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Enjoying 'Aaloo-Andey' with the people

October 18, 2011

Just when one thought Pakistani pop music had eaten itself and choked on its own self-indulgences, comes a band called the ‘Beyghairat Brigade’ (the Dishonour Brigade).

The name says it all: A tongue-in-cheek take on what is called the ‘ghairat brigade’ (honour brigade), the band sarcastically embraces a title that the peddlers of ‘qaumi ghairat’ (national honour) spit at those who disagree with the brigade’s conspiratorial rants and an almost xenophobic brand of ‘patriotism.’

In the wee hours of the October 17, the Beyghairat Brigade (BB) uploaded a video of a song called ‘Aloo-Andey’ (Potatoes & Eggs) on YouTube.

It was not just another ‘funny song’ about a guy talking about his mom cooking some potatoes and eggs. Nor was it a ditty toeing the usual line taken by the many political spoof shows and social parody songs that have been doing the rounds of popular TV news channels in Pakistan in the last decade or so.

For years one has come to expect everyone from talk show hosts, to their ‘expert guests’ all the way to mainstream pop stars and actors to (as if on cue) roll-out a now much worn-out and self-comforting narrative about the awkward political and social ills besieging Pakistan.

This is how it goes: Politicians are corrupt, America is evil, Indians want to break-up Pakistan, acts of terrorism are either being carried out by US/Indian/Israeli agents or by Pakistanis trained by these agents, or by non-Muslims posing as Muslims, or even if they are Muslims they are not Pakistani and if they are really Pakistanis then they are .. errm ... not circumcised.

In other words, the whole wide world (except Saudi Arabia and maybe China) wants to destroy Islam (and thus Pakistan, which is the ‘bastion of Islam’).

As ‘serious’ TV talk shows and drawing rooms ring with discussions revolving around such insightful understanding of the ‘new world order’ and as the oh-so-clever social and political satirists on TV base their uproarious creations on these same musings, BB’s ‘Aaloo-Andey’ simply digs out the questions being asked by those who are so endearingly being called ‘liberal fascists’ and beyghairat by the self-appointed keepers of Pakistan’s honour.

The mainstream English press, especially Dawn, The Friday Times and Express Tribune, have continued to pose these questions.

What has so far been contemplated by ‘liberal fascists’ in English, suddenly emerges in the shape of a highly catchy and jangly little tune fronted by lyrics sung in ordinary everyday Punjabi!

Things can’t get more interesting than this because the Punjab province (apart from the war torn Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), has faced not only rapid Islamic and sectarian radicalisation in the last 15 years or so, but it now has perhaps one of Pakistan’s most conservative urban middle and lower middle-classes.

The young men in BB are all based in Punjab’s capital, Lahore and boast basic middle-class backgrounds.

After watching the video on YouTube, I was thrilled that DawnNews actually played it in its 6 and 9 o’clock news bulletins, and today as it ran the song again I was lucky to be in a place where groups of working-class men (drivers and gardeners) were also present.

Many of them let out a tired smile when the song kicked in with BB’s singer, in typical ‘Lahore Punjabi’, complaining that he didn’t want to have potatoes and/with eggs that his mom had cooked.

The tired smiles then grew a bit wider when the singer goes on to say that he instead wants chicken and roti (bread) but then wonders why the price of roti had suddenly risen.

This question, of course, finally managed to get working men’s more-than-a-passing–attention.

The roti reference then automatically led to the dilemma of the provincial government of the Punjab led by the PML-N (headed by Mian Nawaz Sharif and Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif).

Though both the brothers now have expensive hair pieces planted on their heads, they had precious little hair some six years ago.

This is why BB refers to them as ‘ganjay’ (baldies), who (after struggling to run a smooth administration in Punjab) were hanging on kites and Imran Khan (the Sharif’s new nemesis in Punjab), is looking towards the Chief Justice/Chief of Army (to intervene and make way for new elections).

One needs to understand well the current political discourse in Pakistan to fully appreciate the lyrics that are largely studded with allusions.

