Pakistan (Studies) Zindabad!

Published: January 15, 2011

A leader that we always took seriously was Jinnah

“You know what really bothers me about India? Not their stupid ‘Incredible India’ slogan or their weird item songs or that ‘Licence to wear Black’ ad,” says a friend during Pakistan Studies class one day. “The Taj Mahal! Everybody wants to see it. It’s on every postcard. Even that stupid French guy wants to see it. It’s the first thing everyone wants to see!”

When I ask why she’s bothered by the Taj Mahal, her answer is simple: “Because it’s really ours.” That is, Pakistan’s.

Five years of Pakistan Studies class, hours of learning dates and battle names, of revising lists of long-dead presidents, and all we’ve learnt is to be miffed that French President Nicholas Sarkozy visited the Taj Mahal? But if we look at the bigger picture, perhaps it’s a miracle we’ve at least managed to develop this much of a sense of politics and heritage.

History classes are usually only remembered for how long they are and how the bell awoke you from your sleep. Any student anywhere in the world can tell you that. But Pakistan Studies is special because students feel they have a stake in it. You could come home after reading about the 1937 elections only to have your grandmother argue with you about it.

In primary school, where history is fed to us in small morsels, it is coloured by the teacher’s own idiosyncrasies. One primary school history teacher, who was also the Islamiyat teacher, had the ability to relate anything, and I mean anything, to the Quraiysh tribe of Makkah.

The decline of Rome?

“The wickedness and un-Islamic behaviour of the Romans, who had strayed from God’s path, of course.”

Aurangzeb’s empire?

“He said his daily prayers! Beta, if you said your prayers daily, who knows, you too could rule a mighty empire!”

And we loved it. Nine year olds find this perception of the world extremely entertaining.

It also meant that she would start talking about history in the Islamiyat class:

“And Hannibal’s 40 camels, I mean elephants, crossed the Alps…”

So history has always been interesting. It was only our textbooks that tried the hardest to put us to sleep. We used the surnames of the authors of our Pakistan Studies textbooks instead of the real titles: “Bajwa is so annoying” and “I’m so burning Kelly after this exam”.

Later, we ran out of textbooks. There are only so many times you can revise the Salt March. So school decided to educate us visually. Suddenly history class became cinema time, and all the hilarity that came with it. We sneaked in packets of chips, scribbled our names with permanent markers in the dark and would sit everywhere except the seats: Miss, we’re on a boycott, like Gandhi. “Oh diss!” we yelled every time the onscreen Gandhi challenged the British in court. “Kya hero hai,” we murmured in appreciation when Mangal Pandey played by Aamir Khan rose out of the water replete with a six-pack washboard stomach.

Perhaps the epitomy of randomness was the 1980’s flick Bhagat Singh. In one of our favorite scenes, Bhagat Singh single handedly kills 11 British guards, gets shot four times and yet is such a hero that he still manages to find time to attend his own mehndi, complete with a dancing-in-the-rain sequence and snatching-the-dupatta ritual. Bhagat Singh also happened to burst into nationalistic song every time he saw a British soldier. These were his two reflex actions: He would either shoot the guy or sing about him.

The one film none of us made fun of was Jinnah. No one cracked a smile when Fatima Jinnah was listening to the refugee stories or when Ruttie Jinnah began to sink into depression. There was something sacred about the film, something haunting about its theme track. This was the film that should have won eight Oscars, we felt. The bell signaling break rang but no one heard it. We were too busy crying, “Pakistan Zindabad! Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad!” along with the onscreen Pakistanis.

And sometimes, history class forced us to look back at ourselves. There is a highly contested part of India’s pre-Partition history that several textbooks deny Jinnah ever agreed to: the Cabinet mission. Apparently, the British in 1946 presented a sort-of-Partition plan that ultimately failed: Northwest India (ie modern-day Pakistan), India, and Bengal would be three separate groupings with their own constitutions and domestic policies, united by one foreign policy, defence and railways. Separate, but still the ‘Subcontinent’.

