Mohsin Hamid’s Letter from Lahore

Reinventing Pakistan
BY: MOHSIN HAMID

LETTER FROM LAHORE

Welcome to Lahore, where an explosion of art and media
is offering a vibrant alternative to the strictures of
religious conservatives and is transforming one of
America’s most important–and most ambivalent– allie.

ONE NIGHT, as troops from Pakistan’s army massed 300
miles away to hunt for remnants or Al Qaeda in the
tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, I went to a
concert in my hometown of Lahore. It was a pleasant
evening, warm, with a fight breeze carrying the smell
of April flowers: flame trees, magnolias, jasmine. We
sat outside on carpets spread across the lawn of a
white bungalow, the audience ranging from teenagers
with soul patches and ponytails to elegant matrons in
saris. My back ached slightly and I mentioned this to
a friend as I reached for the only available cushion I
could see.

“Don’t even think about it,” she said, patting her
very pregnant belly “It’s mine.”

The music we had come to hear was a fusion of modern
and traditional percussion. There were seven
musicians, all Pakistani. Three wore Western clothes
and played Western instruments: keyboards, drum set
and trumpet. Three wore loose-fitting, traditional
Pakistani dress and played the dhol: a heavy,
two-sided barrel of a drum hung from the shoulders on
a thick leather strap. The seventh played a slender
Egyptian drum held between the knees. The performance
was a work in progress, an experiment that the group
hoped to refine and take on tour to Europe and the
United States in the summer.

For all their individual talents, the musicians had
trouble finding a groove. But at times the audience
could sense the potential of what was struggling to
emerge, and in those moments I could see the
excitement on people’s faces.

The words “explosion” and “revolution” are often
applied to Pakistan, a nuclear power contending with a
tangle of domestic and geopolitical challenges, but
the words should also be applied to the cultural life
of the nation. Pakistan is witnessing an explosion of
music, part of a revolution in art and media with
potentially far greater appeal to its young people
than the sermons of religious conservatives urging
them to abandon modernity and confront perceived
threats to Islam. Over the past three years, a dozen
independent television channels have sprung up, from
general networks to specialized news, fashion and
music stations. Combined with a boom in advertising,
increasing economic growth and rapid cable and
satellite penetration, these outlets are fueling not
only a new industry; but also a new culture– one not
limited to a narrow Westernized elite.

True, Pakistan is desperately poor, with half the
population of 150 million illiterate and many
subsisting on less than a dollar a day. But between 30
and 40 percent live in cities, and that percentage
rises to more than 50 percent when one includes
settlements within commuting distance of urban
centers. For this half of Pakistan’s population,
electricity, telephones and television have become a
part of ordinary life. Even in rural villages, TV can
be found in restaurants and tea shops that are often
as crowded with viewers as movie theaters. Last year,
when members of the Pakistani rock band Junoon visited
some of the country’s most destitute and isolated
regions, they found themselves mobbed by fans who knew
their songs by heart.

This budding mass culture, virtually unknown to the
West, is being created in cities like Karachi,
Islamabad and Lahore. Karachi, home to 23 million
people, is Pakistan’s commercial capital, an enormous,
humming metropolis whose occasional spasms of
sectarian and criminal violence make for international
headlines. Islamabad is Pakistan’s political capital,
small and quiet, with fewer than a million inhabitants
and yet the most international of Pakistan’s cities.
But Lahore occupies a special place in the new mass
culture. A prosperous city of seven million,
Pakistan’s cultural capital has long been a bastion of
liberalism, hedonism and easy living, where late-night
partying, open-air dining and colorful festivals, such
as the kite-flying extravaganza of Basant every
spring, draw visitors from all over the country and
beyond.

DURING THE 16TH AND 17TH CENTURIES, the Mogul rulers
of what was then India left Lahore a magnificent fort
with an entrance ramp wide enough for elephants, a
royal mosque among the largest in the world when it
was built, and a palace with a mirrored ceiling that
reflects candlelight like the flickering of stars.
More recently, the British Empire built universities,
clubs, courts of law and military quarters, or
cantonments, in Lahore. The young protagonist in
resident Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim told “tales of
the size and beauty of Lahore”; a visiting Mark Twain
came to the conclusion that he “could easily learn to
prefer an elephant to any other vehicle.” Famous for
producing poets and artists and writers, the city is
now also becoming known for its newscasters, actors,
fashion models and pop stars.

