KARACHI: It is around August 14 that we see the most of the Pakistan flag, and not just fluttering but also decorated in lights. Flags of all shapes and sizes are being sold at every nook and corner of every street and road these days apart from other memorabilia associated with the occasion. There are also green and white lights put up on tall buildings, most with a small star and crescent in the middle with a white margin. Then you also see flag bunting, not just decorating balcony railings but poles as well as trees.
When it rains, which for some strange reason always happens on or around Independence Day, the little paper flags fall off the strings to scatter here and there on the ground. Unfortunately, people step on them or they come under the wheels of moving vehicles, something which may be seen as the desecration of the Pakistan flag.
Still, there is one person who says that it is not really like that. He is Sheikh Nisar Ahmed Parchumwala, also known as Baba-i-Parchum. “The little bunting flags I wouldn’t even consider as Pakistan flags. So when they are not even considered to be Pakistan flags, the question of desecration doesn’t even arise,” he says.
‘The govt needs to have the official booklet reprinted so that people don’t print wrong flags’
He explains further by pointing out that the little flags are just decorated paper with the wrong colour, wrong proportions and with things such as ‘Jashn-i-Azadi Mubarak’ printed on them. A while back I also saw little flags with the cartoon character of Mickey Mouse printed on them,” he laughs shaking his head. “Actually, printing even the image of the Quaid-i-Azam, Allama Iqbal or Minar-i-Pakistan on the flag is wrong.”
According to the gentleman the green in the Pakistan flag is mongia green and no other, and the white which represents the minorities in Pakistan is brilliant white and not cream, off-white or silver. And the flag happens to have proper proportions with the size of the margin and the star and crescent all provided in an official booklet published by the Ministry of Interior many years ago.
Parchumwala, who owns VIP Flags, part of a garment factory that has a huge section dedicated to making flags only, says that he had specially acquired the booklet when he learned of it. “But I could only get one copy as it was already out of print 35 years ago when I came into the business. The government needs to have it reprinted so that people don’t print wrong flags. I have even seen flags on sale here with the crescent and star upside-down,” he says disapprovingly.
The flag-maker also ran a movement for which he even went to court for a decree about not tampering with the official flag design. Meanwhile, he is the one responsible for the mass production of the printed Pakistan flags. “Earlier, we used to spend much time and effort in stitching flags where the white pieces were stitched over the green. While such flags are still made by us, they are rather expensive and used mostly on official occasions to be raised on a string on the flagpole. The inexpensive printed variety is what people fly on their balconies and rooftops and on their cars and bikes,” he explains the difference.
He is also particular about not painting the margin and the star and crescent on the green fabric, which are also available in the market. Those only have the flag on one side of the fabric and when you fold them and unfurl them again you can see cracks forming on the paint. “We print the flags, we don’t paint them,” he says. “We also don’t produce bunting,” he adds though he says that they do, however, make small cloth or plastic flags attached to white plastic sticks with golden finial.
“We make plenty of little flags that one can hold in one’s hands to wave around. These we sell as well as donate to schools in lower-income areas. Just yesterday we gave away some 1,500 little flags to three schools,” he says.
The flag producer’s love for the national flag and his country also made him create a Guinness World Record for making the biggest flag in the country in 2004. The huge, 173,400 square feet flag was spread out at the National Stadium in Karachi. And when you call up the gentleman you can also hear the national anthem playing into your ear until he answers the phone.
Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2019