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Two Pakistans

Published Nov 14, 2012 11:37am


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I have found that there is disconnect between the people of Pakistan and that makes us citizens of two different Pakistans.

Pakistanis who were born before the 70s saw a different Pakistan that is unimaginable for our younger generation. The cultural tolerance of different communities was still intact despite the communal riots of partition. Religion was a devotional experience and had not become a ritual. Minorities and different faiths were not considered as the ‘other’. Cultural activities weren’t the basis of division as today, but points of connection even between Hindus and Muslims. These two instances of my early childhood might explain the different Pakistan that we grew up in.

The Mosque

In the early 70s, I remember visiting my maternal grandmother’s village a few kilometers away from Kohat. It was lush green with guava orchards surrounded by mauve, olive green, ultramarine, yellow ochre and burnt sienna mountains that formed a perfect reservoir for Tanda Dam, the hot spot of family picnics. We often used to walk or hire a tonga to get to the village. My mother and other female members would gather in a large compound under an old peepal tree. Us boys would rush out with our cousins to collect fresh guavas. This village had only few mud houses on either side of a mud road.

Of the two deserted houses, there was one with low walls that looked like a haunted house. It had only one room in the middle and we could see cobwebs on the broken front door and window from the road. We never ventured going close to that mud structure, hurriedly crossing it on opposite side of the road. We were even frightened to ask our cousins about this house. A few years later I asked my chum Sajjad, about the deserted mud house. He laughed and said, “Oh! That was a mosque”. I asked him why it was always deserted. He replied, “No mullah stayed for more than few days as there were very few namazis”.

-Illustration by Sabir Nazar

Three years ago, I visited the village after more than 30 years. This time I saw concrete houses with electricity and a school just opposite my friend’s house. Sajjad, who is now a grandfather, told me that cable TV is not allowed in the entire area. Upon inquiring he told me that the elders of all the surrounding villages were summoned by the tablighi jamaat center and they decided “voluntarily” to not allow cable TV in the entire area. Later on my way back I saw that the 200-kanals expanse that housed the tablighi centre on the road that goes to Hangu and then to Parachinar. Tanda dam that was once a favourite picnic spot for families is now deserted after the Taliban threatened families.

The Mandir

Our house in Kohat was at the back of PAF barbed wired boundary and guava orchards. A Balmiki mandir was the only building close to our house. I remember the festivals and stage plays performed at this mandir. For the first time, I saw Valmiki’s Ramayana and Mahabharata during those festivals. A mud raised platform served as a stage. The garuda was made with shining cardboard, cardboard crowns and wooden swords covered with silver paper. A Muslim actor performed as Rawan whom I often saw in the bazaar. I liked his acting and was mesmerised to see him gulping kerosene oil and then spitting it from his mouth to create the impression of a fire emitting monster. I remember a mixed audience that included Muslims and the distributing of parshad on banana leaves at the end of the play.

-Illustration by Sabir Nazar

I recognized the play of Pandavas and Kauravas as my mother was a great story teller. I heard from her stories of Mahabharata, Samson and Delilah, Yousaf and Zulekha, Kalidasa’s Shakuntala, Laila and Majnu and many others. We left that house and moved to Peshawar and forgot about those stories.

Some 10 years later students of our arts college toured India and I saw Mahabharata again on stage. This time it was the powerful acting and expressive voice of Naseeruddin Shah as Karna and his dialogues with his mother Kunti. Like my city actor who played Rawan, it was the character of Karna that inspired me, again played by a Muslim actor.

In hindsight, I remember my final year thesis painting was titled, ‘The fall of Lanka’. The painting showed a cow inside an elephant in a turtle. Sita is sitting inside the lakshman rekha and Rawan appears as a beggar to trick her to come out of the circle. Lanka is shown as a row of houses, with Hanuman jumping on the roofs with his tail on fire setting ablaze all of Lanka. The main idea was that imperialism has reached deep inside our societies as symbolised by the goldern dear, the rakhshas who changed into a shining golden dear (the shine of money) to attract Sita.