For example, when BB suggests that Imran is looking towards the ‘chief’ (as a bright light), the band means the CJP and the army chief but more so the army chief because the band alludes to the chief getting an extension (like the one the army chief got last year).

By now the people I was witnessing the video with couldn’t keep their eyes off the screen. Why? Simple. Here was a bunch of raw, early twenty-somethings poking fun at the military chief!

It’s easy making fun of politicians (because most of them do not bite back), but the military’s top brass has been one of the sacred cows that the media cannot touch, let alone mock. And let’s face it, there are many within the media who’ve been more loyal than the king in this context.

So, after lamenting the apathetic and confused state of the Sharifs, and winking at Imran Khan’s desire to see the ‘chief’ come in and light up Khan’s political career, BB then get to what are perhaps the most loaded and boldest lyrics of the whole song.

In a clean, unadulterated sweep that lasts not more than ten seconds, BB wonders about a country where killers like Mumtaz Qadri (who assassinated former Punjab governor Salman Taseer after accusing him of committing blasphemy) are treated as royals; and where Ajmal Kasab (the Pakistani terrorist who took part in the attack in Mumbai) is a hero; and where mullahs escape wearing a woman’s burqa (like the head cleric of the Lal Masjid); and how no-one ever mentions men like the Nobel-Prize winning Pakistani scientist Abdul Salam (just because he belonged to the outlawed Ahmadi sect).

I had no clue what was going on in the heads of the men I was watching the video with. They just kept staring at the TV screen, smiling away.

What the song was suggesting are simple, rational observations. Yes, but in a charged and tense country like Pakistan the rational can also mean anything from blasphemy to treason to being labeled as US/Indian/Zionist agent, and, of course, bayghairat!

These lyrics are the heart of the song. A heart that every Pakistani knows beats loudly but very few, if none at all (especially in the populist media), have the guts to follow, or worse, would rather like to rip out and replace with an artificial ticker they call patriotism/ghairat/et al.

As the song moves on, the singer can’t help but comment on yet another of our favorite excuses: the notorious Blackwater.

In a lyric that instead of absolving Blackwater’s many reported misdeeds in the world, BB instead suggests that we shouldn’t be worrying about Blackwater because the (suicide/terrorist) attacks taking place in our mosques, schools, shrines and markets are coming from within.

Again a rational observation, but a fact only a ‘liberal fascist’ is prepared to face?

There is so much more here that doesn’t get said by the singer. These appear as placards in the video and some of them are not only hilarious, but spot-on: ‘Nawaz Sharif bye, bye, papa Kiyani no likey you’ (alluding to the schism between the once pro-military Nawaz and the army); ‘Free Judiciary = Hanged PPP’ (the PPP regime’s problems with the judiciary that wants to see it brought to book for corruption); ‘Tehreek-i-Insaaf = A Good Looking Jamat-i-Islami’ (or how Imran Khan is just a more good-looking fundamentalist); ‘Your money + My pocket = We’re still enemies’ (a taunt at Pakistan army posing to be anti-America after pocketing millions of dollars worth of aid from the US); ‘Mullah + Military = Ziaul Yuckee’ (the alliance between religious parties and the military that began strengthening during the dictatorship of Ziaul Haq).

Then halfway through the video, as if preempting what a majority of the ‘ghiarat brigade’ would be decrying about this video, one of the band members is seen holding up a placard with the words, ‘This video is sponsored by Zionists.’ However, the parody in this respect turns darker still when at the end, the singer pulls up a placard with the words ‘If you want a bullet through my head, like this video,’ scribbled on it.

Hope not, but this song and video is certainly an apparently unassuming bolt of consciousness that, within a span of three minutes, has rendered all the conspiracy theorists, ‘analysts,’ talk-show hosts and robotic, contrary ‘patriotic’ show-biz exhibitionists as not only meaningless masters of chauvinist rhetoric, but apologists of lies.

As for the men who had gone through these three minutes with me, they were smiling widely by the end of the song.

Sure, it was more a smile of wonder than of complete acknowledgment, but in a country that is being torturously burdened by matters of faith, identity and its own history, a smile of wonder in this regard is good enough.

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.