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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Book review: End of the past

End of the Past is a book by a Pakistani journalist, cultural critic and satirist Nadeem F. Paracha. Published by Vanguard Publications in 2016, it is a social history of Pakistan in which Paracha charts the religious and cultural evolution of Pakistan through the country's cultural, sporting and ideological histories.

Being a fan of Nadeem Farooq Paracha’s columns in the smokers’ corner of Dawn EOS, I have always been attracted to his books. His special satirical commentary on the social milieu of Pakistan and pop culture has greatly influenced my persona and thought-processing on the issues of national concern. This book End of the Past is the continuation of his efforts to instill a thought-provoking historical account without any distorted version.

Unfortunately, our generic history books do not provide an actual analysis of the political and cultural landscape of the country in its true form. Hence, one can discern the growing deprivation of critical thinking and unbiased analysis in the country. However, NFP being deeply aligned with the subject of history has filled this void by covering the historical events through constant observation and experimenting with their challenges during his lifetime as he had mentioned in his book’s introduction that his book is recollections of his surroundings and developments in the domains of politics, sports, religion, and the arts.

Read more: Book review: Islam and the Arab Revolutions

Brief Synopsis of the book

In the first chapter “The Faith Bait”, he elucidated the role of the Islamization drive of Zia-ul-Haq in fuelling the sectarian rivalry and inter-communal schism during the 1980s. He negated the commonly found notion in this chapter that religious feuds are only caused owing to the majority vs minority principle. As per him, there are other factors behind their aggravation such as political leaders and despots’ inclination towards right-wing extremism which facilitates the ingression of regressive culture which ultimately leads to sectarianism.

The Zia ul Haq’s infatuation with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and facilitation of the US and Saudi Arabia in winning the war against the Soviets by fabricating the Mujahideens proved fatal for developing country like Pakistan that still faces the rage in the form of sectarian violence. Turning the pages, one would come across the second chapter “The Grand Concoction” in which he opined that our multiple ideological experimentations with the country proved counter-intuitive as our identity got lost somewhere between a theological state and a secular one. This crisis of identity is still hunting us today.

The third chapter of the book “Blood Rush” deals with the student politics of his era and its role in assisting the various political agendas of multiple developmental phases. In one of these pages, he mentioned the strong role played by PPP-backed left-wing student political bodies such as the National Students Federation (NSF) in putting pressure on Ayub Khan for exiting the doors of power and leaving his office. Afterward, the same NSF divided into multiple factions turned against the Bhutto regime which shows the volatile nature of student politics in Pakistan as every political party served their interests by using student federations and parting them after accomplishing their agendas.

Read more: Book Review: Why, as a Muslim, I Defend Liberty

The author was too actively involved in student politics during his stay at Saint Patrick’s School Karachi which was dominated by major student alliances like NSF, PSF, and BSO. Moving ahead on student politics, Zia’s era was the last nail in the coffin for the long-lasting burying of student unions as Zia did not like the progressive student alliances challenging his unfettered powers.

The historical account does not end here. Here comes the time of the new chapter “The Wine Shops of Karachi”. This chapter was rather intriguing for me as there was a blanket ban on wine selling at any shop during the 1970s when ZA Bhutto under the capitulation of religious groups agreed to close down all liquor stores and nightclubs.

This ban remained in the 80s too during the Zia era

The consequences of the ban according to the author was that the number of drunkards increased exponentially as various mafia groups were selling it illegally to their habitual consumers even though they were lashed by Police and arrested multiple times. Thus, the drunkards did not stop drinking even during the strong enforcement of the ban which shows that banning is not the ultimate solution for taming societal evils. In the fifth chapter “The Lost Decade”, NFP shed light on the booming political activities of his time when major political parties like PPP and MQM were vying for power, and the role of the right-wing alliance” IJI” in deterring the Benazir Bhutto led PPP in connivance with pro-Zia elements. Along with this, the process of the commencement of the author’s career in the print media is also mentioned in this chapter which too is quite interesting and inspiring.

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However, his last three chapters focus on how did the Pakistan film industry decline and the subsequent role of the banning culture of the 1980s. The practical manifestation of the country’s cricket culture during his time and impediments to its evolution, and his unfolding experience with his family after the hanging of ZA Bhutto.

Overall, it is worth the experience for those who are regularly glued to his columns and books. Besides this, the book can be completed in a short span of 5 to 6 days. All those interested in studying Pakistan affairs and history from an uncharted perspective should have this book on their shelf. In the end, people not knowing the author and his acumen may find it somehow difficult to comprehend the writing style in this book.



The writer is an Environmentalist and Independent Researcher. The views expressed by the writers do not necessarily represent Global Village Space’s editorial policy.