-Illustration by Sabir Nazar

My teacher objected that people wouldn’t understand the symbols in this painting. I pointed out that I have seen these stories being performed and people do know about them. I called a labourer who was white washing the walls of the studio for the final thesis exhibition. I asked him if he could recognise any characters in the painting. Hesitantly, he recognised the figure of Hanuman.

‘So let the labourers be your art critics and evaluate your painting,’ shouted my teacher and stormed out of the painting studio.


The author left architecture for painting but ended up as a cartoonist and now writes Hijjo. He is the jack of all trades.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (76) Closed

schazad Nov 14, 2012 01:17pm
I am from Hangu and do relate to Tanda Dam being family picnic spot. I am born in late 70s but it was picnic spot for many after in my childhood as well. Samana and Jauzaara was another place where would go in hot summer afternoons to chill with families. But now everything is ruined. There is nothing left for families in that area. There is no tolerance. I have so many shia friends from school days and I communicate with them still but when I speak to them, they complain about sunnis not being tolerant enough to let us live in peace and I am in total agreement with him. We have just lost it and we are eating our own self. I don't know what do they get in harming other people. I guess hoors and jannat but lets make this world peaceful if you really want jannat after qayamat.
AHA Nov 14, 2012 01:24pm
Just as the Christians in the West did. I truely hope we aslo come our senses.
Salman Nov 14, 2012 01:08pm
Aaaah! Those days. I hope to see my country regain some sense before I die.
AHA Nov 14, 2012 01:22pm
I agree. While Zia is the main culprit, we have also to blame the long line of politicians and religious scholars for making a fool out of us, and also ourselves for being so naive.
Sohail Nov 15, 2012 02:17am
In the 70's in Karachi I once was out with friends late night. In a round about near Tariq road we fell asleep on the grass. No fears!! Great old days.
Sikander Abbas Nov 15, 2012 08:26pm
spot on!!!
Sue Sturgess Nov 15, 2012 01:39am
What is the issue with bike riding in Pakistan?
ahmet29101 Nov 14, 2012 12:46pm
yes to a great extent i agree with you, however it was not just Zia Ul Haque only, the greedy politicians and non seriousness of politicians plus general public has also played its part, in bringing Pakistan to the point where it is now.
Waft Nov 14, 2012 02:29pm
There are many ways of forcing people. The subtlest methods e.g. veiled, implied threats are the most useful for purposes of deniability but no less prohibitive than actual violence. Let me give you an example: I love riding my bike to office when abroad, but here in Pakistan I cant imagine doing that. Why is that? You would say no one is stopping me. But you know very well, why. Because societies create prices for actions that they do not approve of. When that price is too high, most people wont do it even if they seem to be perfectly free to do so. Tableeghi Jamaats knows this very well. They know at this stage implied threats are enough. They know how much coercion people can take right now. They know they have to take one step at a time because most people don't resist (a lot dont even appreciate) such insidious change even if over a period of time it changes their lives in ways they would never want to.
AHA Nov 15, 2012 11:41am
sbb Nov 14, 2012 04:46pm
Nazir Saheb - I'd like to buy the Turtle picture. Is that possible? Please provide some way of connecting with you. Thanks.
aks Nov 15, 2012 05:35am
Well said, Waft. Very true.
Naresh Sharma Nov 15, 2012 05:20am
Yes.. well said!!!
shahidmasud12 Nov 15, 2012 01:00am
Dear Waft, you are absolutely right we as a nation are a corrupt nation.
Akaash Singh Nov 15, 2012 04:40am
you are so right. For me parinachar was like a dream with snowy mountains, rushing mountain streams and beautiful distant valleys. I used to spend hours chasing the sheep and listening to the legends of ancient tales told to us by the old sheep herders in chaste Hindko.
Nasar Nov 15, 2012 04:35am
