16 September 2013

Breaking the curfew: An overview


Emma Duncan is the current deputy editor of economist magazine. In late 1980s , She was Economist's correspondent in New Delhi. In 1988-89 she spent 8 months in Pakistan, visiting many places and meeting people from all walks of life. She compiled all her experiences and used them to write her maiden book, Breaking the Curfew. The book published in 1989 proved to be epic and received positive reviews across the board. I have read this book twice and found it completely absorbing and enriched with bits of information that we inquisitively want to know.

Breaking the curfew is very well written, and proves the expertise of the author in narrating conversations. One of the bright things about the books is the numerous lively dialogues that it offers to the readers. Emma Duncan has organized the book in two parts, which consists of three and nine chapters respectively. In the first part she has told a brief history of Pakistan from
 its inception till 1988, the year when this book was published. The second part consists of chapters about the influential groups of people in Pakistan. The way She has classified all these groups, shows that her knowledge about Pakistan is not less then as average Pakistani with interest in politics.

The second part of the book starts with the mention of influential businessman. Businessmen are one of the key groups who matter in Pakistan. Author has written about famous Pakistani families such as Dawoods, Adamjees, Saigols and Lakhanis. She also reveals that Chinoti businessman flourished in Ayub's era and central Punjab business  elite thrived by the virtue of General Zia. Then comes the turn of landlords in the book. Author has discreetly written about her meetings with Abida Hussain, Ilhai Buksh Soomro and Makhdoom Javed Hashmi. According to the author landlords also play a pivotal role in the politics and affairs of Pakistan.

Influential group discussed in next chapters include tribal chiefs, urban up-stars and politicians. All of these groups have their substantial share in the ruling elite of country. She has classified the politicians as a separate group which might not be completely true as tribal chiefs and landlords also become politicians to further their interests. We can cautiously assume that author was referring to career politicians. She has written down her accounts of meeting with Nawab Akbar Bugti, Maliks of Khyber Agency, MQM leaders and some other politicians as well. Author has portrayed a realistic picture of the role of all groups in Pakistan, more or less.

Next influential groups in line are Religious leaders, civil servants and soldiers, according to author in last three chapters in second part of the book. She candidly discusses her encounters with bureaucrats of NWFP and Punjab, She very accurately points the need of having contacts and reference to get anything done through bureaucracy. Jamaat-e-Islami and Tableegi Jamaat were also brought under sphere of discussion in specific chapters. Author writes that Jamaat-e-Islami has close contacts with Afghan rebel groups and the latter have fought alongside Jamaat-e-Islmai's student wing, IJT, in campus battles. Soldier's passion for drinking whisky despite ban imposed on it by General Zia and impressing women were noted by author through her meetings with Army officers.

In my opinion, Author was very lucky because She met many notables that many Pakistanis can only dream about meeting. Similarly, She also visited many places in length and breadth of the country. Thats not all, She also got the chance to attend many important functions and gatherings such as General Zia's funeral and Benazir Bhutto's wedding ceremony. She also managed to get an appointment to interview President General Zia. Although in the interview Zia was flanked by several ministers, still it proved to be quite an informative interview not only for author but for Pakistani readers of her book as well. Through her unique writing methodology, Emma Duncan was bale to beautifully portray scenes of her meetings and visits.  One can easily create an image of a location described in book because of comprehensive and precise details observed and written down by author.

No wonder this book is a marvellous piece of work but it has some shortcomings at the same time. The book states on more than one occasion that Ayub Khan created one Unit system in Pakistan , which is not true. It was Iskander Mirza who made all country One-Unit for his vested interests. Author has described Pakistan as a sexually frustrated country based on accounts of 3 people which is misleading  A sample of 3 people can never ever represent hundreds of millions of people in the land of the Pure. Therefore  her assertion that Pakistan is more sexually frustrated then U.K  is baseless and incorrect in my opinion. Author also incorrectly suggested that Tribal chiefs like Akbar Bugti have lost support of their Tribesman. In Fact, until his Martyrdom, Akbar Bugti enjoyed full support from majority of clans of his tribe.

Readers of this book have to keep in mind that Author was a foreign national and completely alien to Pakistan, its history and people. Despite that She has managed to produce a brilliant Masterpiece that is interesting as well as informative specially for her own countrymen. One can ignore few shortcomings in this book with such a wide scope; everything about Pakistan and its people. Indeed, its a book worth reading because it fascinates the readers and forces him to fantasize what the author has so cleverly written. Breaking the curfew is a book that a reader can't forget easily, specially its contents. The structure, style of writing and expression are simply mind blowing. Reading this book is a treat to the eyes and mind. Emma Duncan, through her book, has successfully been able to break the Curfew and tell us the story from the other side, Normally not accessible to everyone unfortunately.

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