stations. The study says radio is more popular in rural areas where it has 25 percent audience compared with 16 percent in the urban areas. The obvious reason is non-excess to other mode of information like electronic media.
Obviously MW has a future. The government has to do more to save it. It must invest in technology. Though, frankly, we may lament the death of the glory days – whether the 60 or the 70s -- but more investment in the medium may spark a new life. And FM, in the meanwhile, can tag along. It's about supporting new ideas as well as holding on to the old classical cannons.
"Art is a public good as well as a cultural expression"
Curator, writer and art entrepreneur, Hammad Nasar is the founding partner of Asal Partners Ltd, a London-based advisory firm. He also co-founded Green Cardamom, a non-profit organisation promoting young artists from South Asia and the Middle East. Born in Lahore, he received his early education from Karachi Grammar School and graduated from St. Patrick High School. Art, however, is not Hammad's first field of study. He was initially trained as a chartered accountant with KPMG in London and holds MBA from IMD International in Switzerland. He calls this "leading a private life" doing banking and writing film reviews. During his training as a chartered accountant, he was studying art history in the evenings. It was eventually in 2001 that he did his postgraduate in Art History from Goldsmiths College, London.
Hammad's thesis is one of the highlights of his artistic experience. The project was on the idea of collaborative work of six artists on twelve works. Each artist did two pieces on wasli and then sent the paintings by courier to the other five artists, who applied a layer of imagery, marks, or other processes. Solo works by six artists provided comparisons between individual and collective efforts. It became a catalogue essay for a major exhibition called 'Karkhana' which toured the US.
On his recent trip to Pakistan, The News on Sunday got a chance to talk to him on art, curatorship and Pakistani artists. Excerpts of the interview follow:
By Naila Inayat
The News on Sunday: Would you term 'Karkhana' as the turning point of your life?
Hammad Nasar: 'Karkhana' was a big step for me. When we took it to tour the US it was a great thrill and Imran Qureshi, who teaches at the NCA, originally conceived the exhibition project. That exhibition took place at Rochdale, a small town in the UK. It had no budget, not even a catalogue. The idea was to document it in a book. Very quickly we discovered that with six unknown artists in the big-bad-world, nobody is interested in financing a book-project.
We managed to find some of the great scholars from all over the world to write on the book. We pitched the project to three museums and all of them agreed. The exhibition was covered twice by The New York Times.
When Yale University did an all-day seminar looking at Arts and Politics using this project, it taught me the value of giving voice to art. It is, as I learnt, much more than something to hang on the wall -- it is a public good, as well as a cultural expression like poetry or writing. It allows you to get into areas where words fill us.
TNS: What was the idea behind Green Cardamom?
HN: Based in London we were very fed up of what passed as international here. It revolved around Europe and America; very Atlantic-Ocean-focused. We wanted to see what international art world would look like if it came from a different ocean. So if you keep Indian Ocean as the centre and define the world, we wanted to see how it looked like at least in the world of art. Two us are Pakistanis, Nada Raza and myself, and our third curator Laila Fakhir is Iranian. That's the natural bias that we have -- a Pakistani-centric view of the world.
The idea is to provide a platform whereby the few artists that we work with closely are able to produce work and showcase it all over the world, and also where we can develop curatorial projects.
TNS: What is your criterion of choosing a piece here and abroad? Does it vary?
HN: No it doesn't vary at all. We have been largely working internationally, and for the last two to three years we have started doing exhibitions more in Pakistan. Now we are committed at doing two shows a year at VM gallery in Karachi and one show in Lahore starting from next year again in a public space like NCA. The idea is not to pander to different audiences but to create knowledge and engagement, include more people who don't come otherwise, thinking it's not for them.
As far as selecting a piece is concerned we work like a team. We have our own personal tastes and then we sit around a table and discuss. I can only speak for myself. For me what shows great craft and skill is interesting and it doesn't have to be miniature or sculpture. Either it's conceptually interesting or it's corky -- look at the world in a different way so it pushes you in a psychological place.
TNS: Do you agree that too much commercialism has seeped into art?
