You can get a fair idea of the mood and aesthetic tastes of a country’s citizens through their buildings, their manner of living, their statues affixed on traffic intersections or crossroads. It’s perhaps better if we don’t mention our traffic, and move straight on to the emblems which mirror our moods and aesthetic tastes. Although idol making and statue sculpturing was practised on our land centuries ago, but ever since we curtained the place with Islam and named it Pakistan, it slowly started disappearing.
The small number of statues which were present became adornments for large mansions and museums. A few broken pieces were also found in some barber’s bath. As I grew up, I saw a plane somewhere or a cannon, there was either a submarine or a tanker; wherever you’d pass you’d see some violence-induced object and we’d look at them with pride in our eyes and consider them a memorabilia of our victory. Then came Mr. Bhutto’s time, who in accordance with his name, erected two swords and three swords on the way to his home.
When Zia-ul-Haq came to power, these intersections were once again in for progress as they became ‘Allah wali chowrangi’ or ‘Kalma chowk’. All our aesthetic values were represented by religious symbols; minarets were erected in one place and domes were constructed in the other – similar symbols were used to create monuments. Allah wali chowrangi gained so much popularity that its copies were constructed in smaller sizes and were to be seen in other cities as well. Last time I saw a small copy of the three swords in Mir Pur Khas, my friend also used to live somewhere close to the three swords.
Our neighbor country which too is engulfed by poverty and paucity is still unable to solve their citizen’s basic problems, much like us. They did a nuclear blast and our integrity awakened; finally Mian sahib did it too at Chagi and informed the world that we are no less. And then every city, village, or park was affixed with the mountains of Chagi. Wherever you looked crowds of people with their families were out to witness the Chagi Mountains.
Once we were over Chagi, those who followed started erecting horses everywhere; some with soldiers on top, others with the horse passionately neighing or dancing. Other animals were also seen alongside our roads. And when we progressed a bit further, we built the Schon Circle which was still somewhat better. An underpass was built at the same place and for the first time someone depicted our past recollections and asthetic values in an excellent way by decorating a wall which upon sight makes us proud of our cultural and historical assets.
But what can be done for this nation which is adamant on influencing people with faith already to keep faith? A nation that knows ‘cleanliness is next to Godliness’ and yet causing pollution is its favorite activity, and if there is a clean, decorated wall, it considers its salient aspiration to blacken it. So many times has that beautiful wall been murdered that its creator would have left the city by now. Every morning new slogans, new demands and then one day illicit language was written across it. Now when you pass the wall, the open gutters and excessive over writing and erasing has ruined its beauty.
My friend and statue sculptor Anjum Ayaz, for the first time, gathered all his courage to erect statues on sea view and also sculpted some Quranic verses on stones to revive people’s faith. But what was done to these statues is not worth seeing; some were broken or simply disappeared, whereas others held sacred papers or were recipient of pan spits, while still some had a green sheet hanging from them. Anjum, our country’s famous artist and sculptor didn’t lose hope and erected an even more beautiful figurine in place of the one that disappeared but now that exists no more either.
Our brother country Iran is perhaps more motivated by Islam than we are. If you’ve ever been there, you must have noticed that every crossroad has an effigy. Not just cities, even if you pass villages and small dwellings, you’ll see statues at every intersection. There’s a poet standing somewhere or a writer, a philosopher or a physician, an artist or a sculptor; they are all their heroes. Wherever you go, whether it is some museum or someone’s mausoleum or a park, you’ll see figurines. And indeed, Islam is not threatened by them either.
We have such a significant historical asset but our statues are either placed in museums or we are smuggling a truck full of them abroad. And if by mistake they reach our police, they lie broken in our police stations. Now the decision once again rests with the judiciary and only the court can decide what is to be done with them. And whilst the court reaches a decision, these statues have gradually started disappearing altogether.
The author has dabbled in every form of the visual arts. An activist to the core, Abro’s work deals with social themes and issues ranging from human rights to dictatorial regimes. He is currently working for DAWN as an illustrator.