I ordered this book just out of curiosity to know how much Pakistanis are different from us (Indians). This book boasts to be on the society, culture and arts of Pakistanis.
Let me give a brief detail about the author first. Raza Ahmad Rumi is a Pakistani policy analyst, journalist and author. Currently, he is the editor of Daily Times (Pakistan). He has visited and taught in many seminars and academic institutes of his own country, India and USA. His other books are- “Delhi By Heart-Impression of a Pakistani Traveller”, and “The Fractious Path: Pakistan’s Democratic Transition and Identity and Faith and Conflict.”
By reading this book, you will hardly get the sense that he might be an Islamic bigot or extremist. His writing has liberal and humane touch and he is also not happy with the radical and destructive activities done in Pakistan on the name of religion; and he laments on the death of multicolored culture that Pakistan had once.
Well, almost everyone knows that Pakistan was cut off from India in 1947 on the basis of religion. Muhammad Ali Zinna, the father of Pakistan, thought Muslims will not get the fair share of resources and opportunities, as it will always be dominated by the Hindus. So, they created their own theocratic rule and made an Islamic country – an Islamic country made on the horrifying massacre and migration. Perhaps no other country had to face such situations in the world as India and Pakistan had to.
This book gives you an insight what I am thinking right now, ‘you can kill people, you can draw boundaries, you can impose religion, but you can’t annihilate Culture.’ The culture doesn’t die at once, no matter how brutal the repression is, it goes through slow deaths that takes centuries.
The whole Indian Continent, before partition, as it was, neither Hindu nor Muslim ( though, there were Muslim rulers but majority of the population was Hindu; there were some areas where a Hindu king ruled Muslims citizens, like in Kashmir; Pakistan had some Muslim majority areas, but Hindus, too, were living equally in number; Bhutan followed Buddhism; Nepal was and it’s even today a Hindu state; Sri Lanka had Buddhist Sinhalese and Hinduism mix-up, Bangladesh, at that time, a part of India was the best epitome of Hindustani culture) and then the British occupied and for draining the wealth of an innocent country ( sorry, the idea of country wasn’t in our mind then, but our mind was filled up with Culture – an inclusive and rich culture ). It was the British who forced us to contemplate about Country, Boundary, Religion, Caste, Theocracy, Autocracy, Despotism, Nationalism, Patriotism and other such ideas born from the ideology of Imperialism.
These were the ideas that helped to justify the Imperialism that helped the British to divide the people and make their despotism easy. Though some leaders tried hard to remove this effect, nevertheless, some Muslim leaders and thinkers couldn’t comply with the idea that both Hindu and Muslim can live together peacefully. I have an intuition regarding this: I think people of different religions, ethnicity, castes and creed can live peacefully, unless the politics divides them. It can’t be certainly true, and can’t be certainly wrong also. It’s a debatable notion, however.
Zinna, the chain-smoker, pork-eater and an alcoholic leader was adamant to make a new nation for Muslims and he did so. Of course, the creation was horrifying, but I would abstain myself to go in details as this is not the purpose of this book that I’m reviewing.
What I have to say through this book that Culture is beyond the boundaries; one can’t repress at once; it is the DNA of societies that goes from one generation to other ceaselessly.
Raza Rumi talks about the same above things in his book. A piece of land was separated from India on the name of Islam, but Culture , can anyone instill culture in a society forcefully, rapidly? The rulers tried hard though, but as the book asserts, they failed in doing so at large scale.
As India is a country of mixed cultures, Pakistan was very much same at the beginning. But… because India has travelled long ways in the company of liberal leaders while Pakistan has suffered much from the exact opposite, that’s why, the diversity in Indian culture is still blooming and visible, while the aura of diversity in culture of Pakistan is taking its last breaths.