And not a moment too soon, because Pakistan needs
symbols of openness, debate and the potential for
progress and prosperity in times that many Pakistanis
find dangerous and deeply unsettling, as I was
reminded by my parents’ night watchman when I went to
their house after the concert. Rahim Khan is from
Pakistan’s North-West Frontier province, from the
mountains near the tribal areas where recent fighting
has taken place. He looked worried, so I asked him
what was the matter.

“Have you heard that the army is going back into
Waziristan?” he said, referring to a region that has
seen heavy casualties among both soldiers and
civilians in operations to hunt down foreign militants
be- longing to Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other groups.
“Yes,” I said.

“It isn’t good,” he said. “Pakistanis will kill
Pakistanis, Muslims will kill Muslims, all for the
Americans.”

PAKISTANI SKEPTICISM about U.S. intentions runs deep.
To try to get a better understanding of its origins, I
went to see one of Lahore’s most distinguished
journalists, Rashed Rahman, who has covered political
developments in Pakistan for more than two decades. We
sat under an intricately inlaid wooden ceiling in his
house in the Cantonment neighborhood in the eastern
part of the city, he beside an antique writing desk,
and I on an old leather couch. He lit a Dunhill
cigarette and shut his eyes for a moment. “Back in the
1950s and ’60s,” he said, “there were lots of
Americans living in Lahore. People wanted American
cars and American products. Elvis was huge here.
Pakistan was an important American cold war ally The
U.S. supported our military regime and gave us aid and
weapons.”

His desk lamp went out, suddenly and for no apparent
reason. But other lights in the room remained on, so
he shrugged and continued. “Pakistanis thought our
alliance was meant not just to protect America from
communism, but also to protect Pakistan from India. So
when Pakistan and India fought a war in 1965, we
expected America’s support. Instead, America slapped
us with sanctions and cut off our aid, because America
had come to see India as a counterweight to China.
After the 1965 Pakistan-India war, America acquired
the reputation in Pakistan of being a fair-weather
friend.”

He stubbed out his cigarette. “For over a decade,
relations between Pakistan and America kept getting
colder,” he said. “Gen. Zia-ul-Haq seized power in a
coup in 1977. Two years later, the Soviets invaded
Afghanistan, bringing them close to the massive oil
reserves of the Persian Gulf. President Reagan invited
General Zia to the White House and gave him three
billion dollars of aid in exchange for Pakistan’s
support against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Thus began
the most disastrous period in Pakistan’s history
General Zia’s regime set out to Islamize society, and
it didn’t tolerate any protest or dissent. Laws that
ended equal rights for women were passed. Democracy
activists were imprisoned. But worst of all, in camps
near our border with Afghanistan, the regime worked
with America to create a monster called the mujahedin
to fight the Soviets.” He was referring, of course, to
the now infamous guerrilla groups composed of Afghan
and Muslim fighters from around the world.

His words reminded me of my days as a schoolboy in
Lahore in the 1980S. Religious militants quickly
spread from the mujahedin training camps into the rest
of country. Guns and hard-eyed men with beards became
commonplace in our cities; as a more intolerant and
narrow brand of Islam took hold among civic
authorities, my fellow teenagers and I would be
arrested just for going out on dates. Radio and
television began broadcasting news in Arabic, a
language spoken by very few Pakistanis. And my father,
then a professor of economics at Punjab University,
came home with stories about colleagues resigning
after being held up at gunpoint for expressing views
that were “un-Islamic. ”

“The face of Pakistani society was destroyed during
our alliance with America in the 1980s,” Rahman went
on. “Then Zia was killed in a plane crash in 1988, and
once again the army stepped back,” allowing the return
of civilian rule. “From 1988 to 1999, elected
governments were in power, with Benazir Bhutto and
Nawaz Sharif alternating as prime minister. But
relations with America deteriorated. In 1989 the
Soviets were finally driven from Afghanistan, and the
very next year the Americans slapped Pakistan with the
first of many sanctions for our nuclear weapons
program, which they had turned a blind eye to during
the 1980S. In Pakistan, the perception was that
America had flushed us down the toilet because we were
no longer needed.”

He leaned back in his chair and spread his arms. “Many
people here may not be educated, but they know what
has happened in the past. So they are skeptical of our
current alliance with America.” He smiled. “And if you
look at the track record, their skepticism is
logical.”

