There is a worldwide decline in the ‘ideas industry’. No one is thinking about the present and future of the mankind. The free market has caused a free fall. Growing up on the Mall of the fifties and the sixties one could not escape the interactions that took place at several places. There is a long list of which only Pak Tea House has survived (Coffee House, Cheney’s Launch Home, Naigna Bakery, YMCA Restaurant, Gardenia, Lords, Shezan Continental, Shezan Oriental, Indus Hotel, and Flattes Cafe comes to mind). A cross section of the society was there that included: writers, poets, intellectuals, lawyers, politicians, students, businessmen, bureaucrats, sportsmen, teachers, publishers, printers, journalists, everyone was covered and heard.

Shezan Oriental (Dyal Singh Mansion or Gol Building) continued till the nineties when it was burnt down through arson. Even the cafeteria of the Old Campus was an interesting place and so was the university itself. Shifting of this oldest seat of learning out of the city centre to its present location was an ill-conceived idea. In this move the cross-section interaction of the people was lost. Visiting the library was an experience in itself. Thank God the Punjab Public library is still there behind the Museum and so is the National College of Arts (NCA). The Tollington Market with its bakeries and stores was another meeting place which has now long gone.

Worldwide the ideas industry includes: universities, colleges, non-profit think tanks, for profit consultants, newspapers, magazines, electronic media that comes to mind. In a profit driven world the non-profit think tanks are being cornered as independent free thinking is no longer required, the paid consultants are highly desirable. Research has lost its meaning and direction.

In the princely states of India scholars and artists were financially supported through stipends enabling them to continue their work for common good. The musicians of the ‘Patiala Gharana’ or the scholars of ‘Batala’ are well known. Promotion of culture and scholarship was laid on their shoulders. The famous actor and playwright Dr. Anwar Sajjad had to earn a living through medical practice to pursue his scholarly interests. My own uncle (Mamu) Dr. Saleem Wahid Saleem dedicated his innings for the promotion of Urdu poetry and language, as his practice declined the family fell on hard times. To cover for him, my mother had to create a family fund to financially support him, while he continued to focus on his writings. Till the end he was convinced that his monthly stipend was supported by the state.

In a conference in Ispahan a speaker read a very meaningful Persian verse; ‘Tehkeek-e-Insani Fakhar-e-Zimeen Ast’ (Human research is the pride of the earth). Without the research and free thinking human society cannot advance. The decline of the ideas industry has to be taken seriously. Change through innovation is the only way forward for mankind to survive and grow.

The question is whether the world is running out of fresh ideas or the thinking is being deliberately curtailed and channelised for vested interests. Hoarding of ideas has become a menace of the information age that we live in. The troubleshooters have determined that free thinkers are troublesome and have to be done away with. Common good has been replaced with individual gains, and that is why rich are getting richer while poverty is on the rise. The term ‘Skewed Globalisation’ is being used to define this phenomenon.

Certainly the process of ideas generation continues but the platforms for its propagation have either diminished or in unholy controls. In the information age disinformation is dominant making the future of mankind uncertain. In the nineteenth century Karl Marx came up with the slogan, ‘workers of the world unite’ now a new narrative is needed “thinkers of the world get together’. The ideas Industry’ has to be revived and kept healthy for human race to prosper.

On the home front Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was perhaps the first political party to have Think Tanks, there were four of them (Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, Overseas). Policy frameworks were prepared and then presented to the leadership for open discussion. Comrade Ahsan Rashid President Punjab and a founding member of the party was the spirit behind this effort. Then a ‘Shadow Cabinet’ or ‘Spokespersons’ were also appointed to cover various ministries. The system remained functional till the death of the Chou-en-Lai of PTI. Then the election fever took over. Thinking was replaced with electoral action on the ground while every other activity was binned. Now the party is in power, it is time to rethink by reviving the ‘Think Tanks’ and to start the thought process that was un-necessarily stalled. In the words of Dr. Iqbal ‘Jehan-e-Taza ki Afkar-e-Taza se hae Namood (Only fresh ideas can keep the world fresh). Pakistan too needs this freshness, for which new direction, innovation and out of the box approaches have to be adopted to break the shackles of status-quo. My appeal is to keep the thought process alive, “thinkers of the world unite to secure the future of mankind”.

 

The Writer is Ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation.

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