Contested or not, we had to pass a Pakistan Studies exam in May. After the Cabinet Mission lecture was over, there was a pause in the usually bored buzz of our class.

“But that’s perfect!” somebody blurted out.

“That’s what we are right now, right?” chimed in another. “Except…we can’t stand each other.”

Suddenly we were all talking at once. What would have happened if both Congress and the League had agreed to it? What if there needn’t have been a nuclear arms race, all our regional wars? And how the hell did the British guess we would be three countries, not two? It isn’t every day you question your country’s existence. That’s the real value of our history.

Meiryum Ali

Meiryum Ali

A freshman at an ivy league school who writes a weekly national column in The Express Tribune called "Khayaban-e-Nowhere".

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ghausia

    Before the Pakistan/India bashing starts I’m gonna say my piece and slink off. a) I loved this, highly entertaining. b) Please ask your friend exactly how it is that the Taj Mahal belongs to us (hopefully without bashing your head against the wall repeatedly, as I’m assuming that her answer will be ‘because a Muslim king made it’) and c) Love the ending, a lot of our history somehow ‘accidentally’ gets omitted from our history books. In other words, everything that shows the bad decisions governments made, or the crimes they committed.Recommend

  • Freedom of Heresy

    To study history one has to be absolutely impartial. The purpose of history is not satisfaction but comprehension. The attitude which is raised by the writer in her piece is the biggest stumbling block which is preventing us to be rational.Recommend

  • Rajat

    Nice read I must say, though we don’t have “India Studies”, It has a more boring name- History, and they clump everything from Stone-age, Harrappa/Mohenjodaro, Nile, Maurya Empire, Roman Empire, Mughal Empire to Colonial period, World Wars and of course freedom struggle into one bloody subject, the blog gave a nice insight to what fellow beings across the border study. One question- If I were a Hindu/Christian/Jew/Buddhist in Pakistan, would I have a sports break during your Islamiat class?? Dont be offended, I am just asking this because we don’t have something similar here. Recommend

  • UZi

    Brilliant piece. Loved it. :-)Recommend

  • UZi


    Yes. Non-Muslims have the options of replacing the ‘Islamic Studies’ course with something called ‘ethics’ — don’t know course details, though. At government universities, you can also replace ‘Urdu’ with ‘general history’ — the latter is far more fascinating.Recommend

  • amukho

    Great writeup, Meiryum Ali.
    Really nice and refreshing.

    @Freedom of Heresy: How can ‘attitude’, of all things, be raised? Anyway, how would you define it? Finally, your sense of humour seems to be eluding you.Recommend

  • Jun

    text books of Pakistan studies have been teaching us distorted history .Recommend

  • Mahin

    Excellent. Btw, how is the Taj Mahal ours?Recommend

  • Ahmed

    Coz it was made by Muslim rulers i guess that’s why we say ‘we made it’Recommend

  • Saad

    What a refreshing article, i’m totally agreed that most of our history teachers cant no even a single thing about history.Recommend

  • Freedom of Heresy

    Mr, thanks for pointing out. The ‘attitude’ (by which I meant the non-serious attitude towards which the writer is pointing) and it is the biggest stumbling block.Recommend

  • Ali Hassan

    Good read, funny.Recommend

  • Wasio Ali Khan Abbasi

    Bajwa still torments the school kids? Ah darn, I thought the book must have been torched by now. Although I enjoyed reading it during my O level studies, but still how long can this book be continuously read?
    Loved the article, agree about Jinnah movie. Although we were not so fortunate with other movies but did got the chance to watch Jinnah at school (9 years ago).
    A lot of history is distorted, particularly in textbooks written by local authors to be taught in government institutions. Foreign authors do present a bit accurate picture but no one goes into the real issues. They simply skim over it like problems simply sprouted all on their own and things started to happen. I believe it is a good step taken by the US to reveal every sensitive information after 30 years in order to correct history. We should do something similar, though that would probably spark more problems than we can handle.Recommend

