February 13, 2017

Nadeem F Paracha’s latest book, The Pakistan Anti-Hero: History of Pakistani Nationalism through Lives of Iconoclasts (Vanguard Books, 2017) saw its launch on the third day of the Karachi Literature Festival. In it, Paracha takes an empathetic approach in examining the psychology of those who are traditionally considered to be outsiders or ‘villains’ in Pakistani society.

In a talk moderated by Hamna Zubair, Paracha said that a lot of the comments passed on social media about him being a satirist, or sarcastic and critical, were merely one-dimensional analogies. He said he wished that those who passed such judgements would analyse him with the same degree of empathy and understanding with which he has analysed the various anti-heroes in his book. “I studied them the way I would like to be studied,”he explained.

Paracha went on to say that we needed to rediscover the very concept of Pakistani nationalism. The new generation has grown up with a “distorted and myopic” understanding of it. The early ideas of nationalism were more “inclusive and open-ended and could have evolved into something far more progressive,” he argued. Due to the 1971 East Pakistan debacle, its evolution was retarded and from the mid-1970s the whole concept of nationalism in Pakistan became “very narrow”. This was not the nationalism envisioned by the founders of the country.

A chapter in the book titled ‘An Ambiguous Man’ is about one of Parachas old friends named Harris, who went through several ideological shifts in his life and whom Paracha has written about in one of his older columns. Paracha described Harris as a “fascinating character”. Harris shifted from one extreme to the other throughout the course of his life, driven partially by family pressure and his relationship with his father. For example, Harris joined a left-wing organization in college to spite his communist-hating father, but later, to please him, he went to Afghanistan in 1988 to fight for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Incidentally, his father was not pleased but “petrified” by this decision. “So Harris got it wrong both ways,” joked Paracha.

Commenting on his transition from journalist to author, Paracha explained that since he has been writing regularly for newspapers for the past fifteen years, he always felt that had to get a book (or two) out of his system.

The writer is an Assistant Editor at Newsline (www.alibhutto.com)