By Sonya Rehman
Up Murree Road and hugging curbs (with reckless abandon) along its curving roads, all the while letting loose a string of unremitting honks – lest a death-defying wagon-wallah decides to ram you off the cliff. That, in a nutshell, is a trip up north – in Pakistan. Throw in a couple of cows daintily loafing about the curb of the roads (and at times the centre), an army of trucks – decked up in such gorgeous ‘truck art’ that you half expect them to transform into mammoth-sized Punjabi men doing the bhangra – and last but not the least, scores of tiny (Afghani) street urchins (selling paper flowers, Spout bubblegum and bunches of grapes wrapped in large green mountain leaves), all dressed in brightly coloured, albeit fraying, traditional wear – that makes them seem like doll-sized butterflies, flittering from car to car, in the hope to sell, beg and/or grin at you from large blue, green, gray and hazel eyes.
‘At last’, you’d think to yourself, ‘away from the city, the gray buildings, the overwhelming hoardings, the noise, and the smog that nestles its filthy rear just above a plastic city…at last’. But as your car accelerates, climbs and chugs its way further up, your gaze is bound to fall upon hordes of billboards – small, medium, large; and advertisements garishly painted across the large slabs of mountain rock, along with those that dot the curb. ‘Eat this chip’ one will scream, ‘Use this cell phone’ the other will squeal, but one in particular, the mother of all billboards, a staggering, knee-knocking, 90 by 30 foot (or perhaps more) ‘Telenor’ hoarding that quite literally, ‘hoards’ one massive portion of a gorgeous, misty-green mountainside, not to mention the comparatively ‘smaller’ ‘WAVES’ grape-coloured billboard hoisted on the left-hand side. “Karoron jazbo ka imanaat daar” (“A custodian of millions of feelings”) the ‘Telenor’ billboard reads pompously, deceivingly, and perhaps the only “jazba” one may feel upon viewing it is to splatter black-paint balloons all over its boring, white face – truly mullah style.
And when you reach Murree itself, you will notice her marred, disfigured and ‘glossed over’ face, as she smiles sadly at you. How she once looked, with her emerald eyes, cobble-stoned arms and the lush, earthy expanse of her frame. Now reduced to a ghost of her former self, you will hardly find a sparkle, glint, or glimmer in her voluminous, bottle-green eyes. Murree today, stands raped, tossed away and utterly disregarded. How advertising seeps its way into what should be left unsullied, untouched…and how advertisers truly disrespect the purity of a clean view – of a horizon or mountain – and tarnish it with loud product images and slogans…distressing. It is incredible how queen-bee billboards are granted permission to slowly eat their way hungrily into the canvas of a city, a country.
Do we call this ‘progression’?
Instep Today, The News