Having spent my youth growing up in an Islamabad[i] that belonged to an entirely different generation, I can’t help but compare today’s Islamabad with the yesteryears. While it may still be the city of sleepers that it was in the 90s – when the name was still a novelty[ii] – Islamabad is no longer the ‘burbs that Pindi-ites [iii]would visit every now and then to satisfy their curious bones. In these fifteen years, Aabpara’s[iv] stature has diminished from that of Islamabad’s prime shopping locale, calling it district would be a job overdone, while Jinnah Super has outgrown its posh roots. While the years have aged me, adding a crinkle to my smile, they have turned on themselves for Islamabad – every year the city becomes a shade livelier.
While still pretty much a deadbeat, from Karachi’s monocles, to say that Islamabad is still the same sleepy capital that it was not many years ago would be a gross understatement. The most remarkable change of all, however, has been amongst the younger demographic. Whereas years ago you’d hear a mumbled Islamabad when asking an ‘Islooite’[v] youth where he was from, today you’d see one priding himself over his city – at times even looking down on the poor folk from Pindi, because they still live in a different city despite being only on the other side of the IJP[vi]. Seeing as how the city has finally started to develop its own distinct flavor, it’s not too surprising.
Likewise, back in the 90s, when the internet was still novelty enough only for the serious minded and going viral was well-nigh impossible, the folks from Islamabad used to hang their head in shame for not having put out even a single band despite being the country’s capital. The city still used to have a thriving underground music ‘scene’ much as it does today, but there were no graduates to the industry. The closest that we had to look was to Pindi which had birthed Vital Signs; Karachi had Awaz, Lahore had Junoon and Islamabad was still dry. Today, nobody cares. Though that isn’t to say that Islamabad’s garage band industry hasn’t grown, just that with the onset of social media these things seem to have become trivial to today’s Gen X.
That isn’t to say that the newfound interconnectedness is bad, just that neighbors still don’t know one from the other in Islamabad. This onset of social media just hasn’t really impacted Islamabad’s basest pulse, which is probably why people still occasionally follow up with the same worn out lines that they used over a decade ago: If you want lifestyle come to Islamabad, If you want community living stay in Pindi. To say that Islamabad, in its quintessential spirit, hasn’t changed from the Islamabad of 10 or 20 years ago wouldn’t be wrong, but the additions and the cosmetic changes make it nearly unrecognizable.
Ten years ago there used to be one ice cream parlor of repute that you could just walk into and eat. Today, spoiled for choice and unable to decide, I miss that feeling. Not much unlike when PTV[vii] used to be the only television channel and even the hip would tune into it – the hippest would only watch STN[viii]. Today’s proliferation of eateries even sometimes leaves me feeling like an outsider when picking places to eat. Before there was a Pappasallis or a Pizza Hut – heck before there was even a KFC or a McDonald’s – there was our very own home grown Dainty[ix] and that was about the sum total of it. Today, the kids growing into their teens and out of them look on all these things much the same way as we looked on Dainty, PTV and STN back in the day.
And, surprisingly, all of a sudden, even five years look like an entire generation gap. Gone are the days of slow evolution, when you could leave the capital and come back after a couple of years and remark with surprise at the new shop in the covered market. Now, there isn’t even a recognizable covered market anymore, the place – at least in spirit – has fallen apart in only a few short years with the first coming of the super markets.
While Islamabad may not have evolved all that much from its basest form in these past fifteen years and whilst the people may not have changed at their most intrinsic level, yet the city has changed. The Islamabad of today is unrecognizable from the Islamabad of a 90s that started with the E.T. and only truly passed with the coming of Pulp Fiction and the passing of Backstreet Boys. Long live the memory!
(Note: The title is the name of a collection of poetry by Jacques Roubaud)
As published in The Dateline Islamabad. (Print publication – June 14, 2011)
[i] Islamabad: Capital of Pakistan
[iii] Pindi-ites: Residents of the neighboring city, Rawalpindi. Islamabad and Rawalpindi are known as the “Twin Cities” due to their proximity.
[iv] Aabpara: A shopping market in Islamabad that used to be considered the “in” place in the past.
[v] Islooite: Resident of Islamabad
[vi] IJP : A road that runs right through the middle of the Twin Cities dividing them.
[vii] PTV: Pakistan Televison Network, the official national television network
[viii] STN: First private TV channel in Pakistan
[ix] Dainty: Dainty is a local fast food outlet