Songs for Pakistan

Zia Ahmad has sent this exclusive post for Pak Tea House. We also welcome him as an author at this blogzine. (Raza Rumi)

Some time back I was watching a local TV show with a friend in which some utterly forgettable pop band was invited to play a patriotic song. Like the band itself, the ensuing song was utterly forgettable with the frequent done to death chants of “…choollaingay aasman” (something to do with touching the skies and breaking the sound barrier). The friend wondered aloud if there was any other country that produces patriotic songs so prolifically. We shared a chuckle and switched to some other channel.

It is a fair possibility that there might be some other nation on this planet who expresses musical nationalistic fervour in such prodigious amount. I can only recall the amount of airtime that was devoted for milli naghme while I was growing up watching the only TV station in Pakistan. Other than 14th August and 23rd March holidays, patriotic songs were generously sprinkled throughout the year on TV and music albums. And it wasn’t such a bad thing for the songs actually used to be good.

As kids, it used to be comforting to know that we lived in a “Sohni Dartee” which was “Tera/Mera Sub ka Pakistan”. The patriotism transmitted through these songs was infectious and appeared to help a great deal to retain our collective self dignity. The songs I was exposed to came through the thick and thin days of Zia’s dictatorship. In retrospect, the wholesome unadulterated nature of the songs was in direct contrast to the government’s two-faced ideology. Works of resounding beauty were hijacked for propagandist ends in which Sub Ka Pakistan was turning into a sick joke.

Vital Signs’ ubiquitous Dil Dil Pakistan altered the patriotic song genre for the newer generation. Consequently, the proliferation of pop bands all around appeared to make patriotic songs more out of obligation than a sense of patriotic zeal. Virtually every album by a Pakistani band or singer had atleast one token flag waving song. One notable example is Junoon, which successfully avoided jingoistic gestures on their initial three albums but eventually gave in (and cashed in big) and delivered Jazba Junoon, a song that sounds more at home as an elaborate jingle.

More often than not, these songs did indeed sound like afterthoughts as if the artists wanted to provide a filler in their respective standard 12 song albums. Some of the lazy attempts were audaciously turned into equally banal videos. There was a music video by another utterly forgettable band in the early 90s that I don’t remember much of, for good reason. Though what I distinctly remember of the video, other than the image of four adult men running by the beach carrying a flag, is another image of the same four band members in front of a map of the world pasted on a softboard. The next shot was a close up of our part of the world on the map with four index fingers clumsily moving about and converging at the cartographical position of Pakistan.

This manner of expressing fidelity to one’s country is insulting and a gross dis-service to prescribed patriotism. Over the time countless other attempts have been made to churn out such mediocre fare in the name of patriotism. The reasons may vary from apologetically seeking imagined approval from a section of people who look down upon popular music as a western inflection, to articulating some sort of nation-wide insecurity. Harking back to the question posed at the start of this article, the constant generation of such songs might be a mechanism designed to give us some sort of validation – constantly reminding ourselves that indeed we are a nation of winners poised to reach the skies and hit a sixer to the moon. Cricket season also brings with it a deluge of jingoistic ditties.

Good patriotic songs have an innate quality to rouse its audiences. The last time a collective of such songs struck a genuine chord throughout the country was in ’65. Similar morale boosters are required today where the need to stand together against an identified black turbaned foe is paramount.

I’d like to share a song by Habib Wali Muhammad that communicates patriotism with dignity and good taste. The innocuous sensibility of the words and images in this video has achieved a bittersweet resonance over the time and proffers a suitable call for decisiveness in this time of strife.

Zia Ahmad has until now sold his soul to advertising, sitcoms, offshore call centers, and cold, heartless retail chains. Along the way he redeemed himself with an MA in Film from Kingston University. He is prejudicially fond of films, listens to music that radio stations  play late at night and has read all of Kurt Vonnegut. Zia is currently stationed in London

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