Pakistan: Alternative Imag(in)ings


By Nadya Chishty-Mujahid | August 2020

Book Title: PAKISTAN: Alternative Imag(in)ings of the Nation State Edited by Jürgen Schaflechner, Christina Oesterheld and Ayesha Asif
Publisher: Oxford University Press Pakistan
Pages: 404
Year of Publication: 2020
ISBN: 9780190701314

The editors of this erudite volume, Jurgen Schaflechner, Christina Oesterheld, and Ayesha Asif are all affiliated with the prestigious University of Heidelberg, and therefore, in spite of the fact that the volume’s focus is entirely Pakistan, it is touching that the book’s dedication refers to Heidelberg as always being home. The academic corollary to this personal viewpoint is that while the book provides some remarkable insights into aspects of Pakistan as diverse as food markets and popular literary digests, the text is academic to the point of being critically and thematically very stringent. But then, the best scholarship is not meant to be warm and appealing (indeed that can count as a decided handicap), and so the editors are to be commended in aggregate on their compilation of a set of heavily and thoroughly researched articles.

In addition to commenting on what nationhood has meant to diverse scholars, such as Christophe Jaffrelot, the editors give a very systematic set of summaries focusing on the articles themselves, that each correspond to a set pattern: the main body, a comprehensive conclusion, and a comprehensive list of works cited. Therefore, rather than repeating what they have already noted more than adequately, I will comment on certain highlights of the volume that may pique the interests of various readers, both laypersons and otherwise. Oesterheld herself delves into defining Urdu modernism, which took place on a different ideological plane and the timeline from the corresponding Western movement. Schaflechner deals with the issue of forced conversions (primarily Hindu to Muslim), especially in Sindh. The notable cases of Chandavati and Rinkle Kumari are delineated in detail, and this essay makes for a good companion-piece alongside Peter Jacob’s chapter on the struggles of religious minorities in Pakistan. Syeda Quratulain Masood’s essay on Hindu-Muslim love-marriages in Pakistan rounds off this special triumvirate of articles that skillfully negotiate the complex terrain of bi-religious tensions that is as dangerously peppered with traps as any academic minefield can hope to be.

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