Hippity hoppity

Ejaz Haider

http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_18-4-2004_pg3_5

The palladium of my youth during Gen Zia’s time was the Bunny, not the Easter kind but the one created by Hugh Heffner — may the Muse, or whatever it was that put the idea in his mind, be blessed. Those were good times for us, despite Gen Zia. At our age, we were more interested in winning over a damsel than fighting for democracy, which is just as well because democracy remains elusive to wit. So every month we would wait for Peter Cottontail to come hoppin’ down the bunny trail to bring to us Heffner’s new eye-candy.

This was before silicon made its appearance and revolutionised computers. Mercifully, while silicon breast implants were put on the market as early as the sixties the bunnies got round to the absurd idea only after it had become the rage. I wonder if Philip Roth got the idea for The Breast from this business of breast augmentation. But while the world has been grappling with breast reconstruction and its side effects, we have continued to experiment with political reconstruction. The only thing common between the two types is that both suffer from contractures, ruptures and infections.

Of course, this was just an observation. Meanwhile, PC has taken hold of our lives like Orwell’s Big Brother. And I am not talking about the Personal Computer; I am lamenting the new theology of political correctness, hereafter referred to as PC.

How does one define PC? To be honest, I am stumped. How, indeed, does one define a concept whose range and amorphousness defies any such attempt? Broadly, however, it comprises rejection of all that can be subsumed under the rubric of patriarchal. This alone covers almost everything from language to sociology, art, politics, general behaviour and so on. Since PC is anti-patriarchy, it is, of necessity, any and everything that allows a woman to get a man arrested. If you think I am exaggerating, please read the feminist literature and feminist-driven laws on workplace sexual harassment.

Language itself has been transformed. Everyone now takes a plural verb and refers to they if you don’t want to use he/she. His is out because the language has to be purged of its patriarchal rules and man-words. Mankind is humankind (my PC — personal computer, stupid — doesn’t even put a red line under humankind any more!); manpower is human resource; chairman is chairperson; businessman is businessperson; poetess is poet and actress is actor and it goes on. What do they call ‘manhole’, I have no idea; nor am I sure about ‘cockpit’. Maybe they have got rid of these words altogether. Be that as it may, this PC business has Dr Johnson writhing in his grave.

This is a short hop from bowdlerising literature. Some do it because it’s PC; others do it on the basis of religion whose Apollonian seriousness runs contrary to anything bawdy or irreverent. There is theology at work in both cases. Eric Partridge wrote his great book Shakespeare’s Bawdy and did an in-depth study of what is ‘dirty’ in Shakespeare; well, much of it is. But that’s the refreshing thing about Shakespeare — he was politically incorrect, almost totally. The feminists would have probably hauled him over the coals (they haven’t even spared Enid Blyton), so it’s just as well that Shakespeare lived and passed away in a period when chivalry was still in order and one could have a Sir Walter Raleigh spread his cloak for a woman, a queen for sure.

Actually it’s an apocryphal tale, as is also the bit about Raleigh’s having introduced tobacco in England, but that is besides the point. It doesn’t serve to subject good tales to technical scrutiny and that includes Marie Antoinette’s famous quote about eating cakes. On the other hand, if someone were to press the technicality, I’d say, good for Raleigh because were the tales true, he would have been politically incorrect on both counts.

I grew up politically incorrect and am none the worse for it. Besides the visual and other delights afforded by the bunny, there was Harold Robbins and the Rugby Jokes. On the latter I got hooked on after I read the first line in the first book I came across. It defined rugby as a game played by men with peculiarly shaped balls. Many years later, I used this line for pedagogical purposes (a deliberately difficult way of referring to teaching). Having failed, despite some effort, to make my younger brother understand the concept of a misplaced modifier, I tried this line. He has never got it wrong since then!

Since Zia, the state has got down to the task of sacralising the textbooks and that work proceeds apace even under our new visionary leader. But does this business of making the syllabi religiously correct bother me? Yes and no. Yes, because I don’t like organised theologies; no, because if the alternative is to be politically correct then I can perhaps live with the Deity who is more forgiving than the liberal fundamentalists.

Ejaz Haider is News Editor of The Friday Times and Foreign Editor of Daily Times

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