Evolution gone wrong

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  • Or is it a passing phase?

At a wedding last month, it occurred to me that evolution, after millennia of success, may finally be running out of steam; in fact, it may even be going in the reverse direction. What caused this sudden realisation was the sight of a number of ladies wearing thick, heavy, ornamented lehengas – air-conditioning or no air-conditioning, it was mid-August, for crying out loud! (The feeling it evoked in the casual bystander was akin to one evoked while watching lawyers wearing their black jackets in the summer sun.)

It was the ladies’ gait, however, that struck me as a telltale sign of evolution having gone wrong. For those who are unfamiliar with the lehenga, it makes it impossible to walk unless its expansive skirt is raised up off the floor, a maneuver which takes all of two hands to carry out. Which makes ladies moving around in lehengas a sight like no other. If the then future-mankind had taken a giant leap forward when our ancestors became bipedal millions of years ago, in the process crucially freeing their hands to do useful work, the lehenga must count as a definite degeneration of the species. Evolution in this instance at least has certainly lost its way.

This got me thinking – my default response in such situations. There’s a familiar parallel to the lehenga above in the progression of the cell phone. The cell phone was getting smaller and smaller until it started easily resting in one’s pocket. Then it started getting larger again so that the average phone doesn’t so comfortably sit in the pocket any more (already the larger ones are too big to even fit). The result is that at most times, one hand is occupied. This has affected men more than the women because the former usually don’t have handbags to carry one. Evolution, in this respect too, has proceeded – and is proceeding – in directions other than strictly forward.

Apart from the change in size, the cell phone has undergone another kind of evolution as well. A cell phone may have been a necessity for the times we live in, and it was certainly a useful communication device before it started this evolution, which has finally culminated in things such as WhatsApp and Instagram. The working conditions worldwide for most workers had steadily been improving since the start of the industrial revolution; even in Pakistan people had started realising the importance of mental hygiene regarding work, where private life was best kept separate from office life, and a man left his work problems at the workplace. WhatsApp changed all that – now the hapless employee is at work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The advent of Instagram on the other hand has ensured that the explosions of jealousy on the part of fair ladies for fairer and better-dressed ladies, which were in the past reserved for the occasional party, are now much more frequent – as in daily.

The Pakistani talk show – a result of the transformation from state-controlled media to ‘free’ media – is another example of evolution gone awry

There are other examples of evolution having gone wrong. There was a time when PTV Lahore and PTV Karachi plays used to compete with one another. The Lahore play lost out in that battle of survival of the fittest; and out went the honest salaryman, the evil chaudhry and the unscrupulous police inspector. The plays being produced ever since are without exception the further glamorized versions of the Karachi play, with a bit of Zee/Star influence. Nobody cares how the protagonist (or anybody else for that matter) earns his living, or if he even does that. The three leading problems in the world (in descending order) are: marriage, marriage, and marriage; with conspiracies, intrigues, double dealings and love triangles providing the necessary background. The Pakistani talk show – a result of the transformation from state-controlled media to ‘free’ media – is another example of evolution gone awry.

Come to think of it, perhaps the above survey wasn’t necessary after all. For one look at men wearing dupattas on mehndi functions might have sufficed to bring home the fact that something’s been seriously wrong with evolution lately.

Let there be no mistake: I love evolution as much as anybody; and I have it on good authority that it has an amazing track record to date.  It could very well be that the lehenga, the WhatsApp, the Instagram, the contemporary TV play and talk show, and men’s dupatta are mutations that have momentarily prevailed; but are anomalies nevertheless, which will be rectified in the long run by evolution itself. We may therefore merely be passing through a temporary phase in evolution, which will within a couple of centuries consign the likes of the lehenga and the men’s dupatta to the dustbin of history where they rightfully belong. The fingers are crossed!