HN: There is no art without money and this has always been true. The great joys of Mughal painting came with the fact that the Mughals had a great amount of money. In those days, you didn't measure each other by the size of the army but by the size of the library and the number of illuminated manuscripts in it. Michelangelo was commissioned by the Pope to make David; he didn't work in some romantic place saying this is my God-given inspiration and I'll create it. That level of patronage is not there any more, especially not in Pakistan. The state is certainly not the patron here.
I think the claim that there was a time in the world where art and money had no connection is a myth. I am a student of art history and I have never come across such a time. Centres of the art world have shifted following a pattern. Now New York is the centre of the art world not because it has the best artists but because it has the biggest market. Now if the biggest market shifts to somewhere between Bombay and Shanghai, the art world will also shift. It becomes a problem when the artists are influenced by it to a sufficient exteny where they start producing with the market. That has certainly happened in China and in India and, to some extent, in Pakistan.
The problem is not excess money it is the lack of money.
TNS: Without contradicting your point, you think it is possible for an artist to create something good, with the intention of selling it?
HN: This is a question not a lot of artists ask themselves. The going-in position is that art is about self expression and when you have something to say, you say it and where that self expression meets with commerce it is valued. A poet wants his poetry to be published and read in mehfils; same is true for the artist. When you don't have any mehfils and only 'shops' how would you circulate it. I think that is the challenge that artists in Pakistan particularly face i.e. how do you have an art practice that is critical and somehow will also sustain you. So this is a natural challenge. I am not an artist but from what I see things that are made with an intention of being sold or made-on-order are rarely inspirational. But I think this awareness will spread gradually especially if you want curatorial practice to thrive in a place where there are no museums.
TNS: You have been showing Pakistani art abroad for almost six years now. Does Pakistani art have a niche market there?
HN: There isn't one answer to that and there isn't a single market. There are markets – one market is about buying Sadequain, Jameel Naqsh and Guljee and that is largely the Pakistani and, to some extent, the Indian diaspora. But the younger generation of the diaspora is getting tired of the so-called old masters and are looking for younger expressions. Apart from the diaspora, I think there is an international market that is always looking for new things and that's the way the market functions. In this they are less interested in where it is coming from and more interested in what it says and how it says it. And in this people like Rashid Rana, Hamra Abbas, Bani Abidi, Imran Qureshi, Ayesha Khalid, Ayaz Jhokio, Mohammad Ali Talpur, Ali Kazim are having shows all over the world. There are public institutions all over the world willing to invest in Pakistani art because they know these artists have something to say.
The younger generation of artists also now know that by being based in Lahore or Karachi you can actually make an international career unlike earlier times when you had to leave the country.
TNS: Why should a foreigner buyer go for Pakistani art?
HN: We largely sell to gora buyer. Our biggest buyers are Europeans, Americans, Brits followed by Middle Eastern and then Indians. As a category of buyers, probably our smallest category is Pakistani and that's partly because there is not enough knowledge and appreciation of contemporary art. Also, because Pakistanis always believe they can buy it cheaper in Pakistan. But the local connection is very important because the art is coming out of here.
TNS: What do you have to say a would-be curator?
HN: Curating is an apprenticeship-based profession, in my view. Curating courses act no more than finishing schools. They get you the contact, teach you the language, teach you how to behave but I don't think they teach you to curate. It's a creative discipline. The decision of making a connection between two works of art is a creative decision which will affect both the works; done well it enhances both, done badly it kills both. What I have learnt is not from the class rooms but from working on the exhibitions. I have been privileged to work with great curators like Jonathan Watkins in UK and believe the best way to learn is by doing it.
The best curators in the world are artists. You need to have a background, an understanding and gradually you will learn to make connections. Curator is not a consultant. Curating is a craft that takes time to learn without shortcuts and, eventually, is a labour of love.
Ataullah Essakhelvi's voice was heard on khokhas, in trucks, in drawing rooms, in boys hostels -- because he was what was to be Pakistani
By Sarwat Ali
Very little has been written on Ataullah Essakhelvi though he has been, if not the most popular vocalist in the country, surely one of the most popular. These days recovering from a heart attack he is reported to have given up singing as well.
