Who are the Chiniotis?” “They are people who fail the Memon entrance exam.” The entire hall roared with laughter during a stand-up comedy I attended with friends last month. Although just a joke (and humour about ethnic roots and its peculiar traits always makes for a good laugh) it is a fact that we all love to joke about things which play an important part in our lives. Ethnicity being one of them.
In Pakistan, every time I meet new people, the first, and apparently the most important question that is directed my way is always the same: “Who are you?” Just last night, at a dinner an aunty asked: “Beta, where is your family from?” And the answer expected in return was that of naming my ethnicity. Contrarily, to my friends in England and the US, their ethnicity is irrelevant. They do not care if they came from a Celtic background or whether their grandparents were of Irish descent who settled in New England. Instead, they take pride in being just English or just Americans. And that’s it!
However we Pakistanis like to wear our ethnicity as a badge of pride. Being a Mohajir then, it is considered ‘more important’ to be sanguine about the fact that my ancestors migrated from the United Provinces in India. Likewise someone from Peshawar who has been living in Karachi for 30 years will consider himself as a Pathan first and then a Karachiite, and also probably a Pathan first and a Pakistani second. No matter how much we like to celebrate our linguistic and cultural differences, most of us find solace in our ethnic identities that define our values and galvanise our personality.
Taking pride is one thing, but believing that ethnicity speaks to hope and well being is another, and quite disturbing. When will we all become one people? Shouldn’t we too put our nationality first so that we become united as Pakistanis?
Published in the Express Tribune, May 18th, 2010.
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