From Pakistan to 'Survivistan'
You make a football for the world to kick (even though we don’t play football) and I cheer you on! You give a speech at the United Nations (UN) and I cry tears of pride and joy! You win a cricket match and I clap till my hands hurt! You get nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and my chest bloats with pride! You discovered the Higgs Boson and I am enthralled!
Proud is too small a word! You take the first Oscar for your country and I scream out the news to the world! You produce the most divine mangoes in the whole wide world and gave me breath-taking mountains, beaches and rivers; you give me my identity.
Yet, you stole that identity from me.
When I lived away from you, I missed a lot of the very same things that defined me yet I wanted to stay away. But fate brought me back to you. I came back as a mature, well-read and educated person. But I also came back with an aftertaste of the West, the Wild West to be exact – I lived in Texas for eight years.
While I was there, I learnt to say please and thank you to everyone. I learnt to give a thank you wave when someone gave me way on the road and to slow down to snail pace regardless of how late I was getting because it was school closing time and I knew there would be children crossing the road. I learnt to clean up after myself and obey rules because of the hefty fines. I also learnt that it’s normal to say ‘hi’ or ‘howdy’ to strangers passing by and that honking was a way truckers say hello to each other.
I learnt that it was acceptable for women to pray in a mosque (25 years of living in a Muslim country did not teach me that) and that I could stand in a windowed conference room and visibly attend to my prayers in an office filled with Christians, Hindus and Jews without anyone raising a brow.
I learnt that, like it or not, I have to give tax.
I learnt that if I call 911, help will come immediately.
I never heard people cussing in public and it was particularly taboo to do so in an office environment.
I learnt to trust people and learnt to belong.
And with that learning, I came back.
People raised eyebrows when I said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to helpers. I was told I was spoiling them. People looked puzzled when I waved a thank you wave. I was cheated many times.
People became sceptical when I extended my hand upon meeting them for the first time. Men accepted it better but only because they were men. I heard cuss words spoken publicly and loudly without even a hint of hesitation, regardless of the kind of environment.
I have not prayed in a mosque since I came back, and my faith has been questioned and doubted on many occasions. Every day people on the streets test my temper.
No one from my neighbourhood called to say thank you when I sent birth announcements and sweets when my child was born.
Begging had become an art, a business for some. Trash is rampant.
No, not all is glum.
I moved to a great neighbourhood where wonderful neighbours would care and pay attention to each other’s needs.
I learnt that I am not the only one who says please and thank you to everyone who does something for you. I learnt that on some rare occasion I too get a thank you wave, and it feels great. People do smile back if you smile at them.
Trust is a different matter altogether.
Religious tolerance or even tolerance in general is a rare quality that I look for in people. I wish we could accord the same respect I was given as a visible outsider in the West to everyone regardless of their faith or practices.
New restaurants, multiplex cinemas and malls have popped up. I see big fancy cars in town. And people are still learning to cope with the newness of these things.
I came back and learnt about strikes, unexpected school holidays, day time robbery, big wigs and their army of guards, nouveau riche and generational rich alike flaunting themselves. There was shortage of power during summers, shortage of gas during winters, inflation, one insincere government after another, one annoying, juvenile delinquent after another on TV all day long and terrible breaking news 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I learnt that I will feel an element of fear every time a motorcyclist stopped beside me at a red light, and that in case of an emergency call a friend not the police and the knack of dealing with people of all temperaments. I realised that I now live in Survivistan; I earned a new identity, that of a survivor.
Even though I may complain or get angry, I will continue to love you unconditionally. I don’t want to look at your tarnished image; although I cannot ignore the stench of some of your leaders anymore.
Let me always find a reason to love you and never be ashamed to call you my motherland.
I will forever try to hold my head up high as a (Survivor) Pakistani!