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Exploring Pakistan’s culture and arts

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The narrative about Pakistan’s culture and society that Raza Rumi presents in his book “Being Pakistani: Society, Culture and the Arts” is as honest and open as one can bring to the fore. There is something immaculately “desi” about the voice that Raza Rumi uses when sharing his opinion and narrative. The author, a nationally acclaimed policy analyst and journalist begins the Author’s Note with his conversation with Enver Sajjad.
Raza has aptly divided the book into four distinctive parts: Devotion, Literature, Arts, and Personal Essay. The association between Kabir, Bulleh, and Lalon is described in the first chapter. Raza writes, “The powerful and soulful voices of Kabir, Bulleh Shah and Lalon Shah sing a shared tune: of love, rejection of formal identities based on caste, organized religion and class.” Raza explores in detail the common grounds on which the mystic poets shared their thoughts and ideas embedded in the cultural memories of South Asia.
In the second chapter, Raza elucidates upon the rich history of the Indus Valley Civilization. While mentioning the river Indus he writes, “Along its 1,800-mile course, the Indus joins cultures from the steppes of Central Asia to the arid plains of the South Asian subcontinent.” He further writes, “The hopes and aspirations of its people are reflected in stories and elaborate myths, transmitted through the consciousness of successive generations by bards and storytellers.”
Indeed, it was the art of storytelling of the natives and of the travelers that presented a holistic view of the arts and culture prevailing in the subcontinent. Rumi also explains legends and folklores of the Indus namely Sohni-Mahiwal, Sassui Punhu, Dillu Rao, and Saiful Mulk.
He aptly covers Sufism and Syncretism in Sindh. Rumi suggests “the composite culture that evolved over the centuries of amalgamation of various spiritual practices continues to date.” In another chapter, “Through a Screen, Darkly”, Rumi discusses how cable television in Pakistan facilitated the influx of Indian cultural traits in our society. In another chapter, he explores the cult of feminine, myths, and legends of Sindh and how they came about. In the chapter that begins the section of ‘Literature’, Rumi talks in length about Qurratulain Haider. He shares how she had command over social history and how she viewed the post-colonial narratives with respect to Pakistan’s partition.
Raza also delivers an insightful analysis of the writing style of Saadat Hasan Manto. He mentions that “the construction and treatment of these (female) characters turns them into complex, and sometimes ambiguous metaphors for humanity. This is why the story of suffering during 1947 is often a tale of women surviving the horrors of crimes against humanity.”
Raza also pays tribute to Intizar Husain by reminiscing his meetings and conversations he had with Husain. Raza that the Partition made a profound literary impact on Husain. In one paragraph Rumi writes, “It is therefore appropriate to say that Partition and the experience of exploring a new identity made Intizar Sahib a unique and creative voice. And his layered craft – of using mythologies, colloquial references, folk expression and time travelling – added to the richness of his storytelling.” Raza further explores the literary endeavors of Fahmida Riaz and Mustafa Zaidi.
Chapter 11 of the book, “Silhouetted Silences: Contemporary Pakistani Literature in the ‘Age of Terror'” gives interesting insights into how writers and poets adjusted to the drastically changing ‘social and political realities’ that were in a state of flux during the days following 9/11. Raza mentions three novels that were not only new emerging voices of Pakistan but explored the critical issues of war. These were The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid; No Space for Further Burials by Feryal Ali Gauhar; and A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif. In the section on Arts, Raza discusses the traits of public architecture, creating and recreating such spaces. Being Pakistani investigates in detail Pakistani’s cultural and literary heritage that compels one to wonder about the rich cultural history Pakistan owns.