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FARANGI IN TOWN: Is this Pakistan? —Ella Rolfe May 6, 2008

Posted by lollywoodhungama in Uncategorized.
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The middle classes, especially the young, do not have a sense of belonging to Pakistan; do not care for anything it produces; would rather display their status by seeing an expensive, over-hyped, big-budget Bollywood film than show any interest in things Pakistani

‘This is Pakistan.’ How many times have I heard this since arriving? The implication: of course things don’t work. What did you expect?

This has always seemed to me a nonsensical attitude: quite clearly, things do work in this country. You live here, and you know it’s not a bombed out wasteland populated only by suicide bombers and mullahs, I want to shout at those who say this to me. Why are you looking at me patronisingly as if I myself have invented a decently stable Pakistan out of thin air?

Such are the rantings that, inside my head, feel justified. Gratifyingly, I recently had a conversation with another westerner that backed up my views. A music teacher at the University of Punjab, he obviously sensed my sympathy on this subject, and took the opportunity to rant along with me. The two of us had a great time.

With his first year students, he makes a point of analysing a Pashto song in order to point out to them that it’s not a ‘folk song’, but is very modern and can in fact be considered pop music. They are always scandalised by this. Getting the mostly Punjabi students to engage with a rich musical tradition, something he feels is largely absent from Punjabi culture, is one thing; getting them to acknowledge that it is any way new or innovative is quite another. They insist to the end that this is not only traditional folk music, but ‘our traditional folk music’.

Such a skewed and confused set of identifications with Pakistan — no acknowledgement of the diversity of the country, nor of its ability to produce anything fresh — seems to me to be a common phenomenon among young people.

These students, as they claim for themselves something they have no knowledge of, illustrate the paradox that while young Pakistanis are looking for something to lay claim to, they haven’t found it because they don’t actually care about Pakistan all that much.

My teacher friend has heard any number of students claim in debate that ‘this is not our country’; some even talk of reunification with India as the best solution. He laments the westernisation of Pakistan, blaming this on access to the international arena through the country’s explosion of TV stations in the last five years and saying that in another ten, Pakistan will be just like Egypt — homogenous.

He himself may even be part of this, employed under a deliberate Musharraf policy to back the university’s music programme with a westerner. He also decries the decline of the Pakistani film industry, choked out by air-filled, meaningless Bollywood produce that has been westernised and product-placed to death even despite attempts by the Indian government to expel multinational companies from the country (they ‘invited’ Pepsi to leave in 2005).

The middle and wealthier classes still watch the Bollywood films, he says; the poor don’t go to the cinema any more, as they neither understand the foreign storylines nor enjoy the songs, which are awful.

This class divide chimes with what I have concluded about Pakistan’s upwardly mobile youth. The middle classes, especially the young, do not have a sense of belonging to Pakistan; do not care for anything it produces; would rather display their status by seeing an expensive, over-hyped, big-budget Bollywood film than show any interest in things Pakistani.

The papers are full of complaints that the government should regulate electricity consumption by the rich, with their extravagant parties and air conditioners pumping in empty rooms; is it possible that the wealthy of Pakistan do not care if they are destroying their country? This is Pakistan — there is no expectation of anything useful being produced. Anyone who can afford to wants to get out of the country as soon as they can.

Alas, when faced with such attitudes the little ranting gremlin inside my head is back. ‘Things are never going to change if you think like that, are they?’ it taunts. Filtered into more rational speech, it has a point: there is a need to re-engage young people in their home country and its politics. They need to be given a reason to care.

The writer is a Daily Times staff member

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