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archive: Whose culture is it, anyway?

Whose culture is it, anyway?

Jamal Ahmad Anjum
DAWN Magazine, Karachi
August 22, 1999

    Title: Whose culture is it, anyway? 
    Author: Jamal Ahmad Anjum 
    Publication: DAWN Magazine, Karachi
    Date: August 22, 1999
    GRACE, charm, beauty, social behaviour, even principles are said to be
    relative, and differ from country to country. They always refer to
    something, in one way or the other, in corresponding terms. Such
    sociological patterns help make an individual - the basic unit of any
    society - what he is. Thus, religion and culture are said to be the
    two most dominant and important powers on earth, shaping the
    character, behavior and perspective of human beings. 
    When dug in deep, even religion lags behind and culture comes in the
    forefront - supreme and mighty. 'Culture' is a many- faceted word.
    However, the culture of mind and manner is entirely dependent on the
    intellectual development of a society and the individual, which, in
    turn, cannot be achieved without proper education, nurturing and
    upbringing. Religion, if applied in its entirety, does create its own
    effects on individual character- building. It is, however, interesting
    to note that Muslims throughout the world practice one religion,
    Islam, yet their culture differs markedly from one to another. But the
    parameters of culture, tradition and special traits of any given
    country, by and large, remain one and the same. Saudis, Libyans or
    Egyptians, just to mention a few, not only take pride in their
    language, costume, cuisine, customs and traditions, but, in fact,
    practice them almost religiously: more religiously than they practice
    the religion itself! 
    We, the Pakistanis, are, however, singularly and distinctly different.
    Even after more than half-a- century of independent existence, the
    slave mentality of aping the masters continues. We have even corrupted
    the minds of an entire generation that opened its eyes as independent
    beings. We take pride in dressing the English way, love and admire the
    American junk food, go for third-rated English movies, and dance to
    the tune of music which, to say the least, is harmful to sanity. We
    unnecessarily try to copy foreign, and miserably fail, making a fool
    of ourselves in the process. 
    Something, somewhere has definitely gone wrong in our checkered
    history as even after five decades of independence, we remain a people
    of borrowed ideas, and pick even the more superficial parts of the
    alien cultures. It seems we abhor quality. How else one can justify
    our passion for rock n'roll, cabaret and cha- cha-cha stuff, in the
    face of our inability to appreciate the beauty of, say, waltz and
    Walking hand in hand, the 'gull' - till recently she was 'gall'- and
    the 'guy', both having ponies on the back of their head, attired in
    denims and T-shirts, smoking feverishly, talking incessantly in absurd
    English while simultaneously listening to the "wonderful pop music"
    churned out by walk-man in their respective pockets. Don't be
    mistaken. They are Pakistani youngsters heading for ... Boat Basin,
    Many of us may not like to believe this, or even if we do, we may not
    like to accept the fact, but let's face it as grown-ups, the Clifton
    Bridge divides the city of Karachi in more ways than one. Beyond the
    bridge is a land unknown to the lesser mortals. This, however, is not
    a phenomenon exclusive to Karachi, or for that matter, Pakistan.
    Exclusive areas for the 'privileged' classes frequent the map of the
    world like anything. "Whoever says money can't buy you happiness, does
    not know where to shop," remains the motto of such communities. They
    bask and rejoice in their self-conceived glory, gleefully destroying
    their own culture, traditions, customs and, may I dare say, even the
    sanctity of human relationships. 
    Ignorance and illiteracy happen to be twins. Illiteracy, however, is
    more in the nature of a self- inflicted injury, which is far more
    condemnable than ignorance. The successful recourse to any
    developmental process is education. Unfortunately, our financial
    allocations for education have been minimal. During the past five
    years, it has been about 1.66 per cent of the GNP. In the current
    budget, the allocation is even less. We have already hit the rock
    bottom even among the developing nations. Leave aside Japan,
    Philippines and South Korea, where primary education is 100 per cent
    and at the secondary level is at 63, 92 and 85 per cent, respectively.
    Even Nepal, Burma, India and Bangladesh fare much better as their
    primary and secondary level education percent-wise is 91 and 21; 84
    and 20; and 79 and 30, respectively. Pakistan, on the other hand, has
    48 and 17 per cent, respectively. In the case of women, the statistics
    are even more shamefully retrogressive. 
    The worse part of the whole equation is that whatever percentage of
    literacy is there, it only carries monetary value for the
    degree-holders, devoid of any enlightenment which remains the hallmark
    of any real education system. This is the reason why our elite's,
    despite being the educated class, happen to be found playing with our
    cultural values. 
    Running into a blind alley, unsure of their destination, hundreds of
    thousands of them have staked virtually everything on all that
    glitters but is not gold. Being a far more prosperous segment of our
    society - why and how of it is beside the point - they could have done
    a lot to promote the beauty and elegance of our own culture and
    traditions. Unfortunately, however, the majority of them has fallen
    prey to the Western influences. They have become addicted to what the
    West itself has either rejected or is worried about, seeking avenues,
    methods and channels to eradicate them from their own societies.
    Certain elements that are looked down upon by the sober elements even
    in the West have become status symbols with us. The end result has a
    spiral effect: the rich emulating the West, and the middle class
    copying the affluent. The net result being an almost total rejection
    of what used to be our own cultural identity. 
    What is the cause of the malady? And, what is the remedy, if any? It
    is still not beyond recovery. Mere establishment of more educational
    institutions will not solve the problem. It is the quality of
    education that shall be brought under scrutiny. Education of the mind
    and soul, that is. Education that may produce confident individuals.
    Confident of their own selves. Confident enough to avoid falling prey
    to alien influences. It may not happen overnight, but that should not
    be a discouraging factor. 
    As is the case under such circumstances, someone somewhere has to make
    a start for things to improve. After all, what are a few decades in
    the life of a nation. We have already played havoc with one
    generation. Let's not do the same with another. If we don't do it now,
    things will take their own course, and it may not be a course we may
    take much pride in. Let's set out to produce a generation of truly
    modern, educated Pakistanis. But does someone care?

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