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Life without YouTube: Haseeb Asif

February 5, 2013

Guest post by HASEEB ASIF

Graphic via Dawn

Graphic via Dawn

A young man wearing faded jeans and a t-shirt too unpleasantly tight around his middle, sits on his end in front of a laptop, weeping. The tears aren’t exactly the gushing springs of fresh grief, more the trickling of nostalgic streams. He misses his favourite website. Everything bookmarked in his browser that isn’t pornography is from that site. He contemplates an incalculable loss. Today, as many times before, he’s come home from a hard day of not doing anything at work, just wanting to lose himself in the magical world of user uploaded videos.

But he can’t. Because PTA (Pakistan Telecommunications Assholes).

He’s despondent. Miserable. He sits for hours staring at the ‘webpage not available’ screen wondering how his life went so wrong. He doesn’t understand it. All he wants to do is watch the next iteration of ‘shit brown people say…’ Is that too much to ask?

He’s forgotten what it was like before the internet apocalypse. He’s forgotten the happiness of clicking on random things on the related videos bar. He even misses those infuriating advertisements he used to skip after five seconds. If he had the chance to, now, he’d never skip one again.

This young man is just one of many. There is a collective despair in society. Retired uncles, housewives, crazy cat ladies, conspiracy theorists all around the country are bereft of the only meaningful entertainment in their lives.

The ban came at a wrong time for me too. I was halfway through a two week course in Taekwondo, that ancient art of pulling muscles in your groin; I’d almost learned how to hold the guitar properly while my musician friends took a break; my cooking lessons had advanced as far as burning eggs and toast; my command over Spanish swearing was getting better every day; my doctoral research on Egyptian belly dancing was coming along fine; and I’d nearly mastered the skill of rolling joints that utilise multiple skins of paper, like as many as two.

It was making me a better person. Since then I’ve regressed back to a savage state of ignorance and self-help books. The site was a good friend to me. It understood me. The recommended videos tab had just the right balance of Kishore and Honey Singh.

I ended up just as depressed as that young man, probably more so. I’d have hung myself with a rope but I couldn’t access the instructional video on YouTube.

As a video sharing site it’s irreplaceable. Where else will you find footage of classic Bollywood songs sang in heavenly voices and shot in dreamy technicolour? Or Madam wearing five layers of make-up singing about some jerk who called her to a bridge on the canal and never showed up?

I was waiting with baited breath to see if there would ever be someone lovelier than Awais Lovely, and would they both be trumped by someone Loveliest. Will Dr. Aamir Liaquat ever get a reply to his proverbial question, “kaisa diya?” Where now will Mathira upload her wardrobe malfunctions? Will no one again make a video about the signs of the apocalypse and the coming of Dajjaal set to Clint Mansell’s music? Will we never see a boy from Sialkot make a ‘leave Veena alone’ video? Is it even worth doing motorcycle stunts on the GT Road if the world can’t appreciate you?

What will happen to those Indian and Pakistani video comments sections filled with the highest regards for each other’s mothers and sisters? Will nobody again speak up for their revolutionary brother ‘jo garmi mein kharab hogya?’ Will the One Pound Fish guy get the least number of online hits from his own country? Oh so many unanswered questions.

And where will we see Humsafar parodies? And old PTV clips? What happened to the Sindhi Britney Spears? Is there a Pashtun Justin Bieber we don’t know about?

It wasn’t just Pakistanis on YouTube, it was Pakistan.

I think it says a lot about this country’s problems when an imbecile in California talking about an Arab can bring things here to a standstill and manage to leave a lasting impact five months on. The bloated sense of self-importance in what is largely an imagined ‘Muslim Ummah’ continues to occupy mainstream Pakistani discourse.

But while zealousness and fervour might’ve been high at one point, there’s little popular support for the ban now. Those with the privilege of internet access mostly want it back, and those without this privilege don’t give a shit either way.

Though I can understand why the powers that be are comfortable letting the ban endure. It can’t be amusing for Ministers to have videos online showing them scratching their hard-to-reach areas, or for Generals to be seen threatening cameramen. The content on the site, by definition, is impossible to monopolise. Everybody is fair game, which is indeed the source of the controversy; media bloopers, political gaffs, clerical blundering, they’re all up there documented and proofed.

It’s in the nature of authority to mistrust anything it can’t control. Which is why I think they’re endorsing an unpopular and, more importantly, stupendously useless piece of censure. It isn’t harming Google or any Western film makers, all its doing is irritating Pakistanis and holding back our web developers.

One would imagine that in a country with so many economic burdens and problems of law and order, banning websites would be the last thing on anyone’s list of useful agendas.

But as someone so aptly summed up the attitude of the authorities, “baray hi banchod hein”.

(Haseeb Asif is a writer in Lahore. He tweets as @haseebasif and blogs at Iblees.)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2013 11:30 AM

    I live in the U.S. I didn’t know that Pakistan had banned YouTube (or at least blocked some YouTube videos). Regardless, your blog post is powerful and the words transcend culture/country.

  2. Land of Bans permalink
    February 8, 2013 1:22 AM

    Wait until Pakistan FireWall (Chinese) goes up in a few months.
    People will put blasphemous content just to mess with Pakistan.

    Pakistan has banned Facebook in the past.
    Toronto Sun is now banned.
    Call of Duty is banned.
    Iodine is conspiracy Pakistan.
    Polio is conspiracy against Pakistan.
    Indian Comic books are banned.
    BBC was banned a while back because of Taliban documentary.
    HRW is going to be banned.

    Land of Bans.

    • Rahul P Tiwari permalink
      February 9, 2013 7:59 AM

      Minds are like para suits, they only function when they are open. It is not the problem of pakistan only. There are number of governments on this planet who have joined this rat race kind of a league to ban things. They first ban the para suits and then expect them to fly when required. In India also we have seen a chain of chaos on a movie recently. Here it was a state government in the action. I find it horribly true that Governments these days are giving up against some ruthless and inhuman organizations and banning everything they find just for few votes. People are not raising their voices against this crap. I would be least surprised,if tomorrow they ban the people from breathing, to save oxygen, as we obey these opportunistic and insensitive governments, hoping for better to come.

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