A roller coaster ride

August 28, 2022

Paracha’s latest book chronicles 75 years of the country’s cultural evolution, initiatives, victories and some regressive elements

A roller coaster ride


or Faith, State and the Soul: A History of Popular Culture in Pakistan is the latest book by Nadeem Farooq Paracha. It chronicles 75 years of the country’s roller coaster ride of cultural evolution, initiatives, victories and some regressive elements. Divided into pre- and post-partition periods, the book concludes in the 2020s.

Designed like a coffee table book with illustrations depicting key events and individuals in various periods of Pakistan’s cultural history, it consists of six chapters covering socio-political events with a touch of the dry satire NFP is known for.

The book opens with a timeline spread over a few pages. The timeline chronicles the key historical facts, interloping changes in the political landscape and the parallel pop-culture developments. It also sets the tone for the following chapters that take the readers through the complex history and evolution of the country that has not been adequately documented. For Faith, State and the Soul is not only the first book of its kind, but also the first one to holistically explain how various components of the society impacted one another and, in the process, tugged and moulded our identity.

Nadeem Farooq Paracha is a widely published author. A student activist during the mid-1980s he took to journalism in the 1990s. A part of his career was spent reporting on politics and culture. His rich experience made him the best person to write this book. It expands on his take on the country’s deteriorating state for which his columns are both famous and controversial.

“The act of proscribing a cultural product on the basis of “immorality” - just because it offends the ego of an individual or that of a community - has little or nothing to do with preserving the moral fibre of a nation.”

By no means is the book limited to a specific sort of readership that is interested in exploring these subjects. It is a treat for anyone who has ever entertained the question, “Where did we go wrong?” A short answer is that this has been a journey.

A fascinating combination of historical facts, NFP’s blunt opinions and on-point animations, this book is not only a page-turner but a must-have collectable. 

Over the decades, many have tried to rewrite Pakistan’s history and what constitutes its social fabric. Currently, such efforts are once again on the rise. This book couldn’t have been timed better.

“From the time of the country’s creation till the mid-1970s, the state above had successfully controlled and navigated popular culture below. The line in this respect had begun to blur from the late 1970s. Musharraf believed he could fuse the two, the above and the below, as another way of control, like when he tried to create a common ground for ‘high concept sufism’ and pop sufism…..”

Everyone with any amount of power had played a role with a lot of focus on how to use the system to hold on to their waning power.

One gets to see glimpses of hope where people are seen making the best of the macro environment and finding ways for their creative energies. From our once thriving film industry, known for being at the top when it came to covering a diverse range of topics; to our comedy shows using intelligent satire to take digs at the country’s most brutal dictators, to the boom in our pop music post-Zia’s Islamisation – the fruits of which we are dealing with to date.

The cultural coverage is not limited to the fields of television, film and music. The author also takes us through the ups and downs of cricket. How the players went through a religious transformation and the compliance impacted the careers of the players without anyone admitting a formal stance.

“As we saw, from the early-2000s, popular culture in the country splintered. The popular culture products below and in the middle began to jostle for space with the ideas of popular culture coming from above. What was emerging from the state above was defused and defanged. Especially, when the above, middle and below all landed on social media sites in full view of each other. I do not see their interaction in this respect as a cultural war. It is a discourse between varied popular culture products and ideas. However, it is still early to predict exactly what this might lead to.”

A fascinating combination of historical facts, NFP’s blunt opinions and on-point animations, this book is not only a page-turner but also a must-have collectable.

For Faith, State and the Soul

A History of Popular Culture in Pakistan

Author: Nadeem Farooq Paracha

Publisher: Markings Publishing

Pages: 204

Price: Rs 12,000

The reviewer is a   digital communications and marketing professional.

She tweets at @FatimaArif

A roller coaster ride