By Sonya Rehman
Recently, I came across an article penned by a Pakistani journalist for Reuters. The author had written about “the secret side of Pakistan,” vis-à-vis underground parties, girls in skirts, and alcohol guzzling youngsters – basically a gora’s mini-guide to how the liberal elite in Pakistan party it up.
The article got me thinking. Wearing skirts and knocking back a drink doesn’t make one a ‘modern’ Pakistani, nor a ‘liberal,’ infact it is one’s values that define what degree of modernity or orthodoxy you nurture within you. Because, one can be ‘liberal’ on a surface level, but still have conventional beliefs. A ‘liberal’ does not wear his/her ‘liberalism’ on his/her sleeve, yelling “I am liberal, hear me roar.”
Accordingly, the modernity that the author of the Reuters article writes about remains null and void – one cannot gauge the degree of modernity of a society just by way of its underground raves and parties. Liberalism in a society is defined by its artist community, its intellectuals, its writers and poets – from the richness of their works, to the educative bent of their writings – they stimulate society to be open-minded, and to let go of constrictive dogmas.
In Pakistan, art forms are becoming more experimental, niches are being created, there has been an increase in cross-cultural artist exchange, and there is far more exposure now than ever before. Therefore the modernity of Pakistani society may ‘appear’ liberal regarding a thriving social scene – but only as so far as adding a transient, glossy veneer to its outer shell.
True modernism within the country will be amplified when local art and culture changes with the times, all the while maintaining a secure foothold.
And that, at the end of the day, can only happen if each generation of Pakistan’s artist community contributes his/her craft to society on a consistent basis.
It is solely up to them.