Over the top- by Masood Hasan

Newspapers this week carried a picture of the COAS Gen Ashraf Parvez Kayani addressing the troops during his visit to the forward posts on the Line of Actual Control in the Northern Areas. He is flanked by other senior officers. The table on which the mikes have been placed carries the FCNA mascot, a supine and rather ragged snow leopard. The sight of the mascot triggered off an interesting story.
It was sometime in 1996 that, accompanying my friend Maj (Retd) Shahid Ataullah to Rawalpindi, we dropped in to pay what the Faujis quaintly term “a courtesy call” to the then Corps Commander 10 Corps, Lt Gen Ali Kuli Khan. The general was in a most affable mood and during the meeting found out that one was engaged in the nebulous dark art of creating images and making stories, or, in more polite language, paid liars, which is often what advertising agency people are thought of. This is, of course, now a very debatable point because while advertising people may lure you into buying a toothpaste you don’t really need, the amount of lying and deceit practised on the national scale by the lowest and the highest must make our tribe look like first cousins of Little Bo Peep. Any way, the general said that the FCNA logo, the snow leopard, looked like everything but a snow leopard. He lamented the fact that over the years the logo had been copied so often by so many incompetent hands that it looked like something between a lizard and a cat, and hardly that graceful and superb large cat that silently prowls the highest snowbound regions of our Northern Areas. He, in fact, said that for some reason, the logo reminded him more of Goldilocks than a snow leopard. When the 10 Corps Chief tells you to do something about something, you say, “Yes sir,” roll up your sleeves and get to work, which is what we did.

For the next many weeks we worked feverishly, going over what remained of the once majestic icon. The general was right. It looked pathetic, and expressions like “a lame cat” and “what on earth is that” were frequently uttered. Bit by bit, we started to develop what we felt was the right icon for the FCNA (Force Commander Northern Areas) and our Creative Director, Lubna Jehangir, and her design team pored over drawings, chased the WWF for images of the reclusive leopard and scanned books and magazines for the right images. Being one of those animals which have rarely been photographed in close-up detail, it was hard going, but we persevered. Gradually, what we had imagined the FCNA icon should be began to take shape before our eyes. There were many considerations that needed to be taken seriously.

We were aware that the icon, logo or mascot – all the same thing, really – would be “interpreted” by different “artists” employed by the Pakistan Army and that each one would give the visual his own angle. A set of cast-iron guidelines had to be developed so that whether the icon was to be hand-painted on the back of a truck, a shield, a building, a flag, a pennant, a medal, stationery, signage – whatever, it should always look the same. Thus, rather than the body of the snow leopard – not by far its most stunning feature and prone to the vagaries of the army’s many “artists” – we focused on the animal’s magnificent head. To draw the mane in such a way that it would remain sharp whether it was one centimetre or twenty-feet across, we stylised the mane with clear and bold lines that were easily reproducible yet visually stunning and clear. His fearsome teeth were next and, painstakingly, the jaw line was developed and the whiskers also stylised to appear clear and distinct. In a few weeks we were ready with the final visual identity of the FCNA mascot.

We then developed a set of rules and regulations of rights and wrongs when using the mascot. Without these brand guidelines, no logo, however powerful, can survive for long because indiscriminate corruption of the basic design leads to diluting the very essence of the logo. Imagine if the Mercedes’s fabled triangle within the circle were allowed to be reinterpreted by all and sundry. You would end up with everything looking nothing remotely like the original, and this explains why multinationals are ready to kill in defence of their logo or identity. What started out as a drawing became a bulky document of guidelines and usage of the FCNA logo.

In 1997, Jehangir Karamat was the COAS and I think Ali Kuli Khan was the CGS. We were one day summoned to the GHQ to present our recommendations to the Chief. The boardroom contained a heavy collection of top brass, the lowest-ranking officer being a brigadier. My old friend from boarding school Iftikhar (Ifti) was there and, I think, so was Maj Gen Jehangir Nasrullah, now sadly gone. Lt Gen Ziaullah, the AG, was there and the boardroom was abuzz when the Chief walked in. Earlier, the brigadier had taken me aside and in a low tone asked me if I was going to present the findings. When I said that it would be done by the Creative Director since she had piloted the entire project, the brigadier was visibly upset. A woman presenting to the Chief? It was not the done thing. He gently suggested that it would be far more appropriate that I did the honours. When I refused to oblige him, his second line of defence popped up. “Let Maj Shahid make the presentation,” he advised me. My refusal caused the brigadier to take a few long gasps of fresh air. Muttering, he retreated.

As the presentation began, our Creative Director, who shared her last name with the Chief’s first name, introduced herself. The Chief smiled and said it was a “nice name.” Everyone laughed, the brigadier took a gulp of air and in a more friendly vein, we started off. It was smooth sailing as far as the presentation was concerned since everyone agreed that it was high time the FCNA icon be restored to its real glory. Lt Gen Ali Kuli Khan was smiling broadly as it had been his idea all along. The Chief issued orders right then and there, that henceforth the new identity of the FCNA icon would be implemented right across the board without exception. He ordered that since it would be a massive exercise, it could not be done overnight, but a start must be made.

That settled, a suggestion came that could the Sappers’ logo be given a similar facelift since it looked more like a gardener’s tool shed with a flowerpot thrown in and hardly did any justice to the Corps of Engineers. We were asked to examine that matter as well, but our first priority was to get rid of Goldilocks. For weeks going into months we tried to get the project started but it seemed there was nowhere we could go to without running into some wall or the other. By 1998, we had put away our reports and artworks. Time marched on.

It is now well over a decade since that GHQ presentation. I can see from the picture of the new chief that Goldilocks reigns supreme. That strange creature remains the FCNA’s most cherished identity. That glorious and almost mythical animal, the snow leopard, does not adorn the FCNA as it must. Of course, the new Chief cannot know about what nearly happened, but perhaps in-between fending off the friendly US-NATO forces and the large-hearted Taliban, who have it seems the world’s largest arsenal of deadly weapons, he might actually unite the snow leopard and the FCNA which lives in the snow leopard’s land.

The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: masoodhasan66@gmail.com

Source: The News, 21/9/2008

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