Culture. Tourism. Critical thinking. Social enterprise.
Instilling a sense of pride and wonder amongst the youth and Diaspora to propel them towards social action.
Literaty Pakistan is an initiative aimed at cultural revival and bringing the youth towards social enterprise and development. It further intends to inculcate a sense of positivity, pride and a sense of responsibility in the youth of Pakistan- both those studying at home as well as those living abroad. It aims to bring the youth out of the culture of negativity and despair, in hopes that those who value their country will wish to invest in the development of the country.
We hope to attain the aforesaid with the help of a Quarterly publication by the same name (the first issue is out in print and has been distributed in 10 universities in Pakistan and in the US and Canada), a blog and on-ground events (conferences, workshops, movements and social uplift drives in university campuses) that will supplement the literature we are disseminating.
As a fan of the recent TV series Pan Am, I saw it fitting to use pop-culture to spread my interest in the history of Pakistan amongst others in my generation. Though quite a few of you might know of Pan American airways, I doubt you knew of their operations in Pakistan. The following links and descriptions draw on the days when PanAm flights to Karachi were a regular feature and life was quite different from today. I wish to quickly sweep you through the 40s, 50s and 60s with the following video clips before moving on to reflecting over some key questions pertaining to where we are today as a nation and how it came to be this way:
Let us begin by delving into the 1940s:
This video is perhaps the most fascinating one I came across (credit to Dr.Anjum Altaf for directing me to the video). It was recorded by an unknown British soldier as he traveled across pre-partition Karachi before returning back home.
Enter the 1950s:
This video is from the Encyclopedia Britannica’s archive about Pakistan. Notice the frequent instances of ‘exoticism’.
And then there were the sweet 1960s:
Introducing Pan Am East Asia’s promotional video for Pakistan. Sadly it was not available in any other language. It is by far the most thought provoking one, for it takes us back to a Pakistan most of us didn’t know existed. Notice the beaches– swimwear-clad foreigners fraternizing with the locals in traditional Pakistani attire? How many times do we see that today?
How many of us actually knew this part of Pakistan’s history? What questions does it raise in our current paradigm? How did we end up here? And more importantly, how does one reconcile where we are today with where we were then? Pakistan has changed. What are the many ways in which it has changed? What are the dimensions we should be happy about? Which ones should be a cause of concern? Why have these changes occurred? What kind of a future do they frame for us? How are we placed in these sweeping chages? These are some of the questions we must ask ourselves before we try and analyse current day Pakistan. It is only once we begin to answer these questions and learn from our experiences, that we can truly begin to tread on the path to a better tomorrow.
Morgen Morrissette tells us about her experience of working at AGHS Legal Aid Cell. This article is in conjunction with the article on AGHS, in Section Three of Literaty Pakistan Magazine Issue I.
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
I came to Pakistan for two reasons: I had never been here, and I didn’t know any non-Pakistanis who had. I came to AGHS because it is the most influential human rights organization in Pakistan, and one of the best in the sub-continent. I came because I wanted to see how one goes about not only helping individuals, but effecting systemic legal reform. I wanted to learn how to help others fight for their own rights, and how to fight for any protect my own.
I wanted to be clear from the start that I did not come to help just “Pakistan” or “Pakistanis.” I wanted to help us, humans, especially those of us most vulnerable to exploitation– the poor, women, children and minorities. I came to work in the field of fundamental human rights, something everyone is entitled to; is obligated to fight for; a commodity under constant threat. When I say “us” I mean humans, but I could easily mean Americans and Pakistanis, or any other group of people. Human rights and fundamental freedoms are universal necessities, they need to be fought for and guarded. Human rights are tools, they are the way out of poverty and they are weapons against those who profit from poverty and ignorance.
Pakistan lives up to a good bit of its reputation. It is religious and hot, the courts are corrupt and justice is for sale. Besides the aforementioned heat, the United States is plagued with many of the same problems the Pakistan is. We are both plagued with religious and racial intolerance, violent, uncontrolled police forces, rising food prices and the looming threat of war, terror and poverty. We are both fortunate enough to have an increasingly vocal and educated middle class, more prepared to take control of our countries’ futures and our foreign policies. We are both in precarious position, and we both need educated, tolerant, socially conscious people to bring about legal, political and social reform. I came to Pakistan and to AGHS to learn how to be a part of that reform.
My time at AGHS allowed me to learn about lobbying and legal aid, but more importantly about coalition building. Social reform takes attorneys, engineers, doctors, businessmen, politicians and social workers. It takes courtrooms, infrastructure, hospitals, employment centers, shelters and childcare. We are all in a position to petition for our rights, and support the rights of others. All of our rights are bound up with each other.
