Aurora Magazine

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PIA: An Acronym of Love and Despair

Published in Mar-Apr 2023

The pride and frustration the national airline evokes in Pakistanis.

This article is part of our cover story <strong>Future Imperfect?</strong>
This article is part of our cover story Future Imperfect?

Pakistan is in possession of three love letters. They are an undisputed source of pride for the country. But they are also a source of contention. Because, although these three letters may seem innocuous on the outside, they have caused much scandal, intrigue and heartbreak on the inside. These letters are known to everyone. Everyone has an opinion about them. 

These advertisements published in the sixties and seventies highlight the changes in branding that the national carrier underwent over the years.
These advertisements published in the sixties and seventies highlight the changes in branding that the national carrier underwent over the years.

Some claim that their provenance is original – and that the wear and tear is a natural, if not obvious, consequence of unrequited love. On the surface, it might be a story of betrayal, false-heartedness, or even the kiss of Judas. Like the windswept tales from our folklore, these letters have taken a beating and have allowed time to manifest itself in the shape of scars on their ravaged, reminiscent visage. And yet, they argue, there must be an otherworldly tenacity inscribed into these letters – for they remain held together by an invisible force that prevails, despite the relentless advances of duplicity and fraudulence. These letters were born to be timeless, they say.

The critics and casual readers of these letters will be quick to point out that the outward romance in these letters is merely an eyewash for a business transaction. They are merely the overture, the advances that would lead to mercantile trysts. These letters, they bellow; they still reek of the scent of Anarkali – for how can a courtesan to the rich and the powerful ever be believed of carrying anything other than a heart that pumps ink instead of blood? The letters are deceptive. Sly and scheming. It is not age but a misplaced sense of privilege and self-entitlement that has hollowed out their souls into soundless echoes.

The First Letter

The first letter is the story of Pakistan. It is the proud declaration of a newly born state that minted her independence out of a quest for sovereignty. And in her sovereign state, she passed her most valuable asset – her name – to her fleet of domestic and international ambassadors, who were directed to showcase the spirit of a new nation, its drive and ambition, its prowess to turn the odds in its favour. And, to fly the flag – which, ironically, was never discernibly showcased on its green and white garb until very recently. Perhaps this letter always knew that to make a place in the world, it must first cater to the tastes, demands and standards of the world, in a world-class way, before it sets upon any national agenda that it wishes for the world to accommodate.

The Second Letter

The second letter is the story of being international. Not just in name. But in action and in spirit. Being ‘international’ is not about intercontinental destinations; rather, it is the accommodating attribute of greatness that celebrates being intra-national, multicultural and multiracial. Wide-ranging and far-reaching diversity stalls fossilisation and fuels innovation. After all, the second letter proclaims, when we have arrived at these gates, we will also understand the power of what it means to be all-embracing. For once we do, we will act with what the French call savoir faire: that poise and grace that is demanded of us in dealing with social situations; or what the Italians call sprezzatura: that seemingly effortless ease that comes after much careful study so that actions look and feel invitingly spontaneous. The love child of the right combination of savoir faire and sprezzatura is glamour; that irresistible quality that can seduce the eye, bewitch the soul and enrich the bottom line.

The Third Letter

The third letter is the story of the airline. It is many pages long. Perhaps too many – so that it compels readers to skim through important passages and invent summations of their own. The third letter speaks of achievements that were global in their scale; it boasts of a number of firsts listed under a chapter titled ‘Hey Days?’ It speaks of countless opportunities, rare records that remain unbroken and enviable coverage by the world media of an airline that seemed to have cracked the code to become the Star of the East. It speaks of designers, the likes of Pierre Cardin (who kick-started the Space Age in fashion with his use of tunics, goggles and helmets) and Hardy Amies (who dressed Queen Elizabeth II) – both of whom were commissioned to capture the zeitgeist of the times and have it hemmed into the airline’s uniforms. It speaks of the changing liveries and brings to light delightful trivia like the one about a Chinese calligrapher who worked at Negus & Negus (a London-based brand identity firm that created the world’s most visible tail-fin for us and was responsible for two iconic livery overhauls); who used a Chinese brush to script the Urdu brand marque without knowing how to read or write the language. It speaks of advertising giants like Leo Burnett, who coined ‘Great People to Fly With’; or David Ogilvy, who made our passengers feel ‘Just Like (they were) Coming Home’; or Linda Locke who spearheaded our most awarded advertising campaign by answering why ‘You’re Flying With Extraordinary People.’ It speaks of all this. And more. Until the ink begins to fade and new interpretations begin to take hold of our greatest brand. Our greatest love story. 

These letters are known to you as P.I.A.; independently, they are the name of our national airline. 

Interdependently, they spell Pia. Which is to say: ‘She, who is beloved’.

These letters. Three letters. Our letters.

First published in The Dawn of Advertising in Pakistan (1947-2017) on March 31, 2018.

Faraz Maqsood Hamidi is Chief Creative Officer & CEO, The D’Hamidi Partnership, a worldwide partner agency of WPI.