Have you ever wondered if Pakistan is really as one-dimensional a country as stereotyped by the negative torrent of international media coverage that dominated the news headlines in 2010?
Have you ever thought that Pakistanis engage in any pursuits other than as perpetrators or victims of terror that the journalists find the most newsworthy about the world's sixth most populous South Asian nation?
Well, an Indian-American producer Madhlika Sikka on NPR's Talk of the Nation radio did wonder about it when she visited Pakistan this year. In the talk show
aired on June 3, 2010, she described the main concerns of young Pakistanis follows:
"I think, that young people are concerned with the same things you'd think young people are concerned with. In fact, when I came home, the immigration officer asked me about Pakistan, and she said, well, what are they thinking about?
And I said, well, I met a lot of young people, and they're thinking about jobs, and they're thinking about the fact that the power goes out regularly, gas costs a fortune. They're really thinking about what their prospects are and the conflict with India, the war on terrorism, isn't at the top of their list."
She summed up her assessment of the current situation in Pakistan in the following words:
"Well, I think that I think that there's no doubt that if you live in a city like Islamabad or Peshawar, certainly where Julie McCarthy was, you know, they live and breathe this tension every day.
But let's take a city like Lahore, where we were just a couple of weeks ago. And last week, there was a huge attack on a mosque in Lahore, 70, 80 people were killed. You can't help but feel that tension, even though you are trying your best to go live your daily life as best you can. And I think that that push and pull is really a struggle.
But one thing I do want to talk about in the, you know, what is our vision of Pakistan, which often is one dimensional because of the way the news coverage drives it.
But, you know, we went to visit a park in the capital, Islamabad, which is just on the outskirts, up in the hills, and we blogged about it, and there are photos on our website. You could have been in suburban Virginia.
There were families, picnics, picnic tables, you know, kids playing, stores selling stuff, music playing. It was actually very revealing, I think for us and for people who saw that posting, because there's a lot that's similar that wouldn't surprise you, let's put it that way."
Along the same lines as NPR's Sikka, let me share with you some of the best kept secrets of Pakistan's other story which would take a lot of effort to discover on your own.
The world media have correctly reported on the deadly blasts caused by the frequent US drone strikes and many suicide bombings in 2010. But Pakistanis have also seen an explosion in arts and literature in the last few years as the nation's middle class
has grown rapidly amidst a communications and mass media revolution
. A British magazine Granta
dedicated an entire issue in 2010 to highlight the softer side of Pakistan.
Granta has highlighted the extraordinary work of many Pakistani artists, poets, writers, painters, photographers and musicians inspired by life in their native land.
For example, the magazine cover carries a picture of a piece of truck art by a prolific truck painter Islam Gull of Bhutta village in Karachi. Gull was born in Peshawar and moved to Karachi 22 years ago. He has been practicing his craft on buses and trucks since the age of 13, and now teaches his unique craft to young apprentices. Commissioned with the assistance of British Council in Karachi, Gull produced two chipboard panels photographed for the magazine cover.
Granta issue has articles, poems, paintings, photographs and frescoes about various aspects of life in Pakistan. It carries work by writers like Mohsin Hamid (The Reluctant Fundamentalist), Daniyal Mueenuddin (In Other Rooms, Other Wonders), Kamila Shamsie (Burnt Shadows), Mohammad Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes) and Nadeem Aslam (The Wasted Vigil) who have been making waves in literary circles and winning prizes in London and New York.
In a piece titled "Mangho Pir", Fatima Bhutto highlights the plight of the Sheedi community, a disadvantaged ethnic minority of African origin who live around the shrine of their sufi saint Mangho Pir on the outskirts of Karachi.
In another piece "Pop Idols
", Kamila Shamsie traces the history of Pakistani pop music
as she experienced it living in Karachi, and explains how the music scene has changed with Pakistan's changing politics.
A piece "Jinnah's Portrait" by New York Times' Jane Perlez describes the wide variety of Quaid-e-Azam's portraits showing him dressed in outfits that give him either "the aura of a religious man" or show him as a "young man with full head of dark hair, an Edwardian white shirt, black jacket and tie, alert dark eyes". Perlez believes the choice of the founding father's potrait hung in the offices of various Pakistani officials and politicians reveals how they see Jinnah's vision for Pakistan
While Granta's focus on art and literature has produced a fairly good publication depicting multi-dimensional life in Pakistan, there are apects that it has not covered. For example, Pakistan has a growing fashion industry which puts on fashion shows
in major cities on a regular basis. The biggest of these is Pakistan Fashion Week held in Karachi in February. Over 30 Pakistani designers - including Sonya Battla, Rizwan Beyg, and Maheen Khan - showed a variety of casual and formal outfits as well as western wear, jackets, and accessories.
There were scores of expos and trade shows put on by various industries, including a book fair in Karachi, attended by about 250,000 people. Publishers from the UK, Singapore, Iran, Malaysia and India also participated in the event.
Karachi's Mohatta Palace Museum hosted an Art exhibition, “The Rising Tide: New Direction in Art From Pakistan,” that included more than 40 canvases, videos, installations, mobiles and sculptures made in the past 20 years. Its curator, the feminist sculptor and painter Naiza Khan, told the New York Times
that her aim was to show the coming of age of Pakistani art.
A Pakistani theater group defied the government ban and put on "Burqavanza", a satirical play in which all the actors wear burqa as a metaphor for hypocrisy in the nation. Adam Ellick of the NY Times
reported that the play "doesn’t sidestep any of the country’s problems: a creeping radicalization, terrorism, government corruption, and interference by Western nations, especially the United States."
A conference celebrating 31 years of a theater group named Tehrik-i-Niswan (Feminist movement) included presentations, research papers, theatrical performances and a poetry recital just this month.
While it is true that Pakistan faces many serious crises, particularly religious extremism and terrorism, there is much more to see and report about this nation of 180 million people with a large and well-educated urban middle class
Pakistan's Media Revolution
Along Grand Trunk Road in India and Pakistan
Pakistan's Urban Middle Class
Music Drives Coke Sales in Pakistan
Life Goes On in Pakistan
Karachi Fashion Week
Is Pakistan Too Big to Fail?
Karachi Fashion Week Goes Bolder
More Pictures From Karachi Fashion Week 2009
Pakistan's Foreign Visitors Pleasantly Surprised
Start-ups Drive a Boom in Pakistan
Pakistan Conducting Research in Antarctica
Pakistan's Multi-billion Dollar IT Industry
Pakistan's Telecom Boom
ITU Internet Data
Eleven Days in Karachi
Pakistani Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley
Musharraf's Economic Legacy
Infrastructure and Real Estate Development in Pakistan
Pakistan's International Rankings
Assessing Pakistan Army Capabilities
Pakistan is not Falling
Jinnah's Pakistan Booms Amidst Doom and Gloom