IT was hiding in the bathroom, big in size, black in colour and a ghost in nature — or perhaps, far more likely, it was none of those things, or maybe nothing at all. The outbreak of mass hysteria among the women workers of a garment factory that led to a quasi-emergency at Karachi’s largest state-run hospital on Monday morning is an example of what can happen when credulousness meets the occult, perhaps, a growing trend on television. That the average Pakistani probably has long believed in the possibility of the occult — ghosts, black magic, possessions, exorcisms and many such things — is hardly news. What is more noteworthy is that private television and news channels are increasingly turning to such alleged phenonema in the endless ratings race, and in doing so are perhaps triggering a new wave of mass hysteria and panic as happened in the Karachi factory on Monday.
Where crime shows, faux raids by suitably indignant anchors exposing criminal activities or even just private behaviour they don’t approve of, and dramatic re-enactments of scandals and crimes were once a surefire ratings hit, perhaps the saturation coverage has led to viewers seeking the next new thing to whet their entertainment appetites: cue dabbling in the occult, with its tendency to simultaneously horrify, entertain and rivet. Would the farcical scenes at the Karachi factory, and later at the hospital, have taken place if TV shows had not begun to aggressively dabble in the coverage of the dark arts? Probably yes; after all, as doctors noted, society at large in the country remains fascinated by the supernatural. But television can always provide a helpful nudge, in the right or wrong direction, and surely there are more such incidents to come.