The way we were

Culture is a system of learned and shared values and meanings over the course of generations. Traditional and modern cultures, both function as ways of thinking, relating to people and to the environment. However, they differ in significant ways. Traditional culture is held together by relationships — immediate family, extended family, clan and tribe. Modern culture has evolved as human societies grew larger. First the development of large work forces and armies, and later through mechanised means of production.

I grew up in Lyallpur. Life was simple — early to bed, early to rise. The time in between was spent at school. This was followed by seasonal sports, doing homework, and an hour of TV before going to bed with BBC World Service. Staying away from school was impossible because an application for sick-leave was a bureaucratic exercise and became effective only after the headmaster had signed. Some of the cardinal sins in my childhood included: not doing homework; calling names; not respecting elders; loitering in the streets; buying without permission and/or eating while standing in the street; and troubling domestic animals. The suitable forms of punishments that followed an infringement ranged from being grounded to corporal punishment. Anyone who did not play sports was deemed to suffer from a serious illness, and the one who took academic tuition definitely had a learning disability.

Most of the Muslim religious establishment had been opposed to the creation of Pakistan. After partition, however, they started vying for political leadership in the new state

Time seems to have passed like a hand waving from the train I wanted to be on. Our traditional culture along with its childhood rituals has disappeared in the midst of national life events. I see that parents are always busy (doing nothing) or in a hurry (without reason); and only greet/meet people who are of some use to them. Without remorse, children pluck flowers, adults burn books and chief ministers cut several ancient trees to build unnecessary roads or flyovers. People have become pious without having an issue with all forms of moral and financial corruption in their daily lives. As a nation, we have lost our values and also adopted all that is not well with the western culture. I could go on narrating painful observations, but it is better that they stay in the graveyard of my memories.

No wonder people often question as to what Pakistani culture is and where it can be found. Our cultural tour begins in 1947. Pakistan came into being through a nationalist theory that the Muslims of India are a separate cultural entity. Our founding father Mr. Jinnah believed that as a persecuted minority, Muslims would be better able to negate the historical communal strife that had plunged India into a religious and communal turmoil. He started with a premise to create a united Muslim voting bloc within India but achieved his maximum demand for a Muslim majority federation. Jinnah had no patience for those, including Raja of Mahmudabad, who imagined Pakistan to be an Islamic utopia.

We had a culture that evolved from our Hindu and Islamic heritage and the recent British Raj. It was naturally pluralistic; not monolithic, and modernity was our direction of travel.

Most of the Muslim religious establishment was opposed to the creation of Pakistan. However, they saw Pakistan as a stepping-stone where the political leadership could fall into their hands. Therefore, they arrived here in droves and started a campaign of ‘Islamising’ a predominantly Muslim society. After the untimely demise of Jinnah, our weak political institutions and leadership caved into their repeated onslaughts. Liaquat Ali Khan and others presumed that the interpretation of Islam in modern Pakistan would remain in the hands of men like them. This was a major miscalculation, the results of which were not obvious for the next two decades, as Pakistan remained a relatively modern state mindful of its religious diversity.

Widespread changes in cultural values have been observed across the world due to different factors. In the Czech Republic, for example, end of communism saw shifts in values from self-interest and conservation, to significance being placed on universalism and self-direction. Similarly, after the introduction of TV in Fiji, adolescent girls showed heightened preoccupation with body image and social competition. Feminist and Islamist women’s groups in Turkey, despite facing multiple constraints, made significant impact on political values and discourse.

General Zia took over Pakistan through a military coup in 1979. He unleashed social engineering through prescribed etiquette, media control, and syllabus changes advocated by Jamaat-e-Islami and other religious groups. He had support of the West who thought that a fundamentalist Pakistan was the best guarantee against the spread of communism. After the end of the Cold War, the children schooled in General Zia’s syllabus came to the forefront of our local culture. Their worldview was shaped by two decades of state propaganda about the ideological foundations of Pakistan. The liberal democratic state that Jinnah had in mind slipped away and seems to be a thing of the past now.

The current state struggles to accept Pakistan as a historic amalgamation of various ethnic, religious and cultural realities along the Indus River. In such times, new learners inherit the earth while the learned have become refugees who are beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

The writer is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Visiting Professor based in London