Q In Search of Shiva is a paradoxical title for a book coming from Pakistan?
A : Actually I would disagree with that. One searches for something that is lost, which is what the case is in Pakistan. Perhaps searching for Shiva in India would be more paradoxical. In Pakistan there is a need to actively search for Shiva. I have used Shiva in the title as a symbol to allude towards pre-Islamic religious practices and traditions that is part of folk or practiced Islamic traditions in Pakistan. Shiva as we know even predates the Vedic deities. Archaeologists and historians have identified seals from the Indus Valley Civilisation with a proto-Shiva. I believe that a lot of the traditions that I have talked about in the book also find their roots in the Indus Valley Civilisation.
For example, the book starts with the shrine of phallic offerings, a fertility cult that dates back to ancient civilisations. Another shrine that I have talked about in the book is that of a shrine of a sacred log. This log belonged to the acacia tree, an ancient tree that was worshipped in the cities of Indus Valley Civilizations.
Perhaps the paradox comes in when we view Pakistan through the lens of the Two-Nation Theory which implies that Muslims and Hindus are two separate nations. From this perspective, we end up entangling Pakistan’s identity with the Muslim identity, which in the contemporary South Asian context is defined in terms of its exclusivity to Hinduism and India. There are several paradoxes here.
Firstly, many historians point out that the Two-Nation Theory talks about political distinctions rather than cultural ones. The theory simply doesn’t hold true when we talk about culture. How can one disentangle centuries of intermingling of the Muslim culture with the Hindu culture? Besides there are so many distinctions within the Muslim and the Hindu cultures, which this theory cannot simply take into account. Another paradox is that of Jinnah’s speech on the 11 August 1947, in which he categorically states that Hindus would cease to be Hindus, Muslims will cease to be Muslims, becoming equal subjects of the state. What I find hard to reconcile is that if the Hindus and Muslims could not live together in India, according to the Two-Nation Theory then how could they do that in Pakistan? These are some of the questions that historians in Pakistan have failed to address. We need a better understanding of what and how Two-Nation Theory was employed and what it actually represented.
Q : You wrote in a recent piece that the India needed Pakistan as much as Pakistan needed India for its national identity?
A : For the longest time I thought that Pakistan needed India more than India needed Pakistan for its national identity. The raison d’etre of Pakistan is its opposition to India. I thought that India being a more inclusive state did not need to “otherise” Pakistan to define itself. However after a few trips to India and after I started following Indian media I began to see that India too needed Pakistan to define itself. Pakistan seems to be an obsession in India. There seems to be some news about Pakistan everyday in most of the Indian newspapers. Indian politicians regularly label each other as Pakistanis to imply that they are traitors. Then of course there are the comments on social media from Indian and Pakistan readers on news reports and articles. I feel that India tends to feel better about itself by downplaying Pakistan. So all the news reports about Pakistan would be within a certain framework, in which Pakistan would be presented as an intolerant, authoritarian, repressive, country. This is then is juxtaposed with India, being an embracive, democratic and free country. This is similar to how Europeans imagined the colonies to define themselves as progressive and modern countries. I feel Pakistan is “orientalised” in India so that India can be defined as a progressive and modern state.