For more than 30 years his dirge-like voice was heard on all the khokhas and truck-stands across the country. If one was travelling in a bus or in a truck then Essakhelvi's voice was an essential necessary part of the journey like the sound of the running engine.
He was so popular with the transport industry that many started calling him the superstar of GT Road. His popularity on the road truly reflected the trans-linguistic and trans-cultural nature of his music.
For he was not only popular with a certain section of the population -- he was at one time hugely popular with the urban audiences who suddenly found a voice and a language in which they could discover their selves. In the earlier phase of his singing career, let us say in the decade of the 1970s and 1980s, Ataullah made inroads into the rooms, cars' stereos and early video recordings, played and replayed endlessly on the home VCRs.
This was the era before Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan took the music world by storm with his mixture of traditional qawwalis, modern lyrics and contemporary rhythmic beats. His popularity in the country was primarily among the urban audiences, a follow up to his popularity in the West. Nusrat's popularity took the familiar route from West to East while that of Ataullah Essakhelvi was primarily homespun. He had become so popular that his voice could not be ignored or avoided. He pushed himself into the listening chambers of those who in the urban areas thought themselves to be arbiters of musical taste.
Despite his popularity and across the board appeal he was never taken seriously. Nor was his voice and contribution really acknowledged. He was popular and his omniscience could not be disputed, yet it was dismissed where music was concerned. He was stymied for not singing the real thing. His was a contemporary gloss or veneer on the purely traditional and therefore inauthentic, second hand or just a mixed-up produce.
Usually in Punjab it was the kalam of the sufis that was sung in various forms and listened to with great deal of veneration but folk music unless it was a dastaan-like Saiful Malook or Heer was not taken seriously. He was part of frivolity, fun and games and lower level entertainment rather than serious music. The bolis, mahiyas, tappas, dohras were just relished for that instant listening pleasure along with the geet, but musically not rated very high.
He was particularly popular among the urban population, the younger people, and he was again very popular with that large segment of the population that lived neither in the cities nor in the rural areas -- the population that migrated from the villages and had not found a proper home in the city. He lived on the fringes. He was popular among the English-medium types who were desperate to get the local taste and were mortified that due to their upbringing and education they had missed out on the indigenous. He was popular among those wanting to establish their links with traditional culture for political purposes as for they thought that by aligning the political with the populist they could make greater inroads among the masses.
So there were a whole lot of reasons why he became popular and according to some became the authentic voice of the new emerging culture of Pakistan. What people had taken to be culture in the past was either urban and sophisticated with heartstrings attached -- nostalgically -- to the Delhi and Lucknow or the traditional culture that took them to the boondocks of village life under the greenwood tree. Those who looked for satisfaction in the Western cultural expression wondered what actually their culture was , surrounded by many who lived in the past religiously inspired and wired existence with sneaking glances into the taboo land of culture.
Here was one man who brought the refurbished culture to those living in the borderland of the cities and villages. His lyrics and musical form were not difficult to understand -- they were not rarefied in the poetical idiom of the classics nor were the musical form intricate and difficult to maintain in purity. It was a polyglot, a mixture, a half integrated everything that spoke and expressed itself in a language that was emerging as the lingua franca of the country.
His mahiyas were not what traditional mahiyas were and his tappas were not traditional tappas --the girl was not from the village -- she was an urban lass with crumbs of education, dreaming of love and upwardly mobility. The boy not from the mystical tradition reaching out to the spiritual through the flesh. It was all functional without this coming in his way of success, glamour and modernity.
He followed no raag in purity, he followed no form faithfully. His language was not poetical enough -- his was an amalgamated stuff. He was able to connect to the fused mass -- his voice heard on the khokhas, in the trucks, in the drawing rooms, in the boys hostels because he was what was to be Pakistani, a whole lot of things, just short of being well cut and polished.
