The age old question, how many people would it take to screw in a lightbulb, has been used to solve a wide array of problems in a gamut of communities, societies and realms. Perhaps it’s time to address the same in our neck of the woods owing to recent developments.

Given that set of circumstances, the most pertinent customised version for Pakistan would be: how many U-turns does it take to screw a bulb?

Let’s begin with the two most obvious answers to begin with. The first of these would be ‘one’, where the original decision to change the lightbulb would be followed by the decision to not change it. This U-turn in question could come through one of a range of reversals in thinking, many of which could originate in radical religionists taking to the street to demand that the bulb be screwed, or a call on the secure line demanding the same – or indeed a collaboration of the two.

The second most obvious answer would be ‘infinite’. The pressure to take the U-turn here would be on the x-axis and the number of U-turns taken on the position to change the lightbulb on the y-axis. Pakistan Studies and Islamiyat derived calculus would be needed to determine the limits of this graph, such as those that have been used to define the country’s ideological frontiers.

Beyond these two possibilities there are another infinite number of answers to that question depending on the equation and the settings. For instance, how many U-turns are agreed with Saudi Arabia – a further subset of which is the summation of the number of U-turns agreed bilaterally and those in religious military coalitions.

What about China? How many U-turns would there be on the road network that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor is going to be? That would also mean there would be a different number of U-turns in Punjab and Balochistan – among other contrasts.

Legally speaking, you’re not allowed to take a U-turn on whatever is sanctioned by the Constitution, screwing bulbs or otherwise. But the Constitution can take the U-turn itself by, for instance, giving freedom of religion, conscience, speech and assembly and then not giving the same to some.

Therefore, it would be infinitely to screw a bulb if it comes from a community that the Constitution has taken a U-turn on.

Recent developments have also revealed that the propensity – and its intensity – of taking U-turns is significantly ordered when there’s governmental authority in play. Therefore, the number of people, U-turns and pretty much any other determinable factor, would depend on whether those changing the lightbulb are in the government or opposition.

Things could get pretty complicated if you’re trying to change a lightbulb in the corridors of power. For then there are the good U-turns and bad U-turns, the prowess to discern which can only come with the ability to figure out the general geographical direction in which the turns are aligned.

Ideologically, unless you’ve among those that the Constitution has taken a U-turn on, it would be advisable to stick to rigid religiosity – and preconceived patriotism – which of course won’t allow for much flexibility that one could turn to. Any U-turns here could mean taking a U-turn on life itself.

As a rule of thumb, however, the number of U-turns it would take to screw a lightbulb would depend on whether or not you hopped on the elephant in the room while you were changing it. Because if you can even see that elephant, it’s not the bulb that you’d be worried about being screwed.


The writer is a Lahore-based journalist.