  • Hamza

    The biggest problem with our Pakistan Studies course is our obsession with being superior. It consistently adopts a tone that we have been perfect throughout history. We’ve crowned military rulers and we’ve hailed Islamic fundamentalists. What we have not done is learn from our mistakes. Sadly, we do not adopt that tone. Sometimes, its better to dwell on your mistakes so you can learn from them. How do you expect anyone to learn until the learn the truth.
    For me it was just a glorious dream till I was shaken by the fire around me. The least we can do is tell the truth to our younger generation.

    P.S. dont even get me started on how Dr Abdus Salam and Sir Zafarullah Khan are missing from History textbooks.Recommend

  • Sanjith Menon

    In India, history that we study is written by Marxists. It might not tell you many things like the misdeeds of Ghori or Ghaznavi tearing down the temples in India. It does not inform you, about Guru Gobind Singhs death at the hands of Aurangazeb etc. Here the thinking goes like this, why? should the kids learn about the black episodes in our History, and have communal feelings towards each other. Lets forget partition and move forward.
    The elite Muslims in India who opted for Pakistan or spear headed its struggle, were not ethnically Indian, their forefathers came from Mid East. During the bulk of Muslim rule in India, many families came in from Baghdad, Persia, Afghanistan and mecca, were housed here with jagirs and high positions.They had nothing but contempt to us brown Indians, either Hindu or Muslim. Remember Shah Waliullahs letter to Abdali?They were fine with British, but always suspected whether the ethnic Indian could rule. But Muslim league had no mass base. So they created the bogey of “Islam in Danger”. It worked like a steroid, as it always does? to an equal measure the insane elements in Hindu and Sikh communities help add oil to fire. It was only a politicians tactic. How can the same man who said Hindus and Muslims are two different “nations” in British India, then say after the Independence of Pakistan, that Muslims and Indians are two “communities”? (jinnahs speech at the constituent assembly in Pakistan). We in India are actually happy that partition happened. The people who suspected that we can rule, have their own space. They call themselves the elites of Pakistan, and may god bless them. Recommend

  • M J Akbar

    That guy who says “Tajmahal belongs to them” has a reason.A muslim king built it.But the most stupid who says others stupid doesn’t know, the 20 yrs of revenue,he utilized for it,belongs to India’s.That king didn’t find a place to romance and came here to India,settled here in India leaving their desert land and described it a heaven.Really funny…….Recommend

  • Tony Singh

    Ask Zardari to commision one Taj in Pakstan. Chinese may finance, construct and build but you can claim it to be your own.Recommend

  • Tony Singh

    and add
    till then enjoy TajMahal teaRecommend

  • Rajat


    Actually, Bangladesh has won this race for having a Taj Mahal in their own backyard. It has been built by a Bangladeshi film-maker. And to top it all, he built it himself, utilising his private funds!! I don’t think Pakistan will follow suit, as it may look too cheesy. Recommend

  • Sana Saleem

    I wonder why the Pakistan studies course is not updated seriously. The same things are taught from the low levels to high levels !Recommend

  • Dr imran

    Kids untill and unless We Abolish this Border Between India and Pakistan and once again become one Country to Pre 1947 Status, we and our coming generation will fight and
    Self-Annihilation themself and Rest of the world will be Laugning at us.
    British Divided India as Per Divide and Rule Policy, we must reverse it and all the issues like this will subside.
    If British has the power the would lift and load Taj Mahal as shipment to London and Put in Museum like Kohi Noor,
    The biggest stupidity for mankind is Religion and to fight and kill for religion is worse than Hyaenas and Wolfs.Recommend

  • Wasio Ali Khan Abbasi

    @Sanjith Menon:
    I have no idea about the nature of history taught in India. I would agree that a lot of Muslims came from Arab countries and settled in India, including central India, and whole generation of those stayed there. But that isn’t the only place, they also settled in other parts of the country that now constitutes present day Pakistan. Many tribes of Sindh and Punjab are actually Arab migrants, including Abbasi tribe, that settled and became completely local by taking on language and culture. I am sure the Muslims who settled in central India must have also adopted local culture and/or added their own to the mix.
    I will, however, will not comment on about the Muslims considering themselves superior to the locals (non-Muslims). It will spark a needless debate for which I have little time and patience (and I don’t mean India-Pakistan of Hindu-Muslim debate).

