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Viewing with Two Lenses


Peter Ronald deSouza

ALIVE AND WELL IN PAKISTAN
By Ethan Casey
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2005, pp. 269, Rs. 275.00

POLITICS OF IDENTITY: ETHNIC NATIONALISM AND THE STATE IN PAKISTAN
By Adeel Khan
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 212, Rs. 295.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 5 May 2006

The two books under review here should not really be discussed together since they belong to different genres. Alive and Well in Pakistan is classified as a travel/ current affairs book, full of observations, episodes, and encounters with people and places in Pakistan by Ethan Casey a journalist who relishes his role as a latter day chronicler. The Politics of Identity, in contrast, is positioned as a political science study of identity politics and nationalism in Pakistan, an excursus through the aspirations, denials, challenges and resistances of the various ethnic groups in Pakistan, by Adeel Khan who has converted his doctoral study into a book on contemporary nationalism. Technically, therefore, a joint review is impermissible.   Yet one could perhaps turn this coincidence of receiving both books for review into a virtue, an opportunity to offer some reflections about differences in the way we see and the way we record what we have seen. All accounts of a place and a people are, in a sense, travelogues since they are all, at best just brief encounters with the human society that the author is visiting, just limited glimpses of a complex and multilayered reality. All authors can therefore only present snapshots of this reality, offer only fixed and superficial frames of the subtle and diverse ways in which human beings organize their collective life. The difference between the accounts is only of form and of the protocols within which each is located. Yet differences of protocol are important since they place differing demands on the author, in some cases stringent, in some cases lax. These protocols require the author’s claims to go through certain quality checks before it can pass muster. The intrinsic limitation of all scholarship is that it can offer only a one-sided view of reality. If all accounts are a mirror to reality then the quality of the mirror becomes important. In the old days mirrors from Czechoslovakia were considered the best, because the glass they used had more lead in it and that made it clearer.   By this distinction the travelogue is least bound by protocols. It can be impressionistic, and anecdotal. It can work on the assumption that the author’s truth is not subject to disciplinary scrutiny or peer review. It can devote many pages to descriptions of people and habitats pretending to be part novel, part social science. A travelogue’s strength lies ...


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