The A To Z Of Pakistani Culture

The A To Z Of Pakistani Culture

Literally the A to Z of what Pakistan stands for. Before you scroll down, can you think of one Pakistani thing with each one of the alphabets? 


His three quarter profile is familiar to every Pakistani. He is the man who came up with the concept of a separate homeland for Muslims in the sub- continent in 1930 – and his powerful, inspirational poetry makes him Pakistan’s revered national poet. If only more people read it!


It made an appearance in the SindhFest earlier this year as an emblem of the province, but this block-printed cotton – typically in blue, red, green, yellow and black – has been around for centuries. A bust of a savvy priest-king from Moenjadaro shows a fabric draped over his shoulder that resembles this well-recognized sartorial symbol.


This institution is so very Pakistani! Not surprising, since Pakistan has been ruled by it for 31 of its 67 years. Despite the unpopularity of some former dictators, the army is the only institution with a direct stake in its survival – No Pakistan equals no army. And we love their spick and span green cantonements!


Alas, a sad but ubiquitous fall-out from the war on terror, these yellow and black enemies of time are everywhere – making us lose patience and petrol. Would love to see the last of them!


For many, they creep up the popularity charts every time one is tragically assassinated. For others, tales of their extravagant chateaux and mansions abroad make them suspect. Whatever the opinion, there is no doubt that the Bhuttos – from Zulfiqar and Benazir to Bilawal and his sisters (not to forget rebellious cousin Fatima) – have established themselves as part of Brand Pakistan.


What can we say about this mystic, poet, dervish? Like all Sufis, his fame has spread beyond Pakistan, but his provenance from our soil makes him very much a Pakistani superstar!


Sometimes he scores a century, sometimes he is given out at the second ball – yet once he starts firing those sixers all over the stadium, this green-shirt drives his fans crazy with excitement!


Pakistan has a diverse and delicious cuisine – but can anything challenge the chutzpah of this national take on the burger? Shami kebabs squished into a soft long bun with onions and ketchup – from the man on the street to those that send chauffeurs to have it picked up, as a blogger put recently, it is ‘full of unhygienic deliciousness’.


The national artist of Pakistan, this son of Lahore studied at the Mayo School of Art, later NCA. His unmistakably elegant watercolours and prints were derived from Mughal art, miniature painting, Art Nouveau and Islamic traditions – his admirers included Allama Iqbal and Picasso. The Queen of England, Elizabeth II, loves his work. He died in 1975 in his beloved city, but his legacy remains.


Did you know that Pakistan is considered one of the most charitable nations in the world? From a human saint like Edhi to the chauffeur who will take out a tenner from his pocket for a beggar, this is one trait we can all be proud of. In a study a little while back, it was disclosed that total ‘giving’ by individuals equaled 17 percent of the year’s national revenue. One hopes that what one gives one will receive, not as revenue, but as good karma.


It started in our very own country and has been adopted far and wide. Its popularity is almost iconic – but what do you expect in a nation where music seems to be in the blood and shoots out like an intemperate volcano? We hope the next chapter will be as interesting as the one with Rohail Hyat.


Come on, do we need to elaborate? It’s only in Pakistan that anchors can trigger an assassination or get assassinated themselves faster than you can say ‘Fox News fudges up facts’.


In this cricket-mad nation, this means exactly what it says: boys playing cricket in parks, on busy roads – maybe even rooftops – who knows


This is a land dotted with shrines, but this particular devotional site is special – the humble visit it to beg for intercession, as do politicos who spread elaborate floral and embroidered sheets on the grave


According to a Canadian blogger pleasantly surprised by the air-conditioned, bathroom and television-equipped, stewardess-attended facilities of this inter-city bus service, it is the best in the world. Need we say more?


He works tirelessly for the poor and the sick and he is our hero. Period.


From regional classics like Baluchi and Sindhi masterpieces, to shops churning out cheaper machine versions of designer work to the essential add-ons in lawn, Pakistani women seem to be at a loss without embroidery.


The textile hub of Pakistan, this city is as well-known for its mills as for the amazing wealth of its richer inhabitants.


There was a time when designers had to put up their own show – but now there are as many fashion weeks as there are moons around the planet Mars. They have turned into massive entertainment venues in that uniquely Pakistani way – incurably late, innately political but inevitably fun - for some!


For those allergic to the tagline ‘Revival of Lollywood’ – which basically means that films are again being made in Pakistan – we wish to salute the New Film. We’re seeing new films making their debut pretty fast and furiously.


We know it is also the colour of chlorophyll, emeralds and envy, but we have adopted it as our very own. From the flag (don’t forget the significance of the white, please!) to our cricket garb, green is Us!


