Friday, August 01, 2008
Bina Shah's Review - Pakistan Paindabad's Intentions are Good, the Execution Clumsy
Pakistan's eminent author discusses this blogsite.
[By Bina Shah]
Mayank Austen Soofi’s Pakistan Paindabad blog is an interesting Internet social experiment: he wants to portray Pakistan in a positive light to his readers.
A web site that showcases all that is good and positive about Pakistan already exists, called PakPositive, run by and contributed to by Pakistanis. But Soofi’s blog differs from PakPositive not in intent, but in origin: he is an Indian living in New Delhi who became enamoured of Pakistan when he traveled in the country; he sees maintaining his blog as a personal mission to evoke goodwill and peace between the two countries.
The question is: does Soofi achieve his intention, or is Pakistan Paindabad a case of good sentiments translating into not-so-credible results?
It’s not surprising that the initial reaction to the premise of Pakistan Paindabad has been suspicion on both sides of the border. Indians accuse Soofi of being unpatriotic, unIndian, even a spy for Pakistan. Pakistanis wonder what Soofi’s up to; is he sincere, or is this some plan to humiliate Pakistan by yet another hostile Indian blogger? A quote at the top of the blog from Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Daily Times and Friday Times, attempts to allay at least some of the fears: “Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be”.
But what should a blog be, exactly?
A blog, firstly, should be what it says it is. In this, Pakistan Paindabad succeeds: it is a blog which contains articles, reviews, interviews, surveys, photographs, and essays about all things Pakistani.
On the front page, a pieces called “50 Pakistani Destinations Before You Die” combines a beautiful photograph of Karomber Lake with Soofi’s accompanying text, asking readers to send in their requests, which he will try to accommodate in future.
Many of the articles on the site are written by Soofi himself; they are earnest and personal in tone, capturing his impressions and beliefs about Pakistan based on his travels to this country. Even a Pakistani living in Pakistan will learn something about her own country by visiting Pakistan Paindabad – and that’s a strong point in its favor.
Soofi employs a small team of volunteers, Indian and Pakistani, to compile his articles; every once in a while, a guest writer, often a Pakistani writer of some repute, will also contribute. Raza Rumi, Maryam Arif, and Gaurav Sood are names you’ll see popping up often on the roster; Khalid Hasan, Irfan Husain and this writer have also written special columns for the blog in the past year.
The articles range from the mundane to the intriguing: “Five Things I Love About Pakistan” and “Because Heart Hai Pakistani” sits side-by-side with “Heera Mandi: Dream House of the Whores” and “Pervez Musharraf Arrested My Mother”. No topic is taboo: a series of pieces on gay Pakistanis; interviews with Amin Gulgee, Bapsi Sidhwa, Kamran Shafi, in which artists speak freely about their work and their country; and political satire find their way onto the site.
The tone and style of the Web site, though, is dictated by Soofi; a majority of the articles are either authored, co-authored, or the ideas originate with him.
Soofi seems to have no editorial agenda, commissioning articles informally and writing features of varying length, style, and quality. The result is hit or miss: hit when Soofi plays the role of the wide-eyed wanderer, moving through Lahore markets or Karachi streets with hunger to find out about life on the “other side”. He misses when trying his hand at more sophisticated writing: some of his satires fall flat, others are cringe-worthy, and then there are some that induce in the reader a feeling of confusion or misunderstanding.
This is dangerous ground to tread when there already exists such a charged atmosphere between the two countries; one might take Soofi’s intent the wrong way, as when he was warned by the Pakistani government to remove a Photoshopped picture of Musharraf cavorting in a swimming pool with Britney Spears.
What will help, though, is if Soofi manages to have his articles vetted by a group of friends of the blog, both Pakistani and Indian, who can tell him when he’s getting it right and when he might be inflaming sentiments.
There’s no doubt that Soofi’s intentions are good, even if his execution is slightly clumsy. Tighter editing, a judicious pruning of purple prose, and a more imaginative design would make this blog really turn heads.
One hopes for an expansion of the Pakistan Paindabad site in a direction that really makes a difference in Indo-Pak relations, at least on the Internet. Until then, Pakistan Paindabad will continue to impress in its quirky, homely way, but a bigger world is out there waiting to be conquered by Soofi and his co-conspirators in peace.
[Bina Shah is a Pakistani novelist. Her web site is: www.binashah.net]