You open a window and you see your neighbour. You smell the cooking—often nicer than yours—you hear snatches of conversations, guffaws, and sometimes arguments. Over a period of time, the window reveals more, and when you nod at him in the corridors—it is the nod of someone who knows, the nod from just a window away. It’s quite the same with India and Pakistan, though far more acrimonious than neighbourly customs dictate.
This issue is a special one on Pakistan, written almost entirely by writers and journalists based there. It is an attempt to open more windows, to hear more conversations. We find how in the present times of ultra-nationalism in Pakistan, India is an object of distrust and anger, how certain organisations are deepening the divide. We look into the madarsa system, children are schooled in theology, where “secular subjects” like Science and History often find no place, and the worldview shaped is in conflict with modernity.
We peek into Karachi, Pakistan’s cosmopolitan port city, and find a modern metropolis trying to shrug off its violent past, trying to reclaim its cultural ethos. Concerts, plays, cafés have made a comeback, as have Bollywood films, and perhaps it is easier to get bootleg liquor these days. The well-heeled middle and upper classes have found shelter in this, while the cultural space for the economically weaker classes still needs to grow.
We focus on the minorities in Pakistan. The Ahmediyya community, declared by law as “not Muslims”, continue to struggle. They face discrimination, their mosques have been bombed, and there are calls for even more draconian measures. In our narrative “Half a country, half a life” we tell the story of Hindu migrants from Pakistan, forced to leave their homeland and come to India because they didn’t feel secure. They live here, often overstaying on their visas, and struggle to make a new life.
Essays in this issue include those on the pressures on the media in Pakistan, and that on the popularity of Hindi films.
We showcase Lahore through the works of Mahboob Ali, a painter who uses the woodcut technique, and has been the only artist of his kind in Pakistan for 40 years. Our interviewee this month is Jamil Ahmad, author of The Wandering Falcon, a career civil servant who served in the tribal areas of Pakistan. He says he found the “Ideal” in the tribal way of living.
Saurav Kumar, Editor