Thousands of years ago, the army of Alexander the Great came to what is now Pakistan, and returned home after their battle with the Molloi near Multan. Some Greeks remained and intermarried, and their influence carried on into the Buddhist culture. What resulted was magnificent statuary in stone and terracotta. We are lucky to have so much of it – a friend from Mardan claims one statue was used as a bridge to span a narrow stream in her father’s lands. Culture Ministry, please make a museum in Islamabad to salvage these treasures!


The infamous film Maula Jatt paved the way for Gandasa culture – a new action-based Lollywood genre which gained dominance over conventional romantic trends in films. Its iconic actors were Sultan Rahi and Mustapha Qureishi. We’re only mentioning it because we believe the Gandasa culture has taken root in our society – except the villains are so much smoother!


Hospitality is our trademark. Ask the neighbours who came for World Cup cricket and were given free meals at restaurants, or the 1.6 million Afghan refugees in the country, clocking in at the largest number of the home-deprived in the world – or, for that matter, ask any foreigner who is invited to a Pakistani home.


The words ‘India’, ‘Hindu’ and ‘Hindustan’ are all derived from this river, cleaving Pakistan right down the centre. But etymology aside, did you know that it is home to the first discovered side-swimming cetacean? And like love, it is blind. Please protect it, powers that be.


It was just a twinkle in Field Marshal Ayub’s eye in the 50s. Work began in the 60s . Now, decades later, set against the beautiful backdrop of the Margalla mountains, we cannot imagine Pakistan without ‘this sylvan city’, as writer Shobha De put it.


Like most people in Pakistan, controversy surrounds this ex-cricketer-cum-charity worker- turned politician. Some say only he can save Pakistan, while others hotly refute this claim – but again, he has proved to be part of Brand Pakistan. Just see all the clothes carrying his image to gauge his iconic power.


This pop mithai belongs to us! Ranging from the lightest to the most neon of oranges, from delicate to massive in size, these sugary squiggles of delight make every sweet-lover salivate at the very thought of them.


Now here’s something Pakistani that can fix that most common of physical ailments – the ‘flu – and do it so well that it gets a mention in Time magazine!


This beautifully-worked footwear, for both men and women, some colourful, some plain, others embellished like a new bride, are Pakistani to their core – visitors from across the border go away with tons of them!


Beautiful people in scenic surroundings, practicing their ancient pagan culture in the midst of a Muslim country. Perhaps remnants of the Greeks who came here, they have unique customs that are an anthropologist’s dream.


A blogger noted: “I was told that people from Karachi get immune to the sound of bullets and wails of dying people. Truth is, no we don’t.” Please don’t. Please reclaim this lovely city, steeped in historicity – it was near this megapolis that Mohammad bin Qasim touched land in 712, bringing Islam to the sub- continent, it was here that the Quaid came from Mumbai after partition. Pakistan is nothing without Pakistan’s gateway to the sea.


What can we say? We’ll get back to you once the electricity returns, or the tired generator is fixed. Meanwhile, government, take a hint from the load-shedding riots and build dams. Oh, there’s also solar and wind power.


This is the superfine printed cotton fabric that has women heading to the stores with buckets of water to shrink their acquisitions and get it to the tailor in time for their next lunch. Designer lawn was the next step – some of us will remember Smartelle – and after a crop of new labels, more than a hundred by some counts, we wonder what’s next?


It has tree-lined roads and canals and beautiful architecture, Mughal, colonial and every shade of in between. It trembles with the frisson of antiquity and culture. Good food too. Lahore Lahore ai, indeed!


One of our very own (foreign) HELLO! staffers tweeted: “Pakistan, you may be hot and fighty, but your mangoes are to die for!” Now if only Mirza Ghalib could come back to taste our Langras and Sindhris!


It is a bit like a 50s rocket taking off, but it has nevertheless become a symbol of Pakistan, its picture on bags and trucks.


Global artist Shahziah Sikander triggered it off when she painted her own life in the revered tradition of the Ustaads, originating hundreds of years ago. Now there is a glut of artists telling the modern story – whether it’s the quotidian, war or displacement – in this idiom, and it is uniquely Pakistani.


One of the most ancient civilisations on earth, and probably up to beating newer cities in planning and drainage. But watch out, this World eritage site, over 4000 years old, needs preservation on a grand scale.


As usual, people cribbed when it was built, but can we deny its superlative comfort and its convenience in connecting so many cities? And when we want to go back to encountering squawking chicken being chased by little boys on a highway, we’ll head for Sher Shah Suri’s colourful Grand Trunk road.