Though, the author says that geopolitics and the dominant global security discourses have reduced Pakistan to terrorism and military coups, while movies, novels and global media reaffirm such reductionist frames and he hopes that this book will allow the readers to notice the intricate mosaic of Pakistani identity and vibrant cultural expressions. Well, to this, I would like to say that Pakistan has still to go a long way for getting that affirmation of the so called intricate mosaic of Pakistani identity. The blasphemy laws, the anti-ahmadia laws, organized prosecutions of Shias and Hindus, the vandalization of Hindu temples, bombings and terrorism will help continuously in denigrating Pakistan. Here, you can accuse me of being stereotypical, there are certainly some good and some bad things about every country and so is true about India or America, but the things that I counted above have concrete evidences. Besides, the interesting thing about “news” is that the “bad one” circulates easily. So, I would like to say that such books, about positive things, should be written in great numbers.
Let’s come to the book –
The book is divided in four parts- Devotion, Literature, Arts and Personal Essays.
The first part, Devotion, talks about Kabir, Bulle Shah and Lalon– the Nirgun poets (poets who praised and sang of the formless Almighty) who preached Humanity and criticized every type of organized religiosity. Well, every Indian is aware of the legacy of Kabir and it’s matter of utmost pleasure to know that he is revered in Pakistan also. I had heard about Bulle Shah (1680-1757) in a few songs and poems and it was quite amazing experience to read about him. He was much like Kabir and it’s a very good thing if he still inspires Pakistani artists. I would like to quote one of his poems that is of the same essence as Kabir’s poems are-
“Demolish the mosque, pull down the temple
Pull down everything in sight
But don’t break a human heart
For that is where the Almighty lives”
Then there is Lalon Shah (1772-1890), quite new for me. He was among the Bauls. Like Kabir, Lalon’s origin is contested, some say he was a Hindu by birth but raised in a Muslim household. The Bauls are a community of low-class, illiterate, wandering singers whose wisdom is not based on formal schooling, but emanates from ‘lived’ contact with an intensely experienced life and close interaction with nature. They were mainly in East Pakistan and Tagore praised him much. Lalon says-
“He who is my soul-mate, lives in my soul itself
Thus I see him everywhere
He exists within my eyes, he exists in the stream of light
So he is never lost
So he is visible for me here there and at all places wherever I cast my eyes”
Afterwards the author comes to describe the legacy of the river Indus, the syncretism and politics around it, its myths and legends. Indus (Sindhu) even today remains a powerful unifier of India and Pakistan. The chapter about Indus is very interesting; the author has done great research to bring in light its history, its people around, belief systems and songs and prayers dedicated to it.
In the next chapter of the first part, Raza Rumi seems quite unhappy for all-pervasive Indian tv-serials in Pakistan, Afganistan and Bangladesh, especially of Ekta Kapoor’s ‘Kahani Ghar-Ghar Ki’ and ‘Kyon Ki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’. Well, I am not a tv-serial watcher. I have quit watching TV for more than ten or twelve years, and particularly, I too, don’t like these family dramas, but the author says that they are threat to social values and they are misleading youths. I would say that it’s all about the market; if you want to make a change, bring up your creativity and provide them something better; why to give a damn about them then?
The next chapter is about the cult of Feminine: Kali (goddess) and the Sindh province of Pakistan. Well, Sindh province had the largest population of Hindus and even today it has in Pakistan, but the Hindus living there had to face and perhaps they are still facing the forced conversion in Islam. Approx 110,000 Hindus have been converted to Islam (Source- Wikipedia) in Sindh province. Out of 428 temples, there are now 20 Hindu temples only in Pakistan (Source-Wikipedia). How can one hope for, after such prosecution and vandalization, any religious or social cult to prosper, either of Kali or of feminine. Still, there are people in Sindh who are trying to keep alive this cult.