This past spring, a lot of people were once again yearning to celebrate basant*as part of the celebrations marking the joy brought by the season. Others were glad that basant was not celebrated, for one reason or the other. Public debates about the feasibility and the desirability of the festival have become commonplace. When these debates frame the matter in relation to religion, it is typically said either that basant is a cultural festival having nothing to do with religion, or that it is an un-Islamic event. Against the backdrop of a society which is increasingly becoming polarized into groups of secular extremists and religious fanatics, it is my contention that basant has the potential to become a genuine cultural commons which, if cultivated with patience and purpose, can bridge the religious-secular divide which appears to be deepening by the day. I am proposing that basant be looked at as a shared cultural space by those who choose to live secular lives as well as by those whose religious aspirations encompass their entire lives. (This article assumes that basant is administratively feasible, given a certain degree of competency and sincerity in the local administrators.)
First arises the question of the relationship of basantwith religion. I am unaware of the history of the festival and will not claim either way that its roots are or are not to be found in specifically religious ground. One thing is clear: even if it was once a specifically religious celebration, that is not what it has meant to us in the recent past and what it means to us today. That being said, I see no re
ason why a genuinely religious person – and in our Pakistani context a Muslim person (I am not aware of the religious minorities having said anything about basant) – should be not be able to assimilate basant in his or her world-view. It is perhaps not known enough that Islam has taken an appreciative view of the worldly, the material and the mundane. Viewed as a celebration of the joy of spring, it should be easily incorporable in an Islamic world-view which has historically been able to assimilate a variety of cultural traditions into its fold. A positive ruling or statement on this issue by an Islamic scholar of standing should go a long way to alleviate the doubts or inhibitions of the religious. I, for one, cannot remember having heard such a statement but am quite confident that we may even be able to find something to this effect in our historical sources should the current ulema refuse to approve of it.
Some on the religious side may feel that I am forcibly laying a non-religious (even irreligious) tradition at their doorstep like an unwanted orphan and forcing them to adopt it. Those on the secular side may say that I am handing over a cultural tradition to the religious fanatics, thus ensuring it will end up being buried once and for all, leaving no chance of resuscitation. Should any of the two sides respond in this manner to my proposal, my answer would be this: by answering so, they are in fact moving farther away from their own principles stands on religion and secularism respectively. Furthermore, they have failed to grasp an opportunity to deal with the challenge that basant poses as an area of conflict. Let us look at the reasons why I would respond thus.
The religious will have failed for two reasons. Firstly, they will be showing little wisdom by not bending to the winds which now blow with hostility against spiritual and religious aspirations. They will have, in short, showed too little fare-sightedness in their knee-jerk reaction to such a proposal. Secondly, they will be showing little historical self-consciousness of the strength of assimilation of their own religious tradition, thereby exposing not only a shallow understanding of their own past, but also a lack of seriousness with regards to their religious aspirations.
The secular responding in the hypothetical manner stated above, will also have failed for two reasons. Firstly, they will have showed little room to accommodate religion which, whether we may approve of it or not, remains a significant presence in the modern world (as much as the secular, if not more) and therefore must be granted its own space in the public sphere. Just as much as the spiritual must accommodate the secular, so it must be the other way around. Secondly, and more crucially, by responding in this manner, they will be laying a claim of exclusivity on basant. They will be claiming that that it cannot and should not be celebrated with a religious motivation. In doing so, the secularists’ claims of upholding the ideal of pluralism will come under serious strain.
Therefore, basant presents itself as a litmus test of a society becoming increasingly divided into two extreme groups. If basant can be resuscitated and purposefully cultivated as a cultural and public commons, it can be a shared space in the public sphere where the secular and the religious can interact in a positive atmosphere. If nothing else, it should at the very least allow both groups to better understand the other’s point of view. If I may be a bit more optimistic (some would say I crossed into idealist territory in my introduction), it may even help both the religious and the secular understand themselves better. If this can be done successfully in Pakistan, the resuscitation and cultivation of basant as a cultural commons can serve as an exemplar on the global stage of how the religious-secular divide can be approached practically in a different manner and possibly even be bridged.
*For those of you who are unfamiliar- Basant is the festival that celebrates the coming of spring. The most iconic feature of the festival was kite flying, a tradition that has existed for hundreds of years. This festival gained popularity to the point where painters and artists recurrently featured kites in their representations of Lahore. Kite flying was banned in the entire country half a decade ago due to the accidental deaths resulting from mainly the addition of glass and iron in the strings of the kites.