Dharkan: The Heartbeat of a Nation
By Salina Nasir
Pictures by Annie Athar
A heartbeat: The steady, strong pulsation of one’s heart; the beat which blood dances to — from the atria into the ventricles, from the ventricles to the pulmonary artery and aorta. A heartbeat: The indicator of life.
While many of us have grown accustomed to associating “heartbeat” with just the rhythm of our hearts, photojournalist Mobeen Ansari has added new meaning to the term most commonly used to define the tune that our doctor’s stethoscope plays. For him, the term bears more weight: It is even more descriptive. It is something worth hearing. That’s precisely why Ansari has devoted three years to listening to and documenting stories of Pakistanis — stories that he feels represent the sometimes-forgotten, oft-ignored elements of Pakistani culture.
Such stories breathe new life into a country with an otherwise tainted reputation and allow the country’s heartbeat - its dharkan - to strengthen. “I want to promote a positive image of Pakistan,” said an optimistic Ansari. “There can be many ways to do so,” he explained. “A lot of people try to portray a positive image of Pakistan through landscape (photographs), but the thing about landscapes is that they are not committed to one specific country; they are found all over the world. You have to look at the people who make the country what it is.”
Pakistan’s dharkan continues to beat with tales of inspiration, bravery and altruism — all of which are exemplified by the subjects photographed for Ansari’s book, “Dharkan: The Heartbeat of a Nation.” “Photography is a never-ending journey of discovering my country and learning more about it,” said Ansari, whose trek throughout Pakistan took him off the beaten path and allowed him to photograph the unseen: Pakistan’s diverse culture and its diverse people. “We have so many icons that we don’t talk about. (The book) celebrates those everyday people who deserve recognition.”
On July 26, Ansari shared these stories and more at the USC Pacific Asia Museum during the Pakistan Arts Council’s event “Authors on Asia.” The Pakistan Arts Council is a special interest, volunteer-based organization that is run by a dedicated team of board members who work collectively to promote Pakistani culture and bridge gaps. President of the Council, Ayesha Kamran, shared their ultimate mission: “The Pakistan Arts Council is instrumental in building bridges between communities and making the world a global village to showcase our similarities rather than our differences to the world,” she said. Kamran mentioned that the Council spotlights artists, authors, musicians and activists from Pakistan or of Pakistani descent in order to “foster greater understanding and encourage intellectual dialogue.” By featuring Ansari, Kamran and the board members hoped to motivate Pakistani-Americans. “Mobeen is an inspiration to all Pakistanis who are working toward a better, brighter Pakistan by bringing the world closer — one photograph at a time,” she said.
At the close of the event, Kamran proudly reflected on its success: Ansari sold all copies of his book. She recounted the effort that was put in by the board members who made the event possible. “No institute thrives off of just one person,” she explained. “The Pakistan Arts Council is all about team work and dedication.” Kamran said that aside from the diligent efforts of both past presidents and fresh new board members alike, the staff of the USC Pacific Asia Museum also works to ensure the success of such events. For Ansari, promoting his book in America is especially important, as such stories of humanitarianism echoing from Pakistan have encouraged Pakistani communities abroad to send donations to their home country. Even more important, however, is Ansari’s hope that sharing such stories in America will help to reconstruct the Western culture’s imprecise perception of Pakistan. Ansari explained that Pakistan’s dharkan is not fueled by what the mainstream media typically portrays: Governmental dysfunction, homegrown terrorism and endless poverty. Instead, it is fueled by the willpower of Imran Khan, by the philanthropy of Abdul Sattar Edhi, by the creativity of actress Mahira Khan, and by the humility of everyday Pakistanis — from the woman who cooks daily for over 2,500 homeless, to the man who risks his life to work in Pakistan’s sewer system for a meager 5,000 rupees ($50 dollars). They do it to keep their country alive; they do it to keep its dharkan strong. These are the people featured in Ansari’s book: The unsung heroes of Pakistan — the people whom he believes have shaped the country. The success and positive feedback of “Dharkan: The Heartbeat of a Nation” has inspired Ansari to make his book into a series.
“There are millions of such people in Pakistan. One book cannot fit all of them,” he said. Ansari is hoping to put together further editions of the book in the near future as he continues on in his endeavor of discovering diamonds in the rough. He is also currently piecing together his next photo book, “The White in Our Flag,” which pays homage to Pakistan’s minorities and reminds the country of its age-old promise to protect them.
The Pakistan Arts Council looks forward to hosting Ansari again in the future to share his new work. When asked to define his journey as a photojournalist thus far, Ansari’s response was genuine: “Life-changing,” he said with a gentle smile. - email@example.com