Nadeem Farooq Paracha is a journalist, columnist, satirist, culture critic, and now he is among the brigade of authors whose books sell like proverbial hot cakes. His book End of the Past was a blockbuster as its first edition was sold out within no time. His second book, The Pakistan Anti-Hero, also grabs the reader’s attention right from the start, since the author busts many a myth with which our history books are replete. Deeply entrenched in cultural aspects of our country, Paracha attempts to revisit the history of Pakistan through the prism of a cultural critic.
As a columnist, he began a column titled ‘Crazy Diamonds’ in which he looked back at unlikely characters from our socio-cultural history. They were really an odd assortment: poets, sportsmen, singers, intellectuals, writers etc. This book also gives due space to many similar flamboyant heroes who had been consigned to the dustbin. If you feel jaded by reading official but insipid history books, this is the book you have been waiting for.
Leftist activist, academic and historian Howard Zinn challenged official American history by writing a strong rebuttal to the national narrative in a book titled A People’s History of the United States, which incorporated the role of common people in the making of history. Similarly, we also needed our scholars and writers to take on a similar endeavour in our country. Till now, very few had challenged the official history, and Paracha is one of them, but needless to say we need more such daring souls.
Paracha starts tracing the roots of Pakistani nationalism and seems wonderstruck at the modernist and liberal thoughts of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan whom he terms the “unflappable scholar”. This is because Sir Syed showed utmost restraint and calm even when his political stance ruffled many feathers. He stood defiant and kept giving direction to rudderless Muslims. Sir Syed guided them towards a path that was logical, pragmatic, and realistic. He nudged Muslims through his rational writings and advised them to tackle their circumstances head on. In his view, nostalgia wouldn’t serve them in the long run. The author is in awe of Sir Syed’s larger-than-life persona and thus he is billed as the one of the first pioneers of the Pakistani nationalism. Paracha’s adulation of Sir Syed is justified as it was his timely warnings that saved Muslims from eternal oblivion.
Paracha remembers Chaudhry Rehmat Ali as the ‘Map Man’ whose presence in our history is almost negligible. He has often been painted as a villain due to his rash and flamboyant attitude. Chaudhry Rehmat Ali was vehemently criticised by Quaid-e-Azam for compromising on the areas which Jinnah had included in the scheme of a greater Muslim homeland. Chaudhry Rehmat Ali was told to leave the country at the orders of Liaquat Ali Khan and thus he returned to England where he died in 1955. “He was buried in a cemetery in Cambridge in an unmarked grave. The grave was finally marked 26 years later in 1975.” Chaudhry Rehmat Ali ended up becoming nothing more than a footnote in the history of Pakistan — a country that he claimed had existed since the ‘dawn of history’. Thus the author remembers an important political figure of Pakistan movement.
Moving ahead, we see other odd characters that Paracha calls iconoclasts. In this gallery of geniuses, we meet Hassan Nasir, the poster boy of the leftist parties; Ubaidullah Sindhi, a “Green man but who dreamt red”; the hermit poet Saghar Siddiqui; Allama Inayatullah Mashriqi, Sara Shagufta, Wasim Raja and the list goes on. By chronicling their lives, Paracha reprimands our collective consciousness for ignoring these extremely talented people who burned themselves like meteors. Since they were mostly naysayers they found themselves on the wrong side of the divide.
Paracha has also not forgotten the few colourful characters from our cultural and social life, such as Aqleem Akhtar aka General Rani who took up much of the limelight during the era of Yahya Khan. The book is interspersed with many such episodes of our socio-cultural history that we tend to ignore consciously.
Paracha writes acerbic and crisp prose that reads as funny as well as satirical. The Pakistan Anti-Hero is a socio-political history that needs to be read by all and sundry.
Author: Nadeem Farooq Paracha
Publisher: Vanguard Books, Lahore.