Elmo Goes to Pakistan

Sesame Street.jpg“I don’t own a television.” When I let that slip into conversation, most of my friends are aghast. They immediately assume one of two things: a) I am one of those holier-than-thou, live-in-the-moment, anti-media types or b) I’m just a weirdo. It’s probably a combination of both. Maybe someday I’ll see the need for a television, but right now I’m content with my laptop for movies and the occasional show at someone else’s house. But then again, our family has never been the television type. (Insert assumed air of humility and delicate toss of head.) My parents didn’t purchase their first television set until I was about 14, before that I mostly got my pop culture in disjointed snippets. Five minutes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at a neighbor’s house. The occasional pop song at the mall. Our church didn’t allow the ownership of televisions. Too secular. Too much potential for exposure to sex. Gasp!

So unlike most American kids, I didn’t wake up early every Saturday morning and rush to the television to watch my favorite cartoons (at least not until I was 14). All that to say this: I’m not very familiar with the children’s show Sesame Street, which airs in 120 countries in 20 international versions. I did not learn my numbers from the Count, alas. Aside from that cute little rubber ducky song and of course a fascination with Cookie Monster (nom), I wouldn’t know my Bert from my Ernie. Luckily for kids in Pakistan, however, Sesame Street will soon be a reality in a country where education is on the bottom of the governmental to-do list. Forget NYC, these puppets are going to Lahore.

In a $20m (£12m) remake of the classic American children’s programme, the setting for the show has moved from the streets of New York to a lively village in Pakistan with a roadside tea and snacks stall, known as a dhaba, some fancy houses with overhanging balconies along with simple dwellings, and residents hanging out on their verandas.

The Pakistani version, in which characters will speak mostly in Urdu, will feature Rani, a cute six-year-old Muppet, the child of a peasant farmer, with pigtails, flowers in her hair and a smart blue-and-white school uniform. Her curiosity and questions about the world will, it is hoped, make her a role model for Pakistani children.

The financing for the series comes from USAid, the economic assistance arm of the US government, which aims to help the country’s young learn some basic words and numbers through Sesame Street’s fun style of education. Pakistan’s schooling system is failing badly, a major reason for a descent into religious conservatism and economic stagnation.

Bad news, though. The characters of Count von Count and Cookie Monster have been cut from the Pakistani version of the show. I call shenanigans. How can there be a Sesame Street without a Count and a Cookie Monster. We all know there are vampires in Pakistan. Okay, maybe a Pakora Monster instead, but still. Travesty.

And of course, not everyone is super thrilled that the US is giving funds for even more puppets in Pakistan…

Photo Credit: independant.co.uk.

Hat tip: Neha (Currylingus) and Ennis Singh Mutinywala.

10 thoughts on “Elmo Goes to Pakistan

  1. Oh no! The main character is named “Rani” who wears pig-tails, which is obviously a Christian ploy to humiliate Muslims. Moreover, why is she forced to wear blue and white, which are the same colours of the Israeli flag? This is another way for Crusaders to mentally defeat the Pakistanis. And why are they banning the Count? Don’t the Americans and other infidels realize that the Arabs taught you people how to count with the great Arabic Numerals?

    Shame shame shame Sesame Street and USA. If you want to help us out, change the street name to Nehari Street, and please quit humiliating Rani.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    If you couldn’t detect any sarcasm, you seriously need help.

  2. Good news on Sesame Street, going back to its roots (sort of). Sesame has an Arabic-Semitic root (Hindi cognate, according to Wikipedia, is gingli). Though for some reason Khayaban-e-Gingli doesn’t sound as nice as Sesame street.

    Btw Phillygrrl are you a Pakistani-American Christian? I ask this as a British-Pakistani Baha’i. Minorities unite lol :-D

  3. “Btw Phillygrrl are you a Pakistani-American Christian?” Yup, yup. *fistbump

  4. i watched the bangladeshi version of sesame street for free on amazon video. pretty cool.

  5. My SM-Godwin (“As an SM discussion grows longer, the probability of any discussion turning into one about Pakistan or Islam, and eventually into one about terrorism, approaches 1″) does not apply here but how kosher is it to bring up the political implications (and $20mil pricetag) of this occurrence.

    I wonder what Doordashan would’ve done with $20 Mil in the 1980s when India had it’s own Sesame Street written by Gulzar.

  6. I have to use my twitter account since facebook is down. I just got the last line.

    “And of course, not everyone is super thrilled that the US is giving funds for even more puppets in Pakistan…”

    I was reflecting last night how awesome American culture is; Facebook, twitter, glee (we’re trying to do a glee type video combining an English play and Urdu ghana – fingers crossed it comes out well), blogs. I can only hope more of it gets exported, appropriated and grafted around the world. Is it just me or all Web 2.0 innovations arising in the West (Skype’s from Estonia?) which is supposedly in decline?

    Nothing can beat open minds and so far as I know the most open-minded society is the West (though India’s getting there). Not so subtle attempt to divert the thread from Pakistan and Islam (which I think we exhaust in BP).

  7. Can you imagine how riled up tea partiers would hve gotten if this money was funnelled for educating our own inner city youth who are in the same bad shape? IN the name of the war on terror, I guess social programs are fine for these folk.

    Having said that, this is money well spent compared to our other spending in Pakistan. Sesame Street is one of the very few kids show that I liked as a kid(usually I just watched regular shows as the grownups even at a young age). I didnt even like Mister Rogers despite spending my early childhood in Pittsburgh. When I went to live in India (due to some family situation), Sesame Street is the one show I associated with the greatness of American culture!!!

  8. “Bad news, though. The characters of Count von Count and Cookie Monster have been cut from the Pakistani version of the show. I call shenanigans. How can there be a Sesame Street without a Count and a Cookie Monster. “

    Sesame Street always makes new local characters whenever it starts a new version in a country. Kids in other countries may not be able to relate to the American characters

    A humorous aside:- In most of the newer Sesame Street DVDs there is an advert in the beggining that tells you that your purchase is going towards funding Sesame Street programs around the world. They show clips of Sesame Street counting bits in different countries. In all the countries, they show kids/muppets counting 1,2,3. When they get to the Hindi version they go das, bees, tees, which translates to 10, 20, 30. Makes it look like Indian kids learn to count 10,20,30 while rest of the world is counting 1,2,3

  9. I <3 Sesame Street. I watched it until I was 7 and it was no longer socially acceptable :D We gave up TV about a year before our baby was born, and don’t really miss it. I figure she can get her Sesame St fix from the Internet or DVDs or something.

    I love that it’s been translated into so many other languages/cultures. Very cool.

    Pravin Praveen – fistbump for a fellow Pittsburgher! Though I can’t believe you didn’t like Mr. Rogers. He’s da man!