Loving Dil Dil Pakistan: An Indian Commentary On The Direction Of Pakistani Culture

Loving Dil Dil Pakistan: An Indian Commentary On The Direction Of Pakistani Culture
I bought cheap tickets at the Lords for the final of the 2009 T20 World Cup, hoping to see India repeat its phenomenal victory from 2007. But I ended up watching our star-crossed cousins across the Radcliffe line face off against Sri Lanka. I found myself in a raucous stand with hundreds of euphoric Pakistanis cheering their team to an easy victory. Being Indian, I was easily taken to be one of them and a jubilant sea of green carried me into the streets of London, reverberating with dhol beats and bhangra. Amidst the festive cacophony, one chant which stood out was the melodious ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’, an indie pop song from Pakistan by Vital Signs in 1987.

The song brought back two distinct memories: of a large DDP banners at Australian cricket grounds when Pakistan won the 1992 Cricket World Cup; and news visuals of battle-weary Pakistani soldiers feebly raising their fists during the 1999 Kargil War with DDP scribbled on scraggy rock faces. These images underscore the emotive value of DDP, a veritable anthem for Pakistan which inspires millions, brings tears to their diaspora and evokes strident patriotism. It is regularly played in political rallies in Pakistan and at drunk afterparties across universities in the UK and US. Even after 35 years, the song is a major unifying factor across the factious sub-nationalities of the fledgling nation state.

This piece is an Indian’s perspective on the political and economic milieu which DDP signifies.

The beauty of DDP lies in its simplicity. It is a low-budget amateur video shot in the hilly outcrop outside Islamabad. The video features four free-spirited college kids driving on an open jeep, motorbikes and cycles with youthful abandon which culminates inside a psychedelic PTV studio replete with 1980’s disco lights.  They are young, wearing denim and bright t-shirts and carry upbeat joie de vivre. The words are uncomplicated and the tune is easily hummable. The background music is replicable by enthusiasts with basic synthesisers, guitars and keyboards. DDP captures the zeitgeist of a buoyant and young nation.

At that time Pakistan was under the iron fisted rule of General Zia ul Haq – the hawk nosed Punjabi dictator with a toothy sneer and a ruthless reign. Zia’s rule was characterised by fundamentalism, prohibition, militarisation and censorship. Paradoxically this austere period provided fertile ground for Pakistani popular culture to flourish. PTV heralded the advent of indie-pop by giving a platform to Nazia Hassan, Vital Signs and Hasan Jehangir. At the same time, the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan exploded on the international scene with the expression of the quintessential Subcontinental art form – the Urdu/Punjabi qawalli. The virtuoso performed to packed houses in political gatherings in India and Pakistan, celebrity weddings and auditoriums across the UK. Pakistani dramas like Dhoop Kinare and Tanhaiyan were smuggled on pirated video cassettes to India and were wildly popular with North Indians for their nuanced depiction of relationships in the upper middle class milieu – a species with remarkable heterogeneity across the border. Comedians like Umar Shareef and Moin Akhtar performed stage shows in the UAE – the precursor to the Kapil Sharma kind of situational skits. PTV, the state entertainment and propaganda machinery, proved an able catalyst to promote Pakistani soft power. To add to the feel-good sentiment, Imran Khan the world conquering Adonis of cricket, was curating a world-beating cricket team with monstrously talented crickets like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Inzamam-ul-Haq.

At the same time, Bollywood was facing creative famine and was resorting to formulaic multi-starrers with ageing stars, poor scripts and forgettable music. So dire was the situation that Bollywood plagiarised DDP to create an Indian version – Dil Dil Hindustan in a B-grade movie called Yadon Ke Mausam (1990). Indian cricket was in a transitory phase. Javed Miandad’s last ball six off Chetan Sharma at Sharjah in 1986 crushed Indian spirits for at least a decade till its partial resurrection at the 1996 World Cup Quarter Final in Bangalore. Gavaskar’s swansong at his last test match against Pakistan at home in 1987 turned out to be a thrilling victory for Pakistan. Two years later Pakistan defeated the mighty West Indies in the final at New Delhi to clinch the Nehru Cup. And till the emergence of Javagal Sreenath, our mild-mannered fast bowlers were not a match for the aggressive Punjabi and Pashtun battalions trained by the imperious Imran Khan. Even India’s per capita GDP in the late 1980s was a fraction of Pakistan’s. Rare visuals of Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad showed smooth roads, broad avenues and organised urbanisation with imported cars and busses. Meanwhile, our roads were potholed, civic infrastructure was in shambles and car ownership was possible only through rationing or political contacts.

Interestingly, tracing the lives of two protagonists of DDP over the years reveals a lot about the trajectory of Pakistan’s contemporary politics. Saudi aid to Pakistan during the Afghan jihad funded a harsh school of Islam at odds with the unique Indo-Islamic culture which was pluralistic and tolerant. After the Russian misadventure in Afghanistan, militarised youth from Central Asia along with millions of refugees poured into Pakistani cities. There was a rise in radicalisation and overt religiosity. By late 1990s/early 2000s, generals, pop icons and cricketers like Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mushtaq Ahmed, Saeed Anwar and Mohammed Yousuf started growing beards and offered namaz in the open to pledge their piety. After Zia’s mysterious death the PPP and PML played musical chairs over the throne – with scant regard for a steady national policy on the economy and strategic affairs, thereby beggaring the exchequer, weakening institutional autonomy and fuelling political corruption.

In this backdrop of fundamentalism and popular disenchantment, the cleanshaven and jeans-wearing Junaid Jamshed, the lead singer of Vital Signs, adopted a religious persona. He grew a long beard and started appearing in sermons with obscurantists Islamic priests. He actively shunned his popular heartthrob image and began to resemble a religious cleric calling for a reversion to orthodoxy in all spheres. He joined the Tablighi Jamaat, a Deobandi group which provides impetus to extremism and violent sectarianism in Pakistan. By the time of his untimely death in a plane crash in 2016, Junaid had practically become a televangelist espousing the cause of puritanical Islam.

At the other end of the spectrum was Rohail Hyatt, the founder of Vital Signs and the creator of Coke Studio – an ingenious innovation in 2008 heralding a spectacular renaissance in the Pakistani music scene. Rohail rejuvenated traditional qawwalis, folk songs and ghazals through state-of-the-art equipment, modern aesthetics and fusion with Western influences. He represented the emergence of a liberal and cosmopolitan elite: young Pakistanis steeped in their indigenous culture but brimming with multiple creative and intellectual inspirations. Rohail keeps long hair and a well-trimmed French beard, dresses stylishly and is an ardent advocate of multiculturalism and syncretic coexistence.

Their disparate paths signify the deep cleft in Pakistani society – a conflict between the archaic forces versus those striving for an inclusive and aspirational future. In the meantime, the biggest betrayal to the legacy of DDP is probably not Junaid, but Imran Khan. The globetrotting playboy superstar of the 1980s has shunned his liberal image, adorned a shalwar kameez and has become a polarising politician who sides with the Taliban, scorns at women’s rights and subverts democratic norms. Majoritarianism and bigotry has seeped cancerously into popular culture even though a sizeable liberal population continues to valiantly strive towards upholding secular values.

Only time will tell whether Pakistani civic society chooses Junaid's conservatism or Rohail’s multiculturalism.

The author is a lawyer based in Mumbai and in his spare time he writes on popular culture, contemporary politics and Bollywood https://twitter.com/suharshsinha https://www.linkedin.com/in/suharshsinha https://www.facebook.com/suharsh.sinha.5