Human mind always romanticize the past. Its that feeling of youth, energy and the excitement for future that we actually remember.... Still there were some good years in 70s and early 80s. - born 1966, raised in Model Town Lahore, now live in USA.
Akaash Singh Nov 15, 2012 04:29am
excellent article. you are so right. It was a different Pakistan in the old days. We had so much tolerance and understanding.
yusuf khan Nov 15, 2012 04:16am
Pakistan is a land where Ramayan and Mahabharat Originated. It is a place where vedic scholars and philosophers lived. It is a place where Buddhist Gurus like Padmasambhav were born. But alas ! they were not Muslims, therefore the present generation living in this place never recognises or remembers them because as per their beliefs the civilised world started only after the plunders of Bin Qasim and only Arabian civilisation is worth emulating. Perhaps they never know that a gem of world civisation is being ignored by them.
AHA Nov 15, 2012 01:39pm
No doubt pakistan 'was' quite hospitable to the minorities, they 'lived' as respectable citizens as the majorities do..... I do not know about the media in Pakistan as a whole. I only read Dawn now. I found most of the other media that I have read to be 'intellectually deficient'. Dawn is doing an excellent service for the people of Pakistan. Dawn keeps us bombarded with the truth. We are preached to deny the truth from our early childhood, and this makes truth even more bitter for us than it normally is.
Saanjh Rashmi Talwar Nov 15, 2012 12:47pm
Sabir Nazar is not only a wonderful person but a great cartoonist & Painter ... I am a proud possessor of few of his paintings ...His humour and sting go side by side ... In many of his paintings he uses symbols of Hinduism, Islam and other faiths ... he had related to me the above story when I met him in lahore in 2010 ... May ur tribe grow Nazar Sahib ...!!
Khalid Nov 14, 2012 09:41pm
Nicely said. We can NOT have justice without a tolerant society....
Shah Nov 15, 2012 09:03am
I am personally fed up by Zia this and Zia that. The fact remains that Pakistan has been ruled by secular people for most of the time. The current rules are also seculars. Instead of blaming dead people we should hold the current rulers to account. When people vote for NRO people and parties then they should not complain when their elected do not deliver!
Gerry D'Cunha Nov 14, 2012 02:11pm
the good old days until late 1960s and beginning of the bad old days when zia took over the country in 1977 until today.
Farhan Nov 14, 2012 02:10pm
Actually it was Bhutto who first gave political space to the mullah.
Salman Nov 14, 2012 01:51pm
One of the many articles I have read about how Pakistan was different in the 70s. Sir We are both born in the same Pakistan. A Pakistan without ultimate lack of justice, and poverty and absence of rule of law OR different laws for the rich and poor. I dont mind living in a Pakistan without dancing girls and beers on sale and mandirs to show off secularism but I do have a problem living in Pakistan without socio-economic justice. So we both saw the same Pakistan. But I hope I continue to live in a different Pakistan. A Pakistan I want. With Justice.
ahmet29101 Nov 14, 2012 01:54pm
well not to that extent in my family, yet now at the age of 57, when i look back, i find out that most of my school and college friends were Shia. In fact in those days nobody was giving much attention to religious differences. Although even as a child we did know what is Shia and what is Sunni, but we had never thought of looking at each other as somewhat enemy. No, never. Those were the good old days.
mehdi Nov 14, 2012 12:36pm
Zia ruined it all..
ahmet29101ahmet abdulaziz Nov 14, 2012 12:35pm
very well written. I belong to that generation, which saw the good old days. I feel sorry for whats happening in today's Pakistan.
Abdul Jaleel Nov 14, 2012 12:22pm
Those who were born before the partitio of India in 1947 remember a greatly different picture of their homes,towns,villages and social harmony. I was born in Pakistani segment of Punjab
A Pakistani Nov 14, 2012 03:14pm
Wasnt Zia. IIt was the "Mullahs"
Observer Nov 14, 2012 12:19pm
Previous to radicalization of Pakistan if we would look at Jinnah founding father of Pakistan,he could be understood in two situations one official Jinnah and other unofficial Jinnah. Official Jinnah is always secular.
