Past present: Hometown heritage
Generally, historians focus on big cities for their narratives while ignoring the significance of small towns and their contribution to history and culture.
In an agrarian society, small towns serve as an important link between villages and the big cities. During the Mughal period, the state would grant a piece of land to religious scholars as madad-i-ma’ash or financial support. They would settle near villages where their land was located and establish seminaries to educate young people.
This created centers of learning and culture.
As the Mughal Empire declined, so did the significance of small towns. Scholars, poets, musicians, artists and physicians now deprived of royal patronage returned to their home towns for permanent residence and in this way small towns became centers of culture.
Story telling, recitation of folk songs gathering of poets and literati, concerts, traditional theatres, performing arts, festivals and, religious and social processions became part of the local culture which distinguished each town from the other in terms of identity. Small town became famous for handicraft, and gradually the cottage industry developed.
During the colonial period, cultural prosperity was disrupted as roads and railway changed the lifestyle of the people of small towns. However till 1947, small towns maintained their individuality and distinct character.
In Sindh, Larkana, Shikarpur, Sakhar, Dadu, and Nawabshah had their own local newspapers, literary gatherings, music and handicraft. The traders and merchants of Shikarpur, famous for being adventurous travelled to Afghanistan, Central Asia, Russia and China — built beautiful houses in the town displaying their wealth.
The inhabitants of each town had a deep sense of belonging. Names of poets, musicians, wrestlers and artists like Shikarpuri, Sialkoti or Khairpuri would indicate the name of their hometown.
In northern India, nearly all leading religious scholars, poets, short story writers, novelists, musicians, and artists like Hasrat Mohani, Asghar Gondvi, Shad Azimabadi, Josh hailed from small towns. Likewise the names of Maulana Rashid Gangohi and Maulana Qasim Nanotvi, the founders of Madressa Deoband indicate their hometown.
After partition, mass communication developed linking small towns to big cities. In Hyderabad and other towns, local newspapers and magazines could not compete with the national media and gradually came to an end. Gradually big cities devoured small towns and their culture.
As prominent people abandoned their native towns and moved to big cites, the sense of belonging was replaced by ethnicity and people would be identified by their castes like Paracha, Channa, Awan and Junejo.
Homogeneity replaced diversity, raising the question that if local culture is irrelevant tot he present and future should n’t it be allowed to perish?
Globalisation further eliminated national culture. In European countries, efforts are being made to preserve local culture and its identity by establishing museums, art galleries, performing arts and literary circles. Some of the best universities are in small towns where literary people prefer to live: engaging themselves in creative activities in a peaceful atmosphere.
In Germany, authorities of small towns invite prominent writers or philosophers to stay in their town for a while and contribute to art and literature so as to enable small towns to preserve their culture and identity.