An Improbable Country

Pakistan…a country so improbable that it could almost exist.
-Salman Rushdie, Shame.

For some odd 61 years now, we have been living an almost, not quite there existence. In the eyes of the Western powers, we exist at times when a strategically important partner is needed, when military bases and mujahideen are the order of the day.

But this is not about the West. This is about us, the people. And what we have lived through in the years that Pakistan hung on by a rapidly fraying thread, a thread that seldom attempted to repair itself, and when it did, was snipped by a military dictator.

We, the unfortunate children born in the 80s, when Zia was in the throes of his Islamization fever, and Benazir was a much loved icon, will never be able to talk about the golden era of Pakistan, when nightclubs and bars were common, and Karachi was on the hippie route.

Instead, we talk about the days of the operation in Karachi, of being mugged in broad daylight, and share stories about robbers pausing to discern designer pens from the fakes. We talk about sneaking into our forgotten province Baluchistan, where there are more military personnel than actual Baluchis. We talk about Musharraf, and are fiercely divided on whether we hate him with a passion that disturbs us on sleepless nights, or whether we think he was really our saviour. Whether Iftikhar Chaudhry is all that he seems to be, or what would have happened if Benazir was still alive. We have seen bomb blasts and body parts, and have mulled over who Baitullah Mehsud really is.

And we were reminded, time and again, that in our moth-eaten country*, ours was a fragmented existence…not quite there. Years from now, our children will read some semi-fictional version of history in their schoolbooks, and ask us what really happened. What will we tell them? That yes, the intelligence agencies were really responsible for detaining people without charges for years? Or that we saw people being baton charged and tear gassed in front of our eyes, because they demanded the freedom of the pen, or wanted an independent judiciary? That the milibus was not part of Ayesha Siddiqa’s imagination and really did exist, and as a result we saw bridges constructed by military owned organizations collapse into piles of rubble, with children trapped beneath them and no one accepting responsibility? That our brief moment of sanity came on the night of the elections, as we saw moderate political forces winning seat after seat and we knew, for once, that tomorrow would be a better day? Or that our sense of patriotism died, and we barely felt it?

Perhaps it is this oddly chilly night, or the new Nine Inch Nails’ instrumental album, but I am, more than ever, filled with a sense of despondency, that perhaps we will never have to tell our children what really happened. Perhaps, Pakistan will cease to exist by then, and will forever remain only in history books.

Till then, we continue to live our almost-existence.

*from Rushdie’s Shame, again. I quote Rushdie shamelessly.

11 comments
  1. “the golden era of Pakistan, when nightclubs and bars were common, and Karachi was on the hippie route.”

    i’ve always wondered how true that story is. pakistan hasn’t really ever had a ‘golden era’ has it? maybe for our parents, who were reasonably well off to begin with, the 60s were a good time. but for most people, i think things have always been as desperate as they are now.

    maybe part of the problem is that we’ve grown up with these stories of how pakistan was problem-free, ignoring the fact that the problems we have today were there all along. we have to see it as it is, and tell it as it is.

    anyway, i’m still optimistic. we’ve messed up a lot, but i think we can prevent this place from going up in smoke.

  2. kirna said:

    this reduced me to tears. it’s so true. and so sad. i keep wondering the same thing myself.:/

  3. supersizeme said:

    Wow, what a write-up… brilliant.
    One thing I have to say though is why do bars & nightclubs have to mean ”happy, shiny, golden times” and ”Islamisation” have to mean a miserable tragedy-stricken time, there are many things that can easily contradict that, but as an example of levels of tolerance in them days, then yeah its true.

    Zia totally mucked up the film industry aswell, it came back filthy and engineered for illiterate monkeys.. haha

    Rushdie..what made him famous? he was a nobody, but hey.. piss the Muslims off (and we’re so predictable.. I wish people would learn to control their hyper-emotions, no wonder we’re the butt of all jokes), so you get catapulted to sensational international celebrity status, get to seek ”refuge” in England, date page-3 models, etc and make lotsa money.. I wanna read his work though, apparently my friends were howling in laughter cus he has the mind of a 3 year old.

  4. SM said:

    You seem to equate “golden age” with nightclubs and bars.

    How about getting out of your high horse of arrogance and stop presuming to know what is good for your projections might not be good for another.

    Remember this country was founded as an “Islamic Republic.” Keep that in mind.

  5. Shaikh said:

    Salman Rushdie was actually quite famous and an award winning writer (Midnight’s Children, Shame) long before he became a household word and every mullah’s whipping boy in the sub-continent.

    Do read his early work, it’s brilliant.

  6. supersizeme said:

    Puh-leeez.. lets not beat around the bush here.. admit it, he’s deranged and has the creepiest looking face complete with shifty beady eyes.. uurgh!

    I dont have the foggiest about his past record and frankly I couldn’t care less, especially if I’m sounding non-P.C.. as nobody’s P.C. when it comes to mullah-bashing! No-one seems to ackowledge that not all mullah’s are soddin’ dictators!
    I do however wanna read Rushdie’s work to the extent of; the parts my friends read which they cant stop quoting these days and laughing hysterically over.

  7. Rushdie is a genius – I’m not really a fan of his latest work, but some of his previous works are works of art. Supersizeme, maybe you should read some of his works before judging him on the basis of what your friends tell you?

  8. supersizeme said:

    Aah well.. maybe he was.. I only got to hear of him post-satanic verses.. prior to that.. hmm..maybe he WAS some genius..who clearly lost the plot after.
    He’s not any less of a creep though.

  9. Hira said:

    Brilliantly written.

    Loved this part:
    And we were reminded, time and again, that in our moth-eaten country*, ours was a fragmented existence…not quite there. Years from now, our children will read some semi-fictional version of history in their schoolbooks, and ask us what really happened. What will we tell them? That yes, the intelligence agencies were really responsible for detaining people without charges for years? Or that we saw people being baton charged and tear gassed in front of our eyes, because they demanded the freedom of the pen, or wanted an independent judiciary? That the milibus was not part of Ayesha Siddiqa’s imagination and really did exist, and as a result we saw bridges constructed by military owned organizations collapse into piles of rubble, with children trapped beneath them and no one accepting responsibility? That our brief moment of sanity came on the night of the elections, as we saw moderate political forces winning seat after seat and we knew, for once, that tomorrow would be a better day? Or that our sense of patriotism died, and we barely felt it?

    Very moving.

    I do agree with supersizeme though, why is Islamisation always associated with regression? Of course the insane, agenda-driven Islamisation our rulers have engaged in is something you cannot ever want. But if there are people out there who want Islam in their lives, why look down upon them?

  10. Islamization and wanting Islam in your life are two different things – Islamization is state/group-sponsored in most cases, and is imposed on a section of people by force, whether they like it or not, whereas wanting Islam in one’s life is a personal choice, which every human being should have the liberty to make.

  11. supersizeme said:

    Yeah, precisely.
    Although I wouldn’t call it ‘Islamization’ I’d call it politics, hidden under the guise of religion, distorting it and screwing it up. Like what Zia did, that was siyasat, he used religion and screwed it up to fit his twisted ideology.

    I’m always repeating this, but during my somewhat Islamic upbringing I was always taught that anything yes ANYTHING in its extreme is haram and unhealthy, which is also common sense.

    .. and like fanaticism, those people just cant be helped, harmless or not, if it wasnt religious fanaticism they’d fixate themselves to something else, thats more like a disorder.

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