ghaleezguftar Nov 14, 2012 12:19pm
Labourers here say that they like and understand your article.
Ordinary human Nov 14, 2012 12:16pm
Every beggining has an end this mascular form of Islam which is totally intolorant to others will have an end too. The intolorant muslims are making people belongings to other religion also intolorant. Over all now religion is bigger than any thing in this world. Hopefully 300 or 400 years down the line people will understand that religion is not every thing in life, and we can see a religion and cast less world. I really dream atleast my great grand childrens will leave in a sociaty like that.
Seeker Nov 14, 2012 12:13pm
Excellent article,Once again kudos to Dawn and Sabir Nazar. Unfortunately Mullahs and politicians started creating divisions and discrimination's between various religions and sects in Pakistan.Pakistani innocent citizens where continuously indoctrinated towards radical Islam and militancy.
AHA Nov 14, 2012 03:26pm
One more denial. And we lived in our la la land happily ever after.
AHA Nov 14, 2012 03:26pm
So true.
Enlightened Nov 14, 2012 04:00pm
A thought provoking article. The reference of Mahabharata and Ramayana being staged in Pakistan appears to be unbelievable but must have been a reality in the seventies. One can only comment that was secular or Qaid's Pakistan but now it is totally Zia's and which looks irreversible as of now.
Pankaj Patel(USA) Nov 15, 2012 06:03pm
You reminded me of time when as a young boy in the early fifties in a small town of Gujarat in India I experienced the same thing still fresh in my memory.I remember the audience at least 15% Muslims and some Parsi.Those days are gone in India too,why talk of Pakistan.We have learned to hate each other, may God,Ishwar,Bhagwan,Allah,Khuda help us.
Tanvir Nov 14, 2012 04:21pm
The author was living an unseen part of the Pakistan. As far as I can recall, Lahore and Karachi are no different now frpm old times. Only their population has increased. One van go to Sadar in Karacchi and see and feel the same surroundings. Even the buses are the same, though more rusted and clunkier.
follower Nov 15, 2012 02:07pm
wow....great article.i salute mr writer
Monte Abbas Nov 14, 2012 03:05pm
He isn't a young person as you suggest. He is great and well groomed person for his age compared to usual desiz who do not take care of their appearance.
Samad Chaudhry Nov 14, 2012 12:44pm
I only pray to Allah to give some wisdom to these so called protector of Islam I have seen the changes in my beloved country since 1947 and what we enjoyed going to colleges and school in 1948-50s is no more. the beautiful city of light Karachi is buried somewhere in the political arena of these so called protector of Masses and Islam When Jews were thrown out of Spain no European country wanted them but Turkey's Khalifah gave them shelter Islam is a peaceful powerful religion not what we are seeing all over the country and specially in Karachi THE CITY OF GLOOM AND DEATH. Pakistan is a beautiful country and we have everything including dishonest and corrupt leadership Nov 15, 2012 06:40am
Nicely put
K.Krishna Nov 15, 2012 06:37am
Well said
rashide43 Nov 14, 2012 02:49pm
Very few people used to say prayers in mosques but there was honesty with simplicity and caring for each other.
Tolerant Nov 14, 2012 03:00pm
Well said indeed!!
Shahid Masud12 Nov 14, 2012 06:25pm
I will just say " those good days are long gone ".
Salman Nov 14, 2012 06:29pm
Yes, I remember the Pakistan of the 70s which commited genocide of bengalis specially hindus. Who are you kidding ?
AHA Nov 14, 2012 11:45am
The destructive power of organized religion is also
Seedoo Nov 14, 2012 02:13pm
You don't mind living in Pakistan without mandirs. Do you mind living in Pakistan without masjids? Looks like you never got the whole point of the article. It is not about dancing girls, beer, and mandirs. It is about a tolerant society. How can you have justice without a tolerant society?
Atif Nov 14, 2012 02:52pm
The writer is rejoicing over an empty mosque and is pained at the disapproval of his painting. Sounds extreme himself.
pankajdehlavi Nov 14, 2012 08:12pm
