As the Holy month of Ramzan waves its goodbyes, I take a moment to look back wearily at the festivities that took place this month – the festivities that largely took place on our TV screens. True to George Orwell’s predictions, our TV screens have taken over our lives in ways even Big Brother would never have thought probable; and with time we Pakistanis have become audience to and borne witness to ever new and increasingly ridiculous trends every year. One of these that stands out is the standardization of our TV channels as the seasons change – green-and-white hueing in the month of August, red-and-black as February 14th rolls by, black-and-grey as Moharram is upon us, so on and so forth. As the season changes, so do our TV channels and the content that they air – our TV channels have come a long way, and they are bigger chameleons than ever roamed the Earth.

The most severe and shocking – and depressing – of these changes glares at us as soon as the Ramzan moon is sighted. All of a sudden our TV channels undergo a religious, holy whitewashing so flabbergasting we’re almost compelled to ask why now? But we never do, for we too are now in perfect sync with what I’m calling The Ramzan Transition.

First up in this phase are our ads – be it Coca Cola or Olpers or even Q Mobile, every single brand appears to have been suddenly bathed in holy water, and the content of the advertisements so drastically different from their routine course it is almost hilarious. Advertisements regarding our sodas and drinks before Ramzan depict to us what seems to be every teenager’s wishful thinking: you have a bunch of young guys and girls in Western attire jumping up and down for apparently no other reason than the fact that they’re drunk on such and such soft drink, these kids are hiking and trekking and making merry on the roads and are drunk on raucous bouts of laughter. Slow-mo shots of girls and guys looking drunkenly at each other and shouting and “partying” – this is the portrait of the typical pre-Ramzan soda ad. Come Ramzan and these partying, no-care-in-the-world teenagers suddenly transform into pious families clad in shalwar kameez having iftaar outside in gardens, meekly smiling and passing glasses of soda to each other while a crescent moon shines from above and a cluster of Moroccan lamps glow in the corners. Be it an advertisement for milk or oil or sim cards, every single one of them is suddenly stuffed with generously smiling mothers, charitable kids and a lot of religious-looking setting that is far from what Pakistan actually looks like in Ramzan. Merriment turns into meek piety, partying turns into praying, boisterous laughter turns into passive smiles.

An over-exoticization of our long standing customs and traditions accompany these advertisements dutifully – alongside platters of dates and jugs of Rooh Afza we get to see huge chandeliers that one might see in a mosque or an old haveli, we see fairy lights lining the streets and kids running this way and that in crisp white shalwar kameez and skull caps, we see green flaglets with the crescent upon them lining nooks and corners – none of which we actually see in real life. We see the time of Suhoor buzzing with the call to prayer, but we also see men praying in gardens and everyone looking up at the sky with smiles on their faces, and suddenly every woman in every advertisement is to be found in a dupatta on her head. Prayer rugs, religious-sounding music, gulab jaaamuns and jalebis take over the TV universe as Ramzan approaches, and we behold almost a time-traveling transition back to what seems the pre-partition India with women in lehengas and those multi-colored lamps hovering above. More and more it seems that a coerced Orientalization of our own culture is being forced upon us, and it isn’t even bad – but for the fact that this transitionary period vanishes in a puff of smoke as soon as the three days of Eid are safely behind us.

Be it morning shows or the infamous Ramzan transmissions, each and every single one of these areas undergoes the Ramzan transition and the pious whitewashing that is as fake as it is forced. Come Ramzan and Ramzan Chipa is on our TV screens, morning show hosts are doing something that is not weddings but still every bit as ridiculous, and there are of course those loads of Pakistani awaam more than willing to sacrifice their dignity for a Unique ki Bike or a J.Dot ka Kurta.

Such has become the lot of our fellow citizens in what used to be one of the holiest seasonal changes in the older days – I still remember the Ramzans of my childhood when I would come home to find a score of naats being played on the TV channels, or a few religious scholars preaching charity and piety, or a few cooking shows with interesting new recipes for iftaar. These days however we Pakistanis have taken to making a grand show of everything we do – if it’s charity we must boast about it, if it’s piety we must make a public point out of it, so and so forth; and it is not difficult to see why we resort to doing such. With our TV channels coming alive with doses of make-believe bogus piety we all plug into the new “culture” that has so seized us, and off we go wagging our tails behind our newly found “religious scholars” whose paramount job is to belittle and humiliate people on national TV. The holy month that is all about humility is far from the attribute on our screens.

What is absolutely horrifying about this transition is the reality that it reflects: what we see on our TV ads and shows during Ramzan is nothing short of the momentary transition we ourselves go through. As if out of nowhere we seem to care about the poor and the prayers that we otherwise miss, mosques suddenly acquire magnetic prowess and we all don the judgmental garb of typical Pakistani holier-than-thou attitudes if we – God forbid – see someone not fasting or missing a prayer. Hypocrisy runs as deep inside us as it openly reeks on our TV shows and advertisements, and just when it seems we have tuned in nicely to said transition – Ramzan ends. And with it ends our supposed piety, charity and humility. Our lives duly mirror their electronic media counterparts: it all culminates in the fact that we don’t stop our usual evils as Ramzan rolls up – we merely pause them for a month.

Post-Ramzan both our TV channels and we ourselves are back to our normal courses – once again hollering youngsters drunk on youth dominate our advertisements, once again our morning shows are busy in ridiculous wedding celebrations, and our game shows send the “religious scholars” packing on their way – until the next Ramzan, brothers. With the onslaught of Ramzan we dress ourselves in robes of piety and religiosity and rip it from our shoulders as soon as Eid is upon us. Sure, there will be some Shan Masala ads with emotional messages usually involving people living abroad or relatives visiting from India – each one as preposterous as is far-fetched. It is altogether ludicrous to cry over colonization and cultural appropriation – we tend to do it so well ourselves. Each Ramzan and each Eid we face a flood of oriental garbage on our TV screens with a likeness to reality that simply does not exist. How many girls go out on Chaand Raat to get their hands bespattered with henna and shopping for bangles in bazaars that are overcrowded but full of decent people (and not leering men)? Hardly anyone does that these days when our cities are sprawling with petty criminals – but your TV ads will tell you otherwise. The world depicted on our screens is a world long past, a world which we still like to Orientalize and exoticize in the terminal phase that is The Ramzan Transition.

And now that the holy month is behind us, let us tune in to something different.