PAKISTAN’S CURRENT ALLIANCE with the United States
began shortly after the terrorist attacks of September
11, 2001. America’s secretary of state, Colin Powell,
called Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf,
and asked for the use of Pakistani bases, airspace and
logistical support for America’s military campaign in
Afghanistan. Musharraf, a Westward-leaning reformist
who had seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999,
agreed, thereby ending Pakistan’s backing of the
Taliban. In an address to the nation, the president
explained that refusing the U.S. request “may endanger
our territorial integrity and our survival,” but by
supporting the United States “we could emerge as a
responsible and honourable nation and all our problems
could diminish.”

The overwhelming sentiment among Pakistanis, captured
in newspaper editorials and television interviews, was
that America’s war in Afghanistan would bring enormous
suffering to fellow Muslims in one of the poorest
countries in the world. Religious conservatives were
furious: “Any collaboration with the United States is
treason,” declared a cleric at Islamabad’s Lal Masjid
mosque in late September 2001. But the massive
antigovernment street clashes the naysayers promised
failed to materialize. “I was in a peace march,” my
mother told me. “There were hundreds of us, all women
with placards and flowers, and we managed only to
attract the attention of one or two foreign
journalists. But along the way we ran into a couple
dozen men with beards chanting, ‘Death to America,’
and they were mobbed by international television crews
and photographers. It was like they were the Beatles.”

After the defeat of the Taliban in 2002, Pakistan’s
role shifted to hunting down Al Qaeda operatives
inside Pakistan itself. More than 500 Al Qaeda and
Taliban members were captured by Pakistani soldiers
and handed over to the United States. Recognizing
Pakistan’s contribution, Colin Powell announced in
March 2004 that the United States would designate the
country a major non-NATO ally. Some Pakistanis,
particularly religious conservatives, sympathized with
the goals oral Qaeda and the Taliban and condemned the
Pakistani government’s continued support of the United
States. (Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was
murdered in Karachi in 2002 by terrorists linked to Al
Qaeda.) Others, like my parents’ night watchman, saw
army operations in the border regions as drawing
innocent Pakistanis into America’s fight against Osama
bin Laden and Al Qaeda. America’s invasion of Iraq,
treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and support for
the policies of Israel’s prime minister Ariel Sharon
have also sparked widespread condemnation in Pakistan.

But although they may not like what America is doing
around the world, most Pakistanis are also
increasingly fed up with the religious militants in
their midst. And for good reason. In recent years,
both Sunni and Shiite militants had grown increasingly
assertive, and their violence against fellow
Pakistanis had spiraled out of control.

Fatima Hassan is a young painter and a member of
Pakistan’s Shiite minority, which represents about 20
percent of the population and has been the prime
target of some Sunni militant groups. Encouraged by
recent changes in Pakistan, she decided to return home
from the United States. I went to see her in a modern
house in Lahore’s upscale Defense neighborhood where
she was working on a mural of decorative patterns and
floral forms. She was wearing track pants and a
T-shirt, and her hands and arms were splattered with
paint. “We just didn’t feel secure,” she said of the
decade before Musharraf’s takeover. “There was a
period when they were killing Shiite doctors, trying
to scare educated professionals into leaving Pakistan.
My brother-in-law was a doctor, and he was threatened.
Some men came for him at the house, but he wasn’t
home. After that, we were petrified whenever he was
late coming back from the hospital. He moved into a
hostel for a month so they couldn’t find him.”

She crossed her arms and shook her head. “It was
really bad. My brother’s friend was killed. Lots of
Shiite business leaders got shot. But things have
gotten much better under Musharraf. The killing has
almost stopped. At night, when I was trying to sleep,
I used to be terrified of people coming to the house.
It isn’t like that anymore. Thank God.”

Although sectarian violence persists–particula rly in
Karachi, wracked by recent bombings–governmen t
officials have made stopping it a top priority and
begun speaking out against the ideologies that
underpin militant movements. “Musharraf said on
television that none of these militants should think
they have the right to decide what Islam is for the
rest of us,” Hassan told me. “It was a good thing to
hear our president say”

NO LESS IMPORTANT than Pakistan’s alliance with the
United States has been the shift in its relations with
India. At independence from Britain in I947, Pakistan,
with a population of 70 million, was partitioned from
Hindu-majority India, with its population of 480
million, as a homeland for the region’s Muslims. The
fate of the predominantly Muslim state of Kashmir
(with three million inhabitants) was left undecided,
and the two countries have been fighting over it ever
since. India controls two-thirds of Kashmir’s
territory, Pakistan the remainder. But both countries
claim Kashmir in its entirety with India accusing
Pakistan of supporting an insurgency by Muslim rebels
in the Indian part of Kashmir and Pakistan accusing
India of refusing to obey a I948 U.N. resolution
calling for Kashmir’s people to decide which country
they would rather belong to.

