Pakistan: Prohibiting Basant, penalising jubilation

South Asia Citizen's Wire
Once again the axe of prohibition has fallen on a culturally and aesthetically most gratifying festival of spring - Basant. Playing to the tunes of clerics, the Punjab government earned the stigma of banning the colourful festival of kite flying.
As in previous years, the people defied the ban in every alley and on every rooftop of Lahore with police violating the privacy of homes to enforce an unenforceable decree.
There is no disagreement on exorcising the 'foul side' of kite sport, but by outlawing the sport itself the ruling PML has revealed its true reactionary nature. To punish all of society for the bloody sin of a few is nothing but fascism. By denying the people their freedom of expression, you lose the right to rule them and this is what has happened on the eve of Basant in Lahore. Can any one stop spring and banish people from celebrating its advent?

Exercising freedom of happiness and the right to seek pleasure was at a great risk and invited the wrath of 'khudai faujdars' from the PML. As if a long autumn of prohibition was not enough, the celebration of Basant assumed a clash between the Freudian 'unconscious' or what is 'repressed' and the release of 'primary biological urges', on the one hand, and the enforcers of a fascist code of prohibition, on the other. The forces of denial came into action, after the clergy had failed to stop people from gratifying pleasure, on the pretext of the horrible deaths caused by the foul play of a section of kite flyers. The culprits are those who manufactured murderous metallic or razor sharp string and not the millions of kite flyers. Compensation for the innocent blood of infants, who have been made an easy prey to the killer string by being dangerously seated in front of motorbikes, cannot be made by crucifying the happiness of the innocent millions. The Punjab government, with the help of civil society, could easily take out the killer string from the spring sport. But, the Chief Minister threw the baby out with the bath water.

This is in fact the fear of freedom that makes those shudder that use 'enlightenment' as a tactical façade for their shabby designs. Although the official crusaders came down heavily and lawlessly on the violators of prohibition, they cannot change the deep natural core of the human animal which will continue to find release in a hundred and one ways no restriction can inhibit. And this is what was witnessed in Lahore. On the other hand, the denial of pleasure extended to civil society creates the soil for submission to authoritarianism and its extremist clerical allies. When libidinal energy is repressed, it finds most conflicting expressions from puritanism to perversion and fascism to alcoholism and cynicism to extremism.

What mullahs and autocrats don't understand is that repression of pleasure at all levels, from family to state, leads to various kinds of obsessive compulsive disorders. According to psychoanalysts, the pleasure principal is central to the healthy growth of an average being of a nation, if it doesn't get either stuck up with the oral pleasure stage that the Horticulture Authority in Punjab has been trying to inculcate in what it cowardly portrays as 'Jashan-i-Baharan', or becomes a victim of guilt for the 'original sin'. This is the grey area where the clergy builds its appeal and the PML tries to compete with it.

The psychologists have 'character analytically' discovered, and quite paradoxically, the surface layer of humans, which should on average be reserved, polite, compassionate, responsible and conscientious, is overpowered by their 'secondary drives' which consist of cruel, sadistic, lascivious, rapacious and envious impulses. There would be no social tragedy of the human animal, according to Wilhelm Reich, a great psychologist and character analyst, if this surface layer of the personality works in direct contact with the deep natural core, i.e. the primary biological urges. Now the Orgone biophysics have made it possible to comprehend the Freudian 'unconscious', that which is anti-social in man is a secondary result of the repression of primary biological urges. What happens is that the surface layer of social cooperation is not in contact with the deep biological core. Reich has discovered that it is borne by a second and intermediate layer, which consists of sadistic and reactionary impulses. The more the religious extremists try to repress the orgiastically deprived masses, the greater will be the perversion within their own ranks and resistance by the deprived masses.

Despite a partial vulgarisation of the most gratifying festival due to the overindulgence of multinationals, a culturally perverse bureaucracy and the trigger happy hooligans, the festival is keeping its spontaneity in every alley and home and spreading like a prairie fire to every nook and corner of the Islamic Republic. This beautiful spring has also brought manifold gratification of pleasures by relieving the burdens of demonising obscurantism with the cultural exuberance of all-encompassing Basant. Celebrating colours and commemorating happiness amid a riot of kites helps release repressed libidinal energies to the full. By defying prohibition and relinquishing fear of freedom, the people have brought a spiralling cultural revolution no cleric or patriarchal authority can suppress.

Like previous years, a landslide cultural verdict is being affirmatively given on every rooftop, in every alley and every park in favour of freedom of pleasure, celebration of love and commemorating of human self-gratification. It is such a popular expression of the real self of the people of Punjab and their Freudian 'unconscious' that defeats those who base their ideological onslaught on the repression of primary biological energies. Our cultural soil has in fact refused to become a breeding ground for the thorns of bigoted religious repulsion and exclusion. The festival welcomes spring by combining singing, dancing and flaunting colours, mustered yellowish in particular, which also symbolises the peak of spiritual voyage in mystical tradition.

The kite flying adds a competitive and thrilling dimension to the whole festivity. The kites are not simply flown for a mock fight; they become a centre of gravity for the whole festivity, dancing and singing. It's a mock fight that satisfies what psycho-analysts describe as the secondary drives. Whereas the noise of "bo kata" compensates for the un-fulfilment in life, the kite-looting represents the Plebeian urge of the have-nots in their existence of nothingness. The bloody metal thread, however, reveals the foul side of our character structure that must be curbed by outlawing the business of killer-thread production, not the festival itself.

While our Mullahs apostatise Basant, Bulleh Shah welcomes Basant in these words: "Kaho phuley basant bahar noo; dil lochey mahi yaar noo" (Tell flowery spring this Basant, my heart is jumping for my beloved). Divorced from cultural ethos, there have been some 'puritans' who had termed it a "Hindu" festival, but they are not being heard anymore. Spring festivals have been the human cultural response ever since the blossoming of flowers. Nature endowed spring with blossoming of flowers and spreading of fragrance and a meeting season for all living. The Basant festival in Punjab is as old as is the growing of sarson (mustard), hence the yellow and green dresses. The folklore reconfirms its organic vibrancy by singing: Mera rang dey basanti chola (colour my shirt in yellow). Kite flying is also as old as the human urge to fly. Even before the invention of paper, kites were made of other materials as revealed by the excavations and pictures inscribed in many ancient caves. Basant as a commemoration of a Hindu blasphemer belies history since it's a festival of jubilation which is being observed prior to 1747.

Basant provokes the clerics of all hues against the cultural renaissance of Punjab since it cuts across all divides and unifies people on the most human rhythms of our Punjabi folklore and helps overcome our estrangement from our real inner self. At a political level, it's a struggle between 'repressed' urges and the authoritarian repressers. And so be it. The more you will enforce prohibitive regimes, the greater will be the defiance. But let not the kite slit the flower of our youth, let no factory produce the killer string and, above all, let no crusader trample our freedom to love and merry-making. Basant Manao, Basant Sanwaro, if it can help release some suffocation from within.

by Imtiaz Alam, originally published in The News International, March 14, 2006