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10 Great Books on Pakistan {Listomania}

For me the best books are the ones that you enjoy reading; that alone is the first criteria, then, of course comes content, writing style, story, imagination of the author and so on. My list of ‘great books’ on Pakistan is slightly off-key and may not be the traditional choice, yet for me these books best portray the ‘country’ that is Pakistan. Getting ‘fact’ on the territory, population, ethnic groups, borders, history is accessible in the present times thanks to the internet. We also have many scholarly works on different aspects of the country, but to actually taste the flavour of the cities, of its people, of the heat, and the cold, to be able to hear the raucous sounds, and ding that make up the place calls for a different kind of narrative. For me the following come close to the mark.

1. Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre

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The authors tell the story of the last few years leading to the partition of the Sub-continent and the birth of Pakistan. It depicts in detail the role of the major players in the political arena starting with appointment of Lord Mountbatten as the Last Viceroy of undivided India; there portrayals of dynamic meetings between the anglicized Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Mahatama Gandhi in his white dhoti. Tales of glaring and ruthless extravagance of the Rajas of the princely states – one detailing the marriage of a cherished dog of  a maharaja for whch the elite of India were invited and attended. It is all based on facts, but is so grippingly interesting for it reads like fiction – hence it is my number one choice of great books on histroy of our country.

2.  The Political System of Pakistan  by Khalid B. Sayeed

It is essential reading for any student of political historical development in Pakistan from 1947 -1958.  It illustrates precisely how and why the ‘culture’ of politics came to be the way it is; how the politicians and the bureaucrats failed this country to an extent that army came to be the only institution which carried credibility with the masses. The relationship between politicians and officials of the state, the ‘we’ of West Pakistan against the “them” of the darker East Bengalis is the subject of the book. It may be an eye-opener for many of us, as it was for me, for it exposed the sterilized and doctored version of history we are taught in our schools.

3. Waiting for Allah: Pakistan’s Struggle for Democracy by Christina Lamb

Christina Lamb spent a year reporting on the political turmoil in Pakistan in 1989 for “The Financial Times”. As a result she won The Young Journalist of the Year Award. This is a descriptive analysis of what she sees as the tragedy of Pakistan as it moves towards the 21st century – a woeful catalogue of vested interests, corruption, an overpowering military and an unconfident and enfeebled new democracy. She looks at treatment of women, urban life, patronage and government, troubled relationship with India, Afghanistan and power of tribes and drug lords, the great game of espionage on the new frontier, Benazir Bhutto and her failure to impose change and the imminent breakdown of democracy. Courtesygoodreads.com

Need I say more, I loved the raciness of the book, its pace and the electricity it portrays of the times, when Benazir Bhutto came back to Pakistan in 1988 to run for election after  the terrible 11 years of dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq. It reads like a novel, and is a must first read for young initiates into the ‘Pakistani system’.

4. Breaking Curfew: A Political Journey Through Pakistan by Emma Duncan

Published in 1989, on the eve of re-birth of Pakistani democracy and its tribulations. It is again an insight, albeit from an outsider’s perspective, on the mish-mash of governance, political games, corruption and the religious overtones riding alongside in the state and its implications.

5.  The Reluctant Fundamentalist  by Mohsin Hamid

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Mohsin Hamid’s books depict what Pakistan has become today. Its drug taking, extra-marital affairs ridden,  unhappy, depressed and discontented elite who yearn for another life. The urge towards Islamic fundamentalism, concept of jihad – the penetration of conflicting moral values, confusion worse confounded – is the reality of Pakistan and I think he magically illuminates it.

6. Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid

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Moth Smoke is a novel written by Mohsin Hamid, published in 2000. It tells the story of Darashikoh Shezad, a banker in Lahore, Pakistan, who loses his job, falls in love with his best friend’s wife, and plunges into a life of drugs and crime.

7.  A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Hanif Kureishy

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Again a great read by our young and vibrant author Mohammed Hanif. It is fact given the garb of fiction, and lets us peek into the man who ruled Pakistan for 11 deadly and dark years. It sounds off the reverberations of what it was to be living in the stark and barren land this had become. It shows the ‘wasteland’ this country was slowly edging towards whose results we see now everywhere around us.

8. Sindh jo Ajrak by Noor Jehan Bilgrami

At most time we fail to appreciate what is in front of us and what is familiar. It isn’t valued as much as things which are foreign and in a way out of reach. It takes a true artist to reset our vision, and make us stop for a bit and take notice, appreciate, and value what is ours. Noor jehan Bilgrami, the noted textile designer, researcher, speaker has done a wonderful service to the ageless tradition of ajrak making in the sindh area. This is a definite read for every Pakistani for it’s incredibly enjoyable and informative.

9. To The Frontier by Geoffrey Moorhouse

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Jeffery Moorhouse’s brilliant travelogue in which he recounts his journey from “from Karachi, through the Sind, Baluchistan, and the Punjab, into the high Hindu Kush, travels that brought him into contact with paradox, danger, and the exotic.” courtesy goodreads.com

10. Nusqa hayai Wafa by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

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Why include a poem collection in books on Pakistan? for the very reason that the poems of this genius speak the words that we all want to speak, but can’t find the voice. He becomes our voice, our vision, our future, our hope to ‘self-actualization’ both personally and as a nation.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely of the author and do not represent ARY policies or opinion.