Every Thursday at a crumbling shrine in a run down part of the city, a crowd gathers that is entirely at odds with the place. Yet, there they stand, fully sure of what they want. So what brings these preppy teenagers out of their comfortable suburban surroundings, surely without the approval of their unknowing parents to enjoy a night of live music?
Rock music and rebellion have long been part of the ‘coming of age’ in kids in the West, whose interests can include sex, pain, drugs and premature death. In the same way that it has been glamorised in pop culture, the glorification of pain and suffering has been equally present in religion. From Christ’s suffering at the cross, to the annual Shiite rituals of self-inflicted pains, to the Jihadist narrative of glorifying death with the promise of seven women in afterlife, we can draw parallels with pop culture, tattooing and the entertainment industry, namely movies. Rebellion and religion quite often sit hand-in-hand.
For these Pakistani youth, it would seem that a historical Sufi shrine with free-flowing marijuana and live ‘dhol’ (regional version of a drum/percussion) fulfills the basic criteria of that rebellion. The shrine features the performance of a local dervish named Pappu Sain, an undoubtedly talented Dhol player who has, over time, cleverly understood the importance of image, networking and marketing, and has successfully reincarnated himself as some modern day “Sufi DJ”.
Historically, these dervishes, with their peripatetic lifestyle, practice of celibacy, use of drugs, and flamboyant dress (reflecting “otherness”) were not only opposed to the norms of scriptural, orthodox Islam, but were also quite different from the more ‘sober’ ‘mainstream’ Sufis. This paradoxical nature of these Sufis – on the one hand representing a form of spiritual aspirations more sublime than orthodox Islam, and yet stating clear links to the lower rituals of secular life namely consumption (wine, drugs), reproduction (women), and rhythmic entertainment (song) - seems like the perfect ingredients of attraction and commonality for these kids, who are discovering that the very same rituals are what is defining their days. To them, one can argue, that these rituals are not the lowest but the most important ones in defining their adult personality.
In this aspect, this urban Pakistani youth seems no different. Having long been labelled as ‘burger kids’ and ‘mummy-daddy’ (derogatory terms used to describe the kids of upper-middle class Pakistanis), otherness is not an alien subject to these kids. They are either ridiculed for their privileged life and being indifferent to the ‘cause’ of Pakistan, or find themselves awakened to a youth in which they do not have any control or say and are expected to grow up in their pre-defined life without asking questions – namely an arranged marriage and a profession of their parents choice.
Hence, it is not surprising that an adventure into this shrine with an excuse to do drugs and dance to a beat is enticing. In many ways, it is no different to what happens when music brings youth from all over the world together in different clubs and venues - whether that be for a style statement, similar tastes, socialising and lifestyle association, or for more serious political or social causes.
The music at this shrine seems to fall somewhere in between a club venue and randomly organised rave. And, like the clubs and the raves have their crystal meth and ecstasy, the drug of choice at this shrine is marijuana. With this in mind, it seems all appropriate that the ‘carnivalesque’ of the shrine should make it a natural place to bring together these two ‘others’ from opposite ends of the society, where they can connect and find a common love for music and hate for the materially corrupt and morally conservative mainstream.
Words and Photography: Ali Khan