In December 2001, five armed men attacked the Indian
Parliament. Claiming that they were Pakistani-backed
militants, India moved more than 500,000 troops to the
border and deployed its nuclear-capable missiles.
Pakistan responded in kind, sending more than 300,000
troops to the border. For 18 months, the two nuclear
powers stood poised for war. Lahore is only 20 miles
from India, and convoys of trucks rumbled through the
city for weeks, delivering supplies to our soldiers
massed along the 1,800-mile-long border. Helicopters
flew low overhead, artillery fire was exchanged to the
north and there were rumors that traffic on the
freeway was being stopped so our fighter pilots could
practice landing on it in case an Indian nuclear
strike destroyed our airfields.

But a growing realization that the consequences of
nuclear war were unthinkable, coupled with intense
mediation efforts by the United States and other
countries, brought Pakistan and India back from the
brink in May 2003. On a historic visit by Indian prime
minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to Pakistan in January
2004, both he and Pakistani president Musharraf
committed themselves to negotiating their differences,
including the status of Kashmir. The restoration of
commercial air links and an easing of travel
restrictions followed soon after.

Suddenly, anxiety gave way to optimism and euphoria.
For the first time in more than a decade, India and
Pakistan agreed to a full tour of Pakistan by the
Indian cricket team, unleashing in March an influx of
Indian spectators so huge that Pakistan had to set up
special visa camps in India to accommodate demand.
Journalists, film stars, celebrities and politicians,
including both children of India’s late prime minister
Rajiv Gandhi and his wife, Sonia, descended on the
five match venues of Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi,
Peshawar and Multan. So did thousands of ordinary
cricket fans, swept up in a sport that, for the fifth
of humanity that lives in South Asia, has an
importance, in American terms, roughly equal to
baseball, football and basketball combined.

The series was unlike any sporting event I had ever
seen. In stadiums in all five cities, Pakistanis
cheered for the Indian team and painted the flags of
both countries on their faces; they even launched
fireworks to celebrate the Indian victory in the final
and decisive one-day match in Lahore. Outside the
stadiums, Pakistani shopkeepers gave Indian visitors
gifts, and restaurant owners refused to let them pay
for their meals. I did a quick survey in Lahore’s Main
Market among several boys who sell paan, a delicacy
made of nuts and fragrant syrup wrapped inside a betel
leaf. “We were happy for the Indians to be here,” one
named Saleem said. “Of course we didn’t let them pay.
We wanted them to know they were our guests. We are
fed up with war. We want peace.” Loudly, the others
agreed.

“The massive outpouring of hospitality and affection
was spontaneous and genuine,” Ejaz Haider, an editor
at the Daily Times, an English-language newspaper
based in Lahore, told me. “The Indians were taken
aback. The image they had of Pakistan was of a
violent, conservative state whose people hated them.
Instead, they had a reception more generous than
anything they could possibly have imagined. I had
Indian journalists telling me that Lahore is cleaner
and more beautiful than any city in India.”

For the most part, Pakistanis expected that India’s
prime minister Vajpayee, who had made peace with
Pakistan both a personal mission and a plank in his
reelection platform, would continue in power after
India’s elections, which were held in April and May
But the stunning defeat of Vajpayee’s Bharatiya Janata
party by the Congress Party led by Italian-born Sonia
Gandhi, created uncertainty about the future of
India-Pakistan relations. While the Pakistan
government welcomed comments by Gandhi and incoming
prime minister Manmohart Singh that the peace process
would continue, many here speculate that it will
suffer, with the Daily Times commenting that “there
may be some unexpected hurdles ahead.” But others
pointed out that Gandhi’s son and daughter, Rahul, 34,
and Priyanka, 33, had demonstrated their support for
peace by coming to Karachi for the cricket finals,
where they had clearly been thrilled by the reception
they received.

WHAT NO DOUBT IMPRESSED the Indian visitors, and what
impresses even Pakistanis returning after just a few
years abroad, is a nation emerging from economic
stagnation and years of inaction against the domestic
terrorism of religious militants. The country has won
praise from the World Bank and International Monetary
Fund for its economic turnaround. Pakistan’s stock
market was among the world’s top performing last year,
up 66 percent, and real estate values are soaring.
Although still generated from a tiny base, tax
revenues have jumped 40 percent in the past four
years, enabling the government to spend more on
development, especially on education–a critical
investment for Pakistanis under 19, roughly half of
its current population.

