My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Nadeem Farooq Paracha or NFP, as he's commonly known, is a Pakistani cultural critic and satirist who has become an important voice in the current milieu of critics sprouting up left, right and centre. Apart from the fact that he's been at it for more than two decades, his past has morphed him into a force all the more important for as demarcated a society as ours with opinions of all kinds being thrown around like monkeys flinging feces. One may not be a big fan of NFP's pompous style of prose but nobody can disagree with the power his pen possesses in delivering seemingly benign opinions with the utmost ease and immense lucidity, and how it affects the reader on at least some level.
"End of the Past" is NFP's first published book which has come at a time (seemingly Pakistan has been riding on knife’s edge since conception making everyday a bloody critical point in her history) when the denizens of Pakistan have lost all semblance of identity. What direction did Jinnah want Pakistan to take – a secular state bordering on modernism and liberalism or an Islamic Republic as it was deemed out to be soon after Jinnah’s passing? Or simply, what exactly is “Jinnah’s Pakistan” that we’ve heard every politician from Bhutto and Zia to Sharif and Musharraf use incessantly to drive their campaigns? I think NFP makes a decent attempt at reaching the roots of the issue and presents a potential solution albeit idealistic in the last chapter of the book.
NFP’s take on the subject of manipulation of religion in Pakistan and the role it’s played in the evolution of the political thought in the country’s evolution is especially insightful. He’s from that generation which faced the brunt of Zia’s oppression and the religious upheaval courtesy the influx of US Dollars and Saudi Riyals. But even prior to Zia, appeasing the religious authorities or using them for their own benefit had forever been every Pakistani politician’s key to success e.g. Bhutto did so by officially declaring the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan non-Muslim, and not to forget the conglomeration of 9 parties to form the right-wing PNA solely to fight against the socialist agenda of PPP in the 1977 elections. He delves into a lot of detail explaining the origin of various student unions and the role they played in the political evolution of Pakistan from the 50’s into the 70’s and 80’s. Anyone who wants to become a bit more politically aware with the Pakistani scenario should give it a read.
My favourite chapter of the book is, “Sound/Vision Deafness/Blindness”. This is what NFP has really been known for – the uncanny ability to decipher the complex cultural ambiance of Pakistan and present it in the most hilariously readable and lucid manner. He covers the entertainment business, Lollywood, music and theatre, and how it’s evolved with the tumultuous political happenings of the country. And obviously an NFP book would’ve been incomplete without his astute take on Cricket and how politics have changed the outlook of the Pakistani team over the years. Although reading Osman Samiuddin’s, “The Unquiet Ones”, would be a lot more helpful for the academic, NFP’s satirical discourse on the subject shouldn’t be missed!
The last chapter of the book took me by complete surprise. For the first time I’ve read NFP talking about his religious beliefs and what, according to him, the Muslims and Pakistanis need to do in order to progress. Overall, the book is a fun read and presents a load of information on the political scenario of Pakistan. The references NFP gives are really interesting and I’ve jotted down quite a few titles for future reads. Authors like Ayesha Jalal and K. K. Aziz need to be read by every Pakistani in order garner a deeper understanding of the machinations of Pakistani society. Furthermore, anyone possessing deep apathy for NFP should read it as well, as the book provides an a lot more intimate viewpoint of the much debated journalist we’ve come to love and hate.