The city with mirrorwork, blue and white tilework, exquisite gota-work and that sweet-sounding patois, the city of shrines, Multan.


Meat and spices cooked till it reaches a deliciousness beyond the point of return, served with bone marrow, brain and naan.


When someone says the ‘North’ in this country, they evoke stunning scenery, beautiful lakes, glaciers, peaks and valleys, colonial age retreats, and old forts and civilisations. Robert de Niro loves to get away from it all in Chitral, where even the Prince politely asked him what he did for a living!


This is a colourful way of garlanding someone with money, whether returning Hajis or grooms. Needless to say, it stays on for a short while, for when there are necklaces of money, can necklace-snatchers be far behind?


A Pakistani icon. She stirred up our souls with her incomparable voice, and became a singing soldier when her country was at war.


Every now and then a genius comes along, and this Qawalli maestro was definitely one, getting international recognition – and singing opportunities – for his stellar voice and vision.


What are some of the things that are omnipresent in Pakistan? The Quaid’s portrait – on money and monuments – as well as those true-blue Pakistani traits, optimism and resilience!



The national carrier debuted with panache, its air hostestess in their green caps and fitted green shirts cutting a swanky figure (as in the 1963 movie the V.I.P.s). It was one of the best airlines in the world. What happened? We don’t know, but we hope it finds its stylish mojo again.


Along with kalishnikovs, chapli kebabas and the Kissa Khawani bazaar, this is a Pathan staple – Paul Smith’s ode to it is no accident, it is truly stylish footwear. Chanel just came up with a female version!


The green Pakistani drink par excellence.


The king of sports and the sport for kings originated by some accounts right here in Pakistan. It’s got a swanky following, thanks to our dashing polo players – but if you want the real deal, go to Shandhur up North to see the raw bones of the game.


A true class act – though he might be turning in his grave to find that the idea that he gave his life working for, a separate home for Muslims in the sub- continent but nonetheless a secular state, has been hijacked by so many selfish interests.


We hope this lovely city, home of the Baluch, shrugs off the violence besetting it. Soon.


What makes this three-wheeled taxi unique? It’s loud sputtering, no doubt, but also the way it is lovingly decorated and the shairi and truisms that it shares with the rest of the traffic – ‘Papu yaar tang na kar’ has gone down in truck and rickshaw art history.


They hawk all kinds of ware, from fruit to corn-on-the-cob to yams with that potent mixture of lemon juice and red chillies – can we imagine any Pakistani city without them?


This bright red squash is almost synonomous with Ramadan in Pakistan.


After a month of fasting, all Muslims look forward to that post-dawn morning breakfast and the festival of Eid. But what makes our pre-Eid celebrations so uniquely Pakistani? The absence of consensus about whether the moon has been sighted. Chand Raat can either be joyously fun, with girls buying glass bangles and boys zipping around on motorcycles, or a bit muted. It all depends on the Ruet-e- Hilal committee – hey, it even gets to go up on a plane to sight the new moon!


The loose trousers and top, for both men and women, is the Pakistani dress. It has seen many avatars, from the voluminous double-dhoti to the slim pants much in vogue today. For men, the Awami suit became the sartorial choice when the well- dressed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto wore his with the sleeves loosely rolled up!


Once upon a time people did the luddi at the Mehendi, then sat down to sing improvised obscenities about the in-laws. Now boys and girls get choreagraphers and do fully synchronized dances to loud Bollywood music. Which is better? You judge!


The most prolific Pakistani painter and a true collectible after his death, Sadequain was also an idiosyncratic dervish. Zindabad.


Art It started as kitschy but delightful decoration on old Bedford trucks, but it’s come a long way! It has carried over into clothes, household accessories, bags and much more. A bus service in Australia has even fitted out its buses to pay homage to this colourful slice of Pakistani pop culture.


Our beautiful national language, the language of poets. Alas, an academy is needed to coin new words to replace the English ones that now pepper it, like the French Academy does.


Let’s face it, they are everywhere –from the billboards on Abbot Road to (ahem) political hoardings. They can be clean-shaven, sport a debonair moustache, or a full-grown beard. Good people, wake up!


Granted the closing of the gates ceremony happens on both sides of the border, but we think we do it with more panache – we get the flag down faster, fold it faster, and stomp harder. And please, bleeding heart liberals, it is just entertainment. Better this than real war.


In Pakistan this can be anything – more x-rated, we feel, is the treatment meted out to helpless women and minorities.


It is a day celebrated with unparalleled fervour, and we are amazed that despite all that is wrong, people genuinely show heart- felt patriotism.


The shout-out for long life from politicians to cricketers and much more – but watch out, it can turn to murdabad at times!