Graffiti or 2500 years heritage? why bother?

12:53 PM | 2 Jun, 2020
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The Silk roads were not lone corridors. It had many accesses through various geographies from West to East. The West had always fantasised about the silk of this side. Marco polo’s autobiographies are filled with the fascination regarding the courts and its silk of Chinese empires. However, the East started to lose its charm when Europe had discovered richer lands to explore, replacing eastern silk with American cotton during the colonial period. 

One of the prehistoric silk routes was between Taxila and Western China. Today this route passes through Taxila, Kohistan, Shatial, Chilas, Gilgit, & Hunza. The people who have travelled on the Karakoram Highway (K.K.H.) from Islamabad to Gilgit often come across these many historical sites. 

One of the landmarks that happen to be on the verge of submersion is Chilas. The government is keen on building Diamer Bhasha Dam and soon this inheritance from the older world will be underwater forever. 

As a traveller, I was always fascinated by these inscriptions. Much like the historians and archaeologists of our time, the travellers of the past left their codes, messages, and inscriptions in tribute of the monuments they had witnessed. 

It would take more than just an outburst of emotions to etch the stones with religious inscriptions. The Buddhist monks of that time must have been zealously committed to spread their message and write travel notes for other travellers to follow.

The same silk route now blacktopped in bitumen is now our very own KKH. Although the road patches for about a hundred kilometres on KKH in Kohistan, it still makes travellers envision the mule tracks that were left behind by travelling Buddhist monks. 

Now fast forward 2500 years from the inscriptions birth and enter Pakistani graffiti artwork. We Pakistanis belong to a specific group of graffiti artists. As a nation, we do not use graffiti as a form of expression but rather as a billboard for advertisement. A few years back all over KKH was filled with advertisements of KSC geysers, desi hermaphroditism or in Urdu ‘mardana kamzori ki dawai’ and medicines for balding. 

The famous Khan Health Clinic

In the last two years, however, a few of the above-painted advertisements were replaced with a Pakistani senator’s name. No-one was bothered as it could have just been an innocent effort to link the senator with the previous graffiti of Khan’s vitality clinic.  

This year however Pakistani graffiti artists have one-upped all previous achievements. The vandals were successful in painting Dil Dil Pakistan (A famous patriotic Urdu jingle) on the Buddhist inscriptions in Chilas. Unlike the previous stunts, this act received mixed responses. For some, it was the highest form of disrespect to an entire culture, while for others it was a firm expression of love for the country. An innocent overflow of national pride with the inscriptions being forever lost in the Indus water.

Dil Dil Pakistan painted over a Buddhist relic

Courtesy my own mistakes from my younger days, I am guilty of writing my name on a few trees in my locality. However, I do not ever remember etching a national slogan. For a teenager growing up in a rural environment away from the intricacies of politics and patriotism, it would have been a tad outlandish to engrave ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’, into a tree rather than the name of your childhood sweetheart or a rather crude joke regarding a friend or classmate.

It seems the graffiti artists were wholeheartedly committed to their task for they truly cut no corners with the preparation or execution of this attempt. They must have bought at least three gallons of oil paints in three different colours. Parting away with at least 3000 hard-earned rupees for the sake of national pride. The culprits remain unknown and untraceable.

They say that what lives in history lives forever, but in the end, all it took was a few unscrupulous zealots with oil brushes and paint cans to undo the apotheosis of a historic relic.

Vandalize history and treasure? No, not at any cost. Because I do care!

Moin Uddin is an occasional writer and tweets @moinhunzai