Syed Bakhtiyar Kazmi
A little while ago, sitting in front of the idiot box, a particular commercial caught the eye, primarily because of the ingenuity of the advertisers. A combination of directly pitching to the conscious mind while all the time tactfully seducing the unconscious mind, the entire colour scheme of the background was tastefully focused on product branding. Frankly, the product itself was crappy enough to have needed great advertisers. More on how good advertisers make us buy stuff that we don’t need, or overlook superior products because the crappy one was advertised more heavily some other time.
Irrespective of the hazards of advertising, have you noticed how cola advertisements are focused on either red or blue depending upon the brand? Branding is all about creating a combination of a unique design and colours to leave a lasting image of the product in the mind of consumers. Flags are how you brand nations.
However, flags play a much larger role than company logos and brands. Flags, to venture a guess, were probably initially invented in ancient times to identify one side’s forces in a battlefield, and from there have evolved into symbols of national pride and patriotism. Oldies like me might still recall war movies from our generation where the last soldier would keep the flag up till his last breadth; the capture of the opponent’s flag was a turning point in battle, super emotional. Flags are history, flags are sacrifices made for independence, flags are what a nation stands for, flags are freedom, the future, and above all, flags are unity as they unify nations.
Remember how the Parcham-e-Sitarah-o-Hilal galvanises the nation on 14th August every year? Flags are sold everywhere; almost every house hoists a flag and cars are decorated with flags. And what a great feeling is that! Recall the days when the national television would start and end its broadcasts with the national anthem and the flag majestically flying in a strong wind. Remember the days when everything Pakistan was distinctively recognised via the dark green and white colours and/or a star and crescent.
But before we get to where we are with our national flag today, a symbol of national unity, a few interesting observations about Americans, a nation claiming to be a democracy and that too the oldest. Dear readers, have you noticed how the star and stripes are boldly spread behind every American leader or presidential candidate? All across an electoral campaign, the one prominent flag is their national flag. Ever pay attention to how on their news channels everything is red, blue and white, and how their flags and colours keep popping up out of nowhere rather frequently. In their country the flag is everywhere, even in front of residences on normal days! They respect their flag and are obsessed with the stars and stripes; it unifies them as a nation.
On the other hand, in Pakistan times have surely changed. Except for 14th August, you can only see the flag on top of a government building, and even that practice is not ubiquitous. Worse, some institutions hoist their own flags side by side with the national flag, perhaps in the apparent belief that their own colours provide a better distinction. Even on government vehicles the practice is to have two flags as if another flag has the right to fly side by side with the Parcham-e-Sitarah-o-Hilal. Why can’t the government legislate that the national flag will only fly alone? In this case perhaps emulating the countries in the Middle East is not a bad idea; even commercial entities are mandated by law to display the national flag prominently at all their places of business. The net effect is playing on the unconscious mind of the nation, reinforcing pride and patriotism.
And what about our news channels, how patriotic are they? Except for the national news channel, which unfortunately now seems to have decided to follow the bandwagon, all other channels are obsessed with blue, reds, yellows and white; why? All their talk show sets are in colour schemes other than dark green and white. None of the channels at any time in the day play the national anthem and show the flag; in fact, it is an odd occurrence to see the national flag on any channel. A friend had a suggestion that perhaps PEMRA should mandate that the national flag with the anthem will feature at least once during prime time on all channels, and that the dark green and white should prominently feature in the background in all cases. A great suggestion.
Remember the good old days when our sports team was proudly referred to as the “Green Shirts?” It was bad enough that the cricket team started donning a rather not-so-striking light green, but now we seem to be moving to blue track suits and grey and black casuals; who is approving these colours? Not long ago, the national airline was known by the flag on the tail of each and every plane; they seem to now think colourful patterns are better. Other domestic airlines are again obsessed with blues and yellows. Why can’t the Pakistan Cricket Board and all other sports authorities stick to the dark green and white? And why can’t the Civil Aviation Authority mandate that all domestic airlines by default have to adopt dark green and white in their branding?
But all put together, it is perhaps democracy that has dealt a fatal blow to the national flag and unity. Every party is obsessed with displaying its own party flag at gatherings, on their vehicles, their offices and even their clothes, with the national flag taking a backseat. And when did red become a colour of choice anyway? Do we even know today what it denotes and why should it be there in the first place? We are no more one under the parcham (flag); unfortunately, we are divided under party flags and the obvious result is extreme political polarisation, which evidentially is terrible for national unity.
The above list is not exhaustive; in general, we are on a trajectory that leads to our next generation having difficulty recognising the national flag, especially given the advent of movies from the hostile eastern neighbour. I would not go as far as suggesting a flag pole in every house, but what is the harm in hoisting the Pakistani flag in every park, in every market and at every public location?