A good example of this vibrancy is the creation of
many new private educational institutions. Navid
Shahzad, a literature professor and education
consultant, helped found Beaconhouse National
University (BNU) in Lahore. I went to see her in her
office, walking past bulletin boards plastered with
announcements for student plays and concerts and art
projects. “Three things happened in higher education,”
she told me. “First, the government finally understood
that it did not have the resources to meet the
education needs of the population by itself.” She
raised two fingers. “Second, they realized that the
crumbling public education system– and the religious
madrassas [schools] that stepped in to fill the
gaps–contributed to the problems of unemployment and
militancy in our society.” She raised a third finger.
“Finally, they saw that some private universities in
Pakistan were providing qualitatively superior
education in a way which was financially
self-sustaining. ”

A group of students with backpacks slung over their
T-shirts walked by outside her glass door. “So,” she
continued, “after years of being a public-sector
fiefdom, things are finally changing. In the last
year, seven or eight private universities were granted
charters in our province alone. BNU opened five months
ago, and we now have 109 students, including 16
international students. We plan to have 2,000 within
five years. Our nonprofit foundation already has an
endowment which allows us to give over 30 percent of
our students’ financial aid. And even though Pakistan
is supposed to be a dangerous place, I’ve had no
difficulty recruiting faculty from Britain, South
Africa, Germany and the United States. People hear
about what we’re doing, and they’re excited to come
and teach here.”

And what is BNU teaching? She smiled. “The demand for
people in media, culture and the arts is booming,” she
said. “It’s driven by the proliferation of television
channels, and now also of radio and newspapers, as
well as by a growing middle class. BNU is training
people to meet that demand. Many of our programs are
the first of their kinds in Pakistan: photojournalism,
for example. At public universities they stopped
teaching sculpture because of the Islamic injunction
against idolatry But here, we teach sculpture. And we
teach many disciplines that marry art and technology
and make new things possible, like sound engineering
and computer visual effects.”

Down the hall from Shahzad, in an office shared by
four female faculty members from three different
countries, I met Zahra Khan, a recent graduate of
Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts,
who has starred in a popular television sitcom here.
She was wearing glasses and a diamond stud in her nose
and sat at her desk under a poster for the Quentin
Tarantino film Pulp Fiction. “Music, television
sitcoms, dramatic serials–everything is exploding
right now,” she said. “Young people are expressing
themselves, and powerful modern forces are finally
taking on the old conservative ones. It’s really
exciting to be part of it.”

OF COURSE, few in Lahore would argue that Pakistan’s
long-overdue embrace of television is a panacea for
its deep-rooted problems, as Ahmed Rashid, the
internationally best-selling author of Taliban and
Jihad, is only too happy to point out. Sporting both a
beard and a pair of shorts, an unusual combination
here, Rashid led me into his study, a single room
entirely lined with bookshelves and separated from his
house in the Cantonment by a walkway shaded by hanging
vines. His electricity and phone service were both
out.

“The problem Pakistan faces right now,” he told me,
folding his legs underneath him, “is that our
government has a two-track policy, a kind of
institutionalized schizophrenia. Take the issue of
militants,” he said, referring to the thousands of
foreigners and Pakistanis engaged in an armed struggle
against the West, against India in Kashmir, or against
those who practice a different form of Islam.
“Musharraf has promised to clamp down on all militants
operating in Pakistan. But in reality, two different
things are going on. The army is trying to eliminate
Al Qaeda, foreign militants who are in Pakistan to
fight a global jihad against America. But the army is
not trying to eliminate Pakistani militants who want
to fight India in Kashmir. The army wants these
domestic Kashmiri militant groups to pause their
activities, but it doesn’t want to dismantle them yet
in case negotiations with India fail. Unfortunately,
Al Qaeda and our domestic militant groups are deeply
embedded in each other. So the army’s policies are
pushing in two opposite directions at the same time.”

The lights came back on, and Rashid got up to send a
fax; then gave up in frustration because the phone was
still out. “Many Pakistani militants think Musharraf
is a long-term threat,” he went on. “Especially the
sectarian groups, the Sunni extremists who are
instigating violence against Shiites. They’ve been
fingered twice for trying to assassinate Musharraf,”
in two attacks 1 days apart in December 2003. “The
army is trying to distinguish these sectarian groups
from the ones fighting for Kashmir and go after them.
But because all these groups–Al Qaeda, the sectarian
groups and the groups fighting in Kashmir– are
interrelated, it’s hard to do.”

