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The wall, the advertisement and newspaper

February 14, 2013

-Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro.
-Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro.

The ‘chalo, chalo, Raiwind chalo’ or ‘chalo, chalo, Lahore chalo’ phase came much later. Previously, the walls across the country, synonymous with Greek Sirens, enticed one with advertisements for bringing back lost youth overnight and cures for baldness, whatever your means of transportation are. Some advertisements showed us dreams of love at our feet. Elsewhere, there were invitations to benefit from experiences of a 100-year-old Sanyasi Bawa or getting your luck overturned with help from a ‘paidaishi’ professor.

Times changed; with them; the diseases, their causes, remedies and those claiming to treat them. The public is deprived of access to both education and health which are the two tangents of society that the government should be responsible for. But it’s either busy fighting on various fronts or filling up their pockets. So it has begun to withdraw from its actual responsibilities, a process which is already complete. Subsequently, the public is left at the disposal of quacks, hakims, other spiritual healers and gets fake medicines delivered to their doorsteps.

The nation continues to be sucked in further into the quicksand of whisperings, doubts and skepticism. Earlier, such advertisements that were posted on walls or pamphlets were distributed in the streets. But the highly accessible Urdu and Sindhi newspapers now publish full page advertisements and are now at the forefront of promoting such deception.

One page contains a literary piece, while another has advertisements on ‘curing’ natural skin pigmentation in three days, body-building courses, getting rid of white hair, and ‘good news’ for people with short heights, alongside weight loss in seven days and getting rid of joint pain in five days. All you need to do is ring the mobile number provided, arrange for cash and you’ll have your antidote.

An announcement was made for the formation of a regulatory authority for fake medicines one day and hailed in an editorial in a local newspaper the next. However, the following day, the same newspaper again published advertisements for fake, substandard medicines.

-Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro.
-Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro.

No matter how many laws are passed or authorities created, the government’s responsibilities remain limited to making announcements because it’s economical not to implement the law. Newspapers, on the other hand, only care for the advertisements they get, even if those are about substandard medicines.

And the scarce hospitals present in deprived, poverty-stricken areas lack qualified medical professionals, paramedical staff, proper medicines and other healthcare facilities. Yet, the poor must receive treatment for their illnesses and these widely-circulated newspapers are merely providing‘valuable’ public services.

The bar of education was raised to such an extent that presently it is inaccessible to the majority of the nation. Now they either send their children to madrassas or apprentice them to a car mechanic so the few skills that learn would keep them fed, sheltered and clothed. Similarly, healthcare has become so unattainable for the poor that now they can only stand nearby, desperately eyeing the world-class health facilities used by the affluent.

So, the quacks and fake medicines will have to do. They drink water upon which Quranic verses have been recited, or tie a taweez around their wrists or necks. They could also go to public sector hospitals run by a compounder without the necessary qualifications for running a hospital.

The urban doctors are indifferent towards establishing their practices in the deprived areas. Similarly, doctors from rural areas lack the desire to return to their villages after finishing their studies and practices there. In fact, most medical graduates wish to go abroad to practice, and earn in foreign currencies. What does this country have worth staying for, eh? Try finding out how many doctors leave the country and you’ll start planning to follow them. The remaining doctors in the country are out of reach to those that need them the most. Only those who can pay have access to these doctors. But even they must make appointments at least 15 days or a month in advance.

Look where I started from and where I ended up. I was going to talk about this side of the wall but ended up talking about the other side. This wall divides the rich and the poor increases in height everyday. The advertisements I spoke of don’t get published in English-language newspapers because the educated wouldn’t fall for such lies. So their default audiences are the poor, illiterate and superstitious people. That’s why these advertisements are only published in Urdu and Sindhi newspapers.

-Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro.
-Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro.

People continue to use the buses and walls. But how much can these newspapers, which have assumed responsibility to become the nations’ voice and identify the country’s problems, actually earn from all those advertisements. Everyday, these newspapers publish full-page advertisements of quacks and fake medicines in full colour. If a 20-page magazine published such advertisements on 11 pages out of the 20, then people wouldn’t purchase them. But what to do when these newspapers invade our houses? It’s difficult to avoid these advertisements then.

We can’t even stop the TV channels. That’s how our cable operators meet their costs. One channel has a ticker playing at the bottom of the screen, while a paid program is being aired on another. The public is either busy worrying about its short height, dark complexion and whitening hair or engaging in superstition and horoscopes.

Costs must be met anyhow; money must be made. No matter how much comes in, or where it comes from, it should just come into our pockets. And when it does, the height of the wall between the rich and the poor is increased by another brick.


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The author has dabbled in every form of the visual arts. An activist to the core, Abro’s work deals with social themes and issues ranging from human rights to dictatorial regimes. He is currently working for DAWN as an illustrator.