Why are you still here?

The feeling is not nice and, to be frank, the total rejection is frightening.

Zahrah Nasir January 10, 2011

Being white in Pakistan is increasingly uncomfortable for the few ‘foreigners’ who have elected to tough it out in this, their adopted land. Striding down The Mall in Murree, dressed in heavy walking boots, jeans and a sweater with a chaddar slung over one shoulder is my normal winter shopping gear and, in ‘normal’ times, no one raises an eyebrow: locals, they have seen me once a week for 15 years now, call out a greeting, the newspaper-wallah holds out what I want, without my having to ask, and my regular mazdoor automatically heads for the butcher shop where he knows I will pick him up later. The sense of belonging — everyone, other than tourists, know that I am both a Muslim and a Pakistani national which evolved over the years — has always felt good — until yesterday that is, when frank stares and blank faces made me wonder if my hair had suddenly turned bright green or something. Suddenly, I am an alien. The feeling is not nice and, to be frank, the total rejection is frightening.

Only the butcher greeted me with a smile, launching into the chatter of the day in the process. “People are wondering why you are still here,” he offered. “A group of preachers, maybe from Lahore, were here yesterday putting on a tamasha about the Salmaan Taseer situation and they claimed that foreigners are to blame for everything and that all had been told to get out while they still could. Now, today, you come for your usual chukkar and they don’t know what to think. It would have been better if you had stayed at home until things settle down, although that might take a while this time. Phone me before coming next week and if there’s a problem I’ll have your meat delivered.”

This well-intentioned advice hit hard. Am I — an honest, hard-working citizen of this land, a land I happen to love — supposed to cower in my char diwari until goodness knows when, just because I happen to have white skin? And what on earth do ‘foreigners’ have to do with what has happened of late anyway?

This conveniently whipped up xenophobia simply has no place in the current furore yet, personally speaking, it has opened the Pandora’s box of what could happen ‘if’, and leaves me to tackle the worrisome conundrum of carrying on as normal and being prepared to face possible consequences, or cowering like a rabbit caught in the stare of a predatory ferret. Not relishing the thought of the latter, ‘business as usual’ appears to be the only sensible, un-reactionary course, yet the seed of uncertainty has definitely been sown. A seed all too easily manured and watered by frantic pleadings to ‘come home’ from distraught parents and a distant son, who have long been under the impression that life in Pakistan, when you have other options, is purely for lunatics to pursue.

This country though, has been my home for all of 21 years, not all of them easy by any stretch of the imagination, with the early 1990s in Karachi being particularly fraught and I have, by dint of sheer hard work and stubbornness, carved out a niche which I would be loath to give up. The name-calling, the stares, the pinches, the leers are something I long since learnt to deal with and are undoubtedly something that brown-skinned Pakistanis settled in ‘white’ countries have to endure too. Yet the situation, vis-à-vis people of a different colour, is fast getting out of hand in this ‘Land of the Pure’ and, at this point, a pause for thought is, perhaps, in order.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 11th, 2011.


Anoop | 10 years ago | Reply @Hassan, Relgion and Cultural practices are 2 different things. Caste system is not part of Religion in India. Talking about Caste system, what was the Crime of Aasia Bibi? Drinking from the same water source as Muslims. This is a different kind of system similar to the Caste system. The Pakistani State has put in jail and gave her a death sentence. Indian State protects its minorities and doesn't have any bigoted laws like Blasphemy law. Indian Constitution is Secular, progressive and fair. Similarly India's laws are the same. Pakistani Constitution in comparison is bigoted. As a result, laws like Blasphemy laws are present.
Hassan | 10 years ago | Reply @Anoop - your religion indoctrinates a caste system which is inherently discriminatory so kindly keep your inane comments to yourself. @Sana - you are absolutely right.
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