The case of the two boys under the age of twelve who are on trial for attacking and torturing two other children has shocked the UK. These two brothers robbed and tortured their victims, they sexually abused them and burnt them with cigarette butts. One of the victims was found wandering around in a traumatised state with blood on his face and a cut on his arm down to the bone; the other victim was found unconscious and almost dead in a ravine and after being hospitalised had to be on a ventilator for two days.
The case has shocked because of the ferocity and viciousness of the attack and because the attackers were children torturing other children. It has also evoked memories of yet another case which stunned Britain: the 1993 incident in which a two year old toddler named Jamie Bulger was led away from a shopping centre by two ten year olds and then beaten and killed. The Bulger case stunned the public: the child killers' anonymity was even waived by the judge and their names -- Jon Venables and Robert Thompson -- became, for a rather hysterical section of the population, synonymous with evil.
Incidents like this are not just shocking because of the level of violence involved, they are deeply disturbing because they raise all sorts of uncomfortable questions about ourselves and the society we live in. After the initial horror and sensationalism surrounding the Bulger case died down, a few journalists and commentators examined the lives of the ten year old murderers and there was at least an attempt to understand how these children had become capable of such violence. Not surprisingly, they were from disturbed backgrounds, had dysfunctional families and had been exposed to abuse and violence from an early age. Not surprisingly, they were neglected and unloved.
These two children were sent to jail and they were there for eight years. On their release they were given new identities and the relevant authorities attempted to help them rebuild their young lives. Nothing wrong with that I would say, so I was rather startled when I received an e-mail petition forwarded by a very dear friend of mine declaring that it was an outrage that the boys had been granted life long anonymity by the Court, and that they should not be allowed to make new lives for themselves in Australia. I was a little surprised to receive this from my friend because she herself was such compassionate sort that in our (now very distant) school days she could not even bring herself to crush an ant or insect, but would instead scoop the creature up on a piece of paper and set it free outside.
I was further startled to be forwarded the same petition by my 12-year-old daughter, so I took the opportunity to discuss this matter of crime and punishment and of justice and society with her. She was initially indignant that the evil child murderers were being allowed anonymity and life, but I pointed out to her that: these boys were children at the time of the crime; that they had served their punishment in prison; that they might have tried to reform their outlook and benefit from the guidance given to them in prison; that they should have a chance of making something out of their lives. She remained slightly emotional about the fact that the victim had been a two year old toddler, but at least she got a different perspective.
The whole question of crime and punishment is really a difficult one. If somebody has committed a crime does he or she deserve a chance of redemption? Should they be given the opportunity to repent and reform their lives? Is the function of prison to inflict living hell upon its inmates or is its purpose to give those inmates a chance to be useful and productive and to provide them with a level of moral guidance and practical education? In the case of the Jamie Bulger killers I was also shocked by the petition because it seemed to have such a vigilante tone and I did not understand what alternative they were advocating. Did they want to lock the youngsters up in jail for ever? Or did they want to throw them to a lynch mob? And what purpose would that have served the victim's family, or society, or humanity?
An increasing number of people I know seem to think the death penalty is okay and 'making an example' of people is fine. But the real danger of this is that we do not address the causes of the problem but simply deal with it in a way that actually perpetuates the very violent behaviour that we then punish. The true challenge is to examine the context that has produced perpetrators of violence: it is not always psychopaths who commit violent crimes, sometimes it is just vulnerable individuals in the wrong place at the wrong time, influenced by the wrong people… We need to take responsibility as communities and societies, to make sure that such neglect and cruelty does not grip the children growing up around us.
Britain has managed to lift its children out of the dismal poverty that is portrayed so vividly in Dickensian fiction, and it continues to spend thousands of pounds on each childhood, yet there is still a long way to go in terms of controlling violence. Life does tend to imitate life as much as it imitates art, and at least we should be vigilant about the portrayal and glamorisation of violence in our lives, and how we ourselves react to violence. Human beings generally, but children especially, deserve a chance -- even children who are violent and difficult. They should not be allowed to terrorise others but they should also not be written off. Just locking them up and throwing away the key is neither humane nor constructive.