Sunday, April 10, 2011

Pakistan then and now

Pakistan of today is shockingly different from Pakistan of 1960’s. The decade started 17 years before General Ziaul Haq’s Pakistan. 23 years have passed since Zia vanished in the sky, but Pakistan has not started its journey towards tolerance.
I have been interacting with foreigners who lived in Mangla during the period of dam’s construction, noticing that they regularly hold get togathers abroad to recollect their memories. One of them, Jac Olds, have set up a local group, Mangla Dam Memories, on the social networking site facebook.
In an email conversation with Jac, she recalled the Pakistan of 1960s. Jac’s dad was a British engineer who had come to Mangla for building the dam. Jac arrived at Karachi port on Februrary 23, 1965, a day after she turned 14.
The only travel advisery she recieved was from her father, who told her to be respectable to the country’s culture and its people. There was no police contingent or motorcade awaiting them in Karachi - contrary to the prevailing situation where foreigners are given security briefings to be followed strictly in Pakistan.
Jac recalls Life in Mangla was very peaceful. The only security arrangements were high walls topped with broken glass pieces and a couple of watchman at the gate of the Baral Colony in Mangla. Not only such security arrangements have become extinct, but their superior version – one which includes steel barbed wires, concrete barricades, vehicle scanners and sniffer dogs – has also become useless.
Now the foremost thought on a foreign engineer’s mind is not the project deadline but risks and threats to his life. Currently China is the only country which is still sending its engineers to Pakistan despite several of them were beheaded, killed and abducted. France paid a heavy price when 22 of its submarine engineers were blown up in Karachi in a massive bomb blast.
Jac remained a student in the Mangla International School. Some of the students were Pakistanis. One of them, Rehana Ali, joined the school as Urdu teacher after graduating from the same school. Rehana Ali is the mother of a famous Pakistani fashion designer HSY.
Whenever there is a multi-cultural atmosphere in a school, cultures blend to form a universal culture. Pakistani students learnt to call water “waRur” and foreign students learnt classical dancing and took curry in their spice-less kitchens.
Jac’s collection of pictures shows a peasant Pakistan. Few shops, a very few cars and people as content with their lives as possible are the only objects in her pictures. Western’s were not looked with suspicious eyes as they are now looked at.
Burqas were a rare sight in the cities and were totally absent in the villages. Dating among Pakistani students in the Mangla International School was as alien as it was in that era.
According to Jac, there were no thefts in the colony as all the domestic workers were paid good.
After the dam was built, hundreds of people were forced to displace. The Pakistani government compensated them with tracts of lands in other places and with visas to the labour-hungry England. Thousands of Pakistanis went to the UK. The foreign exchange earned by these Pakistanis changed the peasant culture in areas surrounding Mangla such as Mirpur, Jhelum and Dina.
The old narrow dark shops have been replaced by well lit shops selling designer clothes. Huge billboards with flex signs have replaced the hand painted dull billboards. Roads are always clogged with shinny SUVs and Saloons. The single storeyed, mediocre mud houses have disappeared, giving rise to huge palatial houses. Farming has become less profitable than one family member earning abroad.
Everything from Pakistan of 1960s has changed for something better, but the intolerance has not rolled back.

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