Friday, August 01, 2008

Bina Shah's Review - Pakistan Paindabad's Intentions are Good, the Execution Clumsy

Pakistan Paindabad - A Critical Review

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:]


Anonymous said...

Soofi, I don't understand one thing, why is it the people are after revamping your blogs, hunh? Previously in your blog I read someone else giving similar feedback and now this. IT IS A BLOG! NOT A BOOK. Don't you have self confidence to chart out your own blogs then rely on constant opinions and grooming?? Why don't you just learn to follow your own heart? What's wrong buddy? I like your sites all of them. Pakistan Paindabad needs a little push but it's ALRIGHT to go slow. Soofi, you must learn to value your own writing and not always look for approval or guidance. Be original. I personally got NOTHING out of Ms. Bina Shah's opinion. All the time you fall into people's heavy-duty smokin' opinions and lose your own sensibility which you really have.

Bina Shah should create her own blog.

Anonymous said...

Real shallow opinion of Bina Shah.

Soofi, seek your own road and don't keep constantly relying on people's opinions. Nothing wrong with your blogs. Somehow your blogger friends keep wanting you to change something or other. why don't they create their own blogs? WHY?

Mayank Austen Soofi said...

Ms Bina Shah was invited by me to write a review of Pakistan Paindabad. I respect her opinions and would request readers to do the same.

Anonymous said...

hey bro, you request people to respect opinion of the author but what if opinion differs? i think people can have their own opinions and write about it. i agree with murli. peace.

Anonymous said...

Amazing! Ms. Bina Shah has conveyed her views very well, and I acquiesce in her contemplation for the blog. I believe, Pakistan Paindabad is slightly suffering a vicissitude and Mayank can benefit by following the examples communicated by Bina Shah.

Murli, no one is disputing Mayank's creative abilities, but, every writer or artist, needs critical feedback for growth not to cease. Here is yet another opportunity for the young authour of four blogs to reach higher plateau by engaging his readership and conveying diversed subjects within Pakistan.

Sanaullah, dear, it is not about creating individual blogs, as what you suggest, but, to elevate the (existing) wonderful blogs to reach a summit of wide interest. I think, Mayank's eagerness to "better" his blogs, is a noble and humbling acceptance.

Best wishes to Bina Shah & Mayank Austen Soofi.


Anonymous said...

I respect the views and obsevations held forth by Miss. Bina Shah.

What I need to say is that a blog is, after all, jst a blog. If it has various contributions from different people, it will generate different opinions. And that is exactly what the soul of a blogsite is.

Otherwise, it is a creative site and im sure it will contribute towards greater (and much needed) reduction of hostility between Pakistanis and Mr. Soofi's country.

Anonymous said...

I think, one of the best part about Soogi's blogs is the spontaneity and to proff, edit, rewrite and call for opinions would sacrifice that delectable Yak-ba-yak, would it not?

moreover, one's creative work should always reflect his own confusions - and Soogi comes out tops on that count, besides inspiring maternal instincts in his readers belonging to Pakistan -the fairer sex.

I reiterate something I wrote for the guy a few days ago, he's on his way to an asylum and you can not change that.