Change is the only constant thing. This piece of land has changed from an extremely tolerant society during pre-partition era to extremely intolerant one. When whole world including Russia and China are moving towards freedom, democracy and secular society. Pakistan seems determined to race in reverse gear. It is really unfortunate that writer has to write such article in 2012. Hope no one will need to write similar article after 20 years.
Dhump Nov 14, 2012 05:37pm
Growing up in 70s was totally different - the absence of law was NOT this alarming as it is today! Hindus and other monirities NEVER felt threatend as they do today. School kids like Malala were NOT shot as they do today! The list goes you even know what you are talking about? do people giving you a 'thumbs up' have any idea how much has changed for the worst?
ahsan Nov 14, 2012 10:10pm
Our father bought us a color TV which I know now he ill afforded.He took us to movies and our library was full of wonderful books. Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Hardy, Toynbee, monthly subscription of Reader Digest and an occasional Life. To this we added Ladybird series, Fantastic five, Hardy Boys, Alistair Maclean, Harold Robins, Robert Ludlum. And it is not that he was not a religious man. Mazar, Majlis, Mandir, Masjid, everything was reverend and acceptable. Evenings were fun with no " pious men " in white robes, suggesting to us the "uselessness" of our lives. And now when some young person in the family corrects us to say Allah Hafiz, argues that cable is haram, coerces the females to wear HIjab and wants his marriage the Arab way , you should know that something has been rotting all these years.
Laeeq,NY Nov 14, 2012 10:24pm
Yes long gone those days of innocence. Now there is only havoc, uncertainty, and so many people every where, on the roads, streets, sidewalks, roofs, and any place where their feet can go. With humans share horses with carriages, camels, donkey carts, rikshwas, vans, cars, trucks, tractor trolleys,buses with people hanging on them. When you see so many people on the road you feel no body work in this country just every body is on the road..
Asadullah Nov 15, 2012 02:59am
Remember and understand clearly! Tableeghi Jamaat people only have one concern, that how each and every muslim can recognize and obey the commands of Allah according to the ways showed by Prophet Muhammad. Being said that, they never ever ever force anyone to do anything. In Tableegh it is beleived that a person changes and gets affected by the environment and that is why they ask you to spent some time with them in the path of Allah(in the masjids) to experience the environment and learn. I myself have spent three days and have never found anyone or the environment to be forcing anything.
Muhammad Nov 14, 2012 04:59pm
Why would she do that?
sfomann Nov 15, 2012 03:21am
@Waft. very well said
B. Ally Nov 15, 2012 03:38am
I witnessed a peaceful and tolerant motherland of mine all along my growing up in fifties and sixties.Now the intolerance ,extremism and a huge doze of religion all around me makes me sad. Faith is my matter with my God. I term it a delicate personal devotional bond. No individual,no organization,no state,no government need to interferer in this sacred binding relationship. The solution is septate the State and religion.
Rao Nov 15, 2012 03:50am
Well said Seedoo.....Hope there are many more like you in Pakistan
Mike Gahous Nov 15, 2012 05:02am
Sabir:Boy, I am glad to see NFP like young people coming up.Beware you may be labeled 'infidel' for visiting a mandir. You remind me the days of Roma Shabana, Excelsior & the like in KHI, the city i grew up & lived. Gone are the days & the people.....
pathanoo Nov 14, 2012 04:54pm
Dear Sabir Nazar, Thank God for a few Pakistanis like you; there is still hope for Pakistan. I am an avid reader of your articles and an admirer. Keep writing. You are in the right profession. You are much more valuable to Paksitan as a writer than as an Architect (NO disrespect).
Ravi Nov 15, 2012 06:12am