He poured me a cup of tea. “It’s the same situation
with Abdul Qadeer Khan and this entire nuclear
proliferation scandal,” he told me, referring to the
mastermind of Pakistan’s nuclear program who, in
January; admitted selling nuclear secrets to Libya,
North Korea and Iran. “Right after September ii, we
should have said, privately perhaps, to the Americans
and the International Atomic Energy Agency; ‘Look, we
want to come clean. We are guilty of proliferation.
But that’s over now, and here’s how we’re going to
assure you that those days are finished.’ The army
should have taken responsibility. Instead, the army
waited until we got caught with our pants down, with
Libya and Iran telling the world that we helped them,
and then the army set up A. Q. Khan as a scapegoat to
limit the damage. So now we’re in the same position of
cooperating with the Americans and the IAEA, but only
after destroying our own credibility” In particular,
Musharraf’s decision to pardon the once hugely popular
Khan after his confession was widely seen as an
attempt to limit the damage of the scandal.

Rashid also criticizes the undemocratic nature of
Musharraf’s government and its antagonism toward the
parties of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and
Nawaz Sharif. Rashid’s concerns would spill into the
news a week later, in May when Nawaz Sharif’s brother,
Shahbaz, attempted to return from exile abroad and was
immediately deported by armed security personnel.

Rashid checked his fax machine again. It was still not
working, so he called out to his driver and asked him
to take the fax to the bazaar to be sent off. “At the
end of the day;” he said, after the driver had left,
“the schizophrenic nature of our government– hunting
some militants but protecting others, admitting
proliferation but passing the blame, liberalizing the
economy but destroying the two mainstream political
parties–is tied up with Pakistan’s search for its own
identity We need to decide which way we want to go.
The fundamentalists don’t have mass support, but
they’re very vocal. It’s time for the rest of civil
society–for business people, traders, teachers,
professionals, intellectuals- -to find its voice. There
is mass support for peace with India, and economic
development, and an end to militancy But the question
is: Are we at that tipping point where mass support
can finally change our policies?”

AFTER MY MEETING WITH RASHID, I decided not to take
the most direct route home. Instead, I drove down Mall
Road, with its old, shady trees, many planted by the
British before Pakistan’s independence. The divider
was lush green, with thick beds of orange flowers on
long, elegant stems. I passed a white mosque near my
grandfather’ s former house. The mosque had been small
when I was a child, barely more than a room. Now its
minarets and glossy green dome jutted into the sky,
festooned with flags pulled taut by a stiff
breeze-signs, perhaps, that a religious assembly would
soon take place.

I turned left along the canal. Weeping willows along
its banks dragged the tips of their branches through
the water. The road had been improved lately, modern
underpasses transforming it into a quick-moving artery
for traffic through the city. At intersections,
billboards with attractive young women and men
advertised clothes, cars, credit cards, ice cream. On
one billboard was a splattering of dark paint where
someone with conservative views and good aim had tried
to obliterate a particularly fetching female face.

I remembered my mother telling me about a local
production of The Phantom of the Opera she had seen. A
woman wearing Western-style trousers and a shirt, but
also a head scarf, had introduced the show. “At
first,” my mother told me, “I thought it was silly.
Why bother with a conservative head scarf if you are
going to put on those tightfitting clothes? But then I
listened to her speak, and she was confident and spoke
well. So I thought, if it makes her feel more
comfortable to wear a head scarf, then fine. The
important thing is that she was well educated and free
to speak her mind.”

As the city of Lahore, and Pakistan as a whole, leaves
behind two decades of repression and violent
intimidation by religious militants, more and more
people are finding their voices. And much of what they
have to say reflects a longing for peace and progress.
Even if overshadowed in the news by the explosions of
bombs, Pakistan’s other explosions-of music, media and
mass culture–are powerful and growing sources of
hope.

By: Mohsin Hamid, Smithsonian Magazine, Vol.
35, Issue 4

Advertisements

3 responses to “Mohsin Hamid’s Letter from Lahore

  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Chris Moran

  2. Pingback: booming+television+news+channels+in+india Top 10 Queries - Booming Television News Channels in India

  3. Hi All,
    Does anyone has clue when BASANT will be celebrated this year 2011 in Lahore?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s