Life is stranger than art, and playwright Dario Fo knew this better than many. He wrote darkly funny, heavily satirical plays laden with political subtext in Fascist Italy, when speaking out against the government was dangerous. So he did what clever creative people living under oppressive regimes do, and cloaked his criticism under a layer of comedy. And so outrage against police torture, inflation, religious oversentimentality—everything turned into slapstick comedies full of people chasing other people, charlatans and thieves, women pretending to be pregnant in order to smuggle food out of shops and having the tins roll out from under their clothes. It’s ridiculous and really very funny, and all of it is deeply rooted in what was happening politically around Fo. Ajoka, here, has put the same model to good use. And sometimes you don’t even need the swirling robe of art to disguise reality, because reality is too good to be true. Presenting Say No to Corruption, a comedy in undisclosed acts!
Act One. One winter morning as people drank their tea and prayed petrol prices hadn’t gone up overnight, mobile phones across the land, from Khyber to Karachi, began beeping and chirping and chiming as messages were received: say no to corruption! The texts were succinct, and many received them multiple times. The simple little message, the pure and noble intention and the heartfelt quality of the request was not lost on some ne’er do wells, and some people’s cold corrupt hearts were melted by this humble suggestion. Just say no, they said wonderingly to themselves, how simple it is to just say no to corruption. They marveled at how light their hearts felt as they returned the microwaves that had found their way beneath their desks, shook their heads at the envelopes slid beneath the same desks, refused the car keys. It was miraculous. Really special. These hearts, having now seen the light of righteousness, were as fluffy and clean as a fresh-washed towel in an advertisement for fabric softener.
Act Two. While it was a promising start, the text storm sadly wasn’t enough, because the hearts of the hardened corrupt are not so easily moved. They were used to their Bad Ways, pukka now in their crookedness that had a hard coating of cynicism to make it even more impenetrable. So the Powers That Be put their good-intentioned heads together and thought, where can we access these bad people where it will make the most impact? How can we catch them at a vulnerable moment, where our message might shine through the depths of their lost ways and call them back to goodness? Eureka, one shouted joyfully. When do you experience a quaver of trepidation? When do you briefly wonder if you were to die right now what would happen to your family? On a plane, that’s when! Especially if you’re on a PIA plane, and are never sure whether you’re on board an aircraft that was dug out of another country’s scrapheap and really shouldn’t be used to transport anything! Takeoff time on a PIA plane is when even an atheist would offer a quick, fervent prayer to the Almighty, so this moment of mortal terror is the perfect time to make our case! Indeed, everyone nodded, this was a really brilliant suggestion.
Act Three. And so it came to be that, with the recorded duas and the seatbelt demonstration and emergency exit arm-waving indications, Say No to Corruption made its musical debut onboard Pakistan International Airlines. Initially people were resistant to the upbeat ditties and Big Brother-esque messages, but the secret black hearts of the Really Corrupt began to experience glimmerings of doubt. Could it be that business could be conducted without palms being greased? Could it be possible that your files wouldn’t vanish unless you gave a clerk a new Q-Mobile phone? Could this brave new world really be true? As more and more Really Corrupt people flew across the land, their most heartfelt takeoff prayers began to take on new gentleness, an awakening of something they could only call a conscience. And it was a true miracle of good faith and no real policy, of hope and no real action, that corruption began to die a slow but certain death in the land. And everyone was happy, and soon after we had electricity again, deforestation stopped, no Saudi came to kill our endangered houbara bustards and everyone got to buy clothes from the Sapphire sale without having a near-death experience. Finis.