You are one of the guys who don't believe in tolerance and respect for other's belief. Learn this quality from west, where all reliions are respected and tolerated. They are following islamic teachings of tolerance and respect of other religions, but it is trangedy true muslims are stuck in rituals only and conveniently forget to follow islamic teachings and thus bring bad name to Islam and muslims.
Sikander Abbas Nov 15, 2012 08:45pm
Tableeghi jamat is one of the main problem in Today's Pakistan, period. This should be banned altogether . Yes these jamati mullahs or so called caretakers of Islam do mislead people as they themselves dont know much about the true Islam.
far2cool Nov 14, 2012 03:48pm
No doubt pakistan is quite hospitable to the minorities,they live as respectable citizens as the majorities do.But the media always extravagances certain stories that drive a cold war between people of different religions and such news are broadcasted much longer than usual(for instance reemsha maseehi's case)yet eid, diwali, christmas holidays are enjoyed equally...and media must play its utmost role to promote peace and tolerance
Imran Nov 14, 2012 01:42pm
I am against tableeghi jamaat for my own reasons but I have spent time observing them well ... they NEVER FORCE anyone to anything so please put your records right! On the extremism and all, please stop being milead and misleading others too. It has nothing to do with Islam and Muslims even; these are small number of people being exploited to others benefits ... may it be politicians or any other anti-Pakistan forces. A general Pakistani is equally tolerant as in pre-70s but he does not have a voice! Moreover, following the rituals of other religions does not qualify for tolerance ... please be clear on that! You can be tolerant to other religions/cultures even without participating in their religious/cultural events!
asif Nov 14, 2012 06:05pm
Many people rejoiced what Zia did and thus many Pakistani citizens must share responsibility.
Muhammad Nov 14, 2012 06:06pm
Blasphemy law is shameful in Pakistan often innocent Muslims,Christians,Hindus,Shia,Suuni's are targeted.
anwar kamal Nov 15, 2012 03:42pm
Yes I also remember.I can never forget.
Ashok Nov 16, 2012 08:06am
Sabir should be happy that in any country there are more labourers than art teachers, more lay persons than clergy. We should respectfully allow the self professed wise men to have their say, but equally they should respectfully allow the multitude to have their way. Insisting on rigid conformity to thought, dress and habits would prevent evolution and improvement. A richly interesting society that adapts to the current situation can only exist when societys freedom is not curtailed by diktats of however well intentioned individuals. There is not only one path to salvation....
PRADIP Nov 14, 2012 02:15pm
Sabir: In your photo, you come across as a young person so I wonder if the intolerance you wrote of is not even more recent. I loved reading the article and especially about your mother telling stories of our shared past and its literature. With moms like that, one cannot go astray. Kudos again!
Papa Nov 16, 2012 09:26am
Believe me there are - unfortunately they cant turn into fascists that the little minority and appears to have taken us all over :)
DKS Nov 16, 2012 10:07am
When only 'I want' remains - nothing remains ... think about it bro :)
Waft Nov 14, 2012 02:33pm
Actually we have millions of dishonest, intolerant, bigoted people represented by similar leaders.
malikrashid Nov 14, 2012 01:16pm
Great memories, good times. My mother, a sunni, used to take me to shia majlis in muharram.
raika45 Nov 14, 2012 01:20pm
You people blame Zia et all for your current problems, and yet do not realise that you were the main problem by not changing things after his demise.Your Islamic problem is not confined to your country. It is a worldwide phenomena where muslims reside. Your inability to follow set rules of these countries and demand your way of life is a very perplexing issue.In your own muslim dominated countries you demand and impose your religious views and yet cry hell when others do the same to you.Don't you muslims realise that other religions have the same right as you demand.Your ideology of Islam being the real religion and the rest kafirs is turning out to be a joke when you realise that a large number of immigrants running to non muslim countries are muslims.