PEMRA and I have a special relationship now, and it is just great that they keep such a vigilant eye on our televisions for us. Just yesterday I saw a news bulletin on a major national news channel that had a report about rats running amok in housing for parliamentarians in Islamabad, and there was a shot of said housing with CGI rats running all over it! Just in case you couldn’t visualise it, there it was, a Pied-Piper worthy horde of fake rats, just running into the hostel horizon. On national television, no less, where all the other important news is aired, like the Prime Minister’s imminent heart surgery and the United States violating our sovereignty to blow up terrorists, etcetera. What I’m most excited about is how much PEMRA cares for the viewers, many of whom they say in a recent letter that has been making the rounds, are parents who “have shown apathy” towards certain advertisements. I’m really happy, because I’m a parent! Four times over, which makes my levels of righteous shock, apathy and indignation multiplied by four, plus an extra ten because one of the children is a boy, so you know, that counts for more.

I am tremendously pleased. PEMRA amended their initial decision to ban ads for contraception to now only let them air after eleven o’clock, when all the little kiddies are in bed and can’t ask uncomfortable and stupid questions like “what is that” and “why is that key green” and “why do those parents look so happy”, or even “why don’t I have a sister/brother”. Heaven knows it is the most embarrassing thing ever, when children ask questions about biology and science that you just don’t want to answer because oh my god it is just disgusting. Plus you have to stop watching that video of Chittiyaan Kalaiyaan to tell them some mumbo-jumbo about “an angel brings a baby in a special basket” or “you can buy one from the hospital”. It’s not like they won’t whisper about it amongst themselves as they play their death-and-destruction video games or copying dance moves they’re seeing in the music videos they watch on cable TV. Killing imaginary people and nailing that item number shimmy is so much more normal and preferable to having to talk about something like the process of childbirth. And advertisements are where it all begins.

Kids are like ferocious sponges. They won’t be able to say their name, but just wait until someone calls someone a donkey in front of them. Then they’ll be yelling donkey!donkey! All day long as if their life depended on it. I get it. Just the other day one of the children saw an advertisement for Pampers and thought all babies had blue pee, because of the blue liquid the disembodied hand was pouring onto the diaper to demonstrate its absorbency. You can imagine the disappointment when the real baby’s actual diaper proved that this was in fact not the case. Ha! Just kidding—even my five year old knows nobody pees blue. Kids can be surprisingly logical. Too bad grownups tend not to be.

Has any child ever seen an advertisement for, let’s say, cooking oil, and assumed that this meant they get to do all the shami kabab frying from now on? Or expect everyone in the house to be wearing their Eid best all the time? Or drink their milk because they now really believe that they will be running faster and the margarine will make them taller? The only advertisements they ever pay attention to are the ones that are about ice lollies, Captain Safeguard, those weird gangster mosquitos and Maggi noodles. So either cartoons, or nice things to eat, or toys. Woe is you if you have a daughter who sees an advertisement for that dratted Barbie whose hair you can shampoo, or the blue “princess necklace” you can get with Pears soap—in India. I wish PEMRA would ban those ads; I’d personally send them a basket of luddoos.

I understand PEMRA’s predicament. Their press release was surprisingly thoughtful. But ironically, the more of a fuss one makes about a thing, the bigger a thing it becomes. When you say donkey in front of a child and everyone else pretends nothing happened, they never catch on that ‘donkey’ is an undesirable word to say. If you air an advertisement that shows a nice couple talking to a doctor in a clinic, who then hands them a packet of pills, which child is going to ask WHAT IS THAT MAMA/BABA? And if they do, why can’t one say in the time-honoured tradition of all parents worldwide, “none of your business”, or just “pills”? Personally, I’d rather my child asked me what pills were as opposed to “why is that person on television not moving”—because our news channels have no qualms in broadcasting photos of dead, blown-up people and blood-spattered walls. I’d rather a child be curious about something as boring and easily-explained as medication, instead of who terrorists are. Children need to be protected from the lewd, the horrific, the violent. They don’t need to see blood and weeping people and corpses on television, just as they don’t need to see gyrating, scantily clad women being leched at by men in the name of entertainment. That’s why we change the channel. It’s a luxury we don’t have when it comes to life, but at least you have a remote control for your television. Let people find out safe, medical ways to have less kids spoiling your nice quiet dinner out—judging from the hordes of children in restaurants at dinnertime, none of them are in bed by eleven anyway.