    @ Sana Saleem
    What will they do to update? What will they teach the young about military action of the 90s for example? Did Mohajirs really hatched Jinnahpur conspiracy? Was taking over Pakkar Qila justified? Or will they debate on earlier issues, like did Zia Ul Haq did the right thing by hanging Bhutto or Pakistan was fully in its rights to launch Operation Gibraltar?

    There isn’t anything worth seriously updating because we seriously haven’t resolved a lot of our issues. Until that happens, we’ll be studying screwed up history, refuse to learn from our mistakes and continue to screw up our future.Recommend

  • Raqib Ali

    This is meant to be funny and in ‘comedy’ there is a lot of exaggeration.

    As far Pakistan studies, it may be a little bit biased but overall it is full of facts and figures that are hard to deny. Recommend

  • Hamza

    ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’ – George Santayana Recommend

  • Yousuf

    Loved it! Pure Win!Recommend

  • TLW

    Nice post, youère lucky, at least the kids in your class discussed the what-ifs of Indo-Pak history, eight years ago, nobody wanted t even go into that.

    I gotta agree with Wasio, the local government history textbooks are utterly crap, and the ones used by the O/A Level system are barely any better. They do omit out a lot and it’s partially thanks to the internet and newspaper commentators mentioning stuff that many stories are kept alive.

    Anywhoo, nice blog post Meiryum, this bought back lots of memories.Recommend

  • Wasio Ali Khan Abbasi

    Couldn’t have agreed more. Back in the days when I said I loved history, my classmates saw me as something contagious and gave me weird looks like I am sprouting horns or something. Worst was when in history class I would tell something which even the teacher wouldn’t know, the rest seemed ready to commit my murder on the spot because it either led to teacher giving research work for others or guaranteed bad test results :DRecommend

  • Shazia

    Wow ….. i love this …. i like it that u blogged in favor of Pakistan studies coz most of the students here in Pakistan dont want to study Pak.studies because they think it bores them….but then thats the ignorance of Pakistanis ….they dont wanna know about thier own history .how thier forefathers and ancestors bled to win Pakistan .And yea subcontinent cant be a whole nation …its not possible …because of the ongoing conflicts between the Hindu-Extremeists and Islamic-extremists .I think we r okay with the way we r right now.Recommend

  • ehabs

    I loved it! :-)

    Meiryum, you’re truly a very gifted writer and definitely a cut above the rest of your peers in all intellectual matters.

    This piece really makes one wonder: if Pakistan’s tiny, highly educated elite can believe in such nonsensical and inane theories what hope does the country have in producing a tolerant and open-minded populace?

    Again, brilliant work!Recommend

  • azhar

    Amusing and enjoyable to read, but I wish the author had addressed the massive rewriting of Pakistan history that happened under General Zia’s reign. Of course all nations mould their histories to their own interests, the degree to which Pakistan’s history has been revised and in many instanced falsified is truly disturbing… See Hamza Alavi’s The Murder of History in Pakistan or Rewriting the History of Pakistan:

  • Khalid

    Theoretically you should be in ethics class, but I’m not sure whether this is actually implemented.Recommend

  • Zohaib Jia Ja

    Very nice conclusionRecommend

  • marya

    yes. you’d be free to do whtever yu want: lirary/sports/plane strolling: yur call
    atleast in our schools it was soRecommend