I liked the second part most. I like Urdu and I have read many poets and a few writers of Urdu Literature. Especially Saadat Hassan ‘Manto’ is my favourite Afsananigaar (story-teller). I am a fan of his portrayal of reality, portrayal of Humanity, and particularly portrayal of women in his stories. I have read more than 100 stories approx of Manto translated in Hindi. Recently, I watched the biopic on Manto directed by Nandita Das in which Manto (Nawajuddin Siddiqui- the actor) says, “ After death when I will go to the Heaven, God will be surprised and will ask Himself who is better story-teller : God or Manto?” Lots of Indian identifies Manto as an Indian Urdu writer and a lot of books are written on him in India, nonetheless, it is true that he had moved to Pakistan after the Partition, but there was a Bombay moving in him in Lahore. Pakistanis may be proud of Manto and so are the Indians. I am sure he could get a lot better treatment and recognition in his life, had he had decided to remain in India.
Other prominent writers about whom Raza Rumi has written are Qyrratulain Hyder and Intizar Hussain. He has also mentioned a poet who committed suicide because he couldn’t get the proper recognition of his merit in Pakistan- Mustafa Zaidi. I haven’t read any of the above yet, but Hyder’s magnum opus Aag Ka Dariya (Fire of River) is in my TBR list. This year, I will try read that and the other mentioned writers too. Qurratulain Hyder is a big name of Urdu literature in India. I am sure she had realized her mistake after moving to Pakistan and finally decided to return and settle forever in India. She got the desired respect and recognition that she deserved.
Among other Pakistani Urdu poets, I like Faraz Ahmad Faraz, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, and Habib Jalib very much. Literature and Arts are beyond of boundaries. How good it would be if these things could bind us in friendly relationship. Alas! That’s not going to happen. Of course, due to the politics of both countries.
Well, all these writers were in the past. There’s a chapter about the contemporary Pakistani Literature in the ‘Age of Terror’. The writer admits that Pakistani literature, after shying away from direct references to the human suffering and terrorism, has followed, with some variation, the Sri Lankan trajectory ( Literature in the Sri Lankan context assumed a prominent role after the political events of the 1980s i.e. the ethnic riots that erupted between the Sinhalese and Tamils. Literature as a medium of expression, as in the case with war-struck regions remained marginalized and repressed). Whatever dissident there is against military rule or terrorism is in mostly regional languages.
I have no great knowledge about Art’s forms except some literature, some music and some drawings, and I know that Indian Subcontinent has always been supremely rich in every art form within. As Pakistan is part of India; it has also rich culture in arts, but artists there don’t enjoy the same freedom as the Indian artists have here, in India. That’s the reason many artists plan to work outside of Pakistan – the best example is given of the great artist Shazia Sikandar who is living and working in New York now. How can diversity of Arts bloom in extreme militarization and the imposed and ongoing Arabization of Pakistan?
Still, Pakistan has some great painters, singers and writers as I got to know from this book. Runa Laila who later moved to Bangladesh is a great singer. Asim Butt, the great painter of graffiti and founder of The Karachi Stuckist, died in 2010, is the jewel of Pakistan. I also got to know about Alamgir- the King of Pop music in Pakistan.
Some monuments, historical places and fine buildings, like Minar-e-Pakistan, Badshahi Mosque, Shalimar Garden, Faisal Mosque, Pakistan Monument, Mazar-e-Quaid (Tomb of Zinna), Wazir Khan Mosque, Derawar Forte, Hiran Minar etc are worth to visit as I read about some of them in the author’s descriptions. But, I don’t think Tourism is a good revenue collecting factor in Pakistan – just 2.8% of GDP, while India has 9.4% of GDP from Tourism sector, in 2017. The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report for the year 2017 placed Pakistan on 124th rank in 136 countries overall, while India got the 40th rank.
Well, there is no point in comparing India and Pakistan. For me, India is better, and I am sure that such will be the emotions of many Pakistanis regarding Pakistan. Loving one’s own country is a good thing.
The last part consists two essays, the first is about Bangladesh where the writer had travelled and the second is about Lahore. The first is thought provoking while the second is informative. The author has penned his memoirs nicely.
Overall, I liked the book and got the gist that Civilizations and Cultures don’t follow Nations and Religions, but the opposite is true. I liked the spirit of the author to give the audience an alternate view of Pakistan – its present situations, its past, its dreams and sorrows. Undoubtedly, it is readable book.
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