In search of acceptance

People born poor can only avoid being poor by going to another country with resources and jobs

Imran Jan December 15, 2022
The author is a political analyst. Email: Twitter @iamimranjan


Perhaps the story of Santiago in Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist is the story of many ambitious young men growing up in a middle class or whatever middle class has actually become in Pakistan. But with the only exception is that while the boy in The Alchemist finds his treasure and understands the meaning of happiness, the boys leaving their homeland in search of a better life for themselves and their loved ones perhaps never achieve that closure.

I want to mention an almost irrelevant yet crucial aspect of what I observe every time I travel between Pakistan and the United States. When I am entering the USA border at the airport, right before the immigration counters, there’s at least one or two border agents whose job is to keep managing the traffic of the incoming passengers ensuring that everyone gets to the counter according to their turn. Nobody can get ahead of the passenger in front of them.

When I land in Pakistan, however, not only do I see people running like wild animals but I always see at least half a dozen people helped by the airport staff to skip the queue and defy the basic idea of queuing up. To me, that’s a defiance of human decency. There’s no airport staff member trying to redirect the traffic and ensure that people’s place in line is respected. In fact, as mentioned above, the airport staff or immigration officers are the ones who ensure unequal access.

This observation that I always have and I am sure many people traveling in and out of Pakistan must have is the ultimate essence of who the system is designed to benefit. It’s not for the right people. It’s for the right kind of people.

Young and talented men with no connections and no resources are no recipe for a decent survival. Pakistan is no country for decent people. People born poor can only avoid being poor by going to another country with resources and jobs. People born rich will always remain rich. Social mobility is almost non-existent. It’s static at the bottom as well as the top. Bilawal’s and Maryam’s kids will be rich just as the kids of that falooda vendor will always be poor. People try to get their children to be born in America and Canada but it’s rather in Pakistan where birth is the real worth.

Once landing in a foreign land, these young men who were pushed to a different life by their circumstances, which are partly driven by the decades of corruption in their homeland, do jobs they never dreamt of. The truism of love what you do and do what you love loses meaning for them. Their acceptance as respectful people in the Pakistani society comes from their living and working in that foreign land. You grow up in Pakistan internalising this one idea consistently that better things are made and done outside Pakistan. The words ‘imported’ and ‘foreign’ are stamps of authenticity.

I was once trying to apply for a car loan in Pakistan. I was told by a local bank in Pakistan that to provide proof of income, the American IRS tax returns and the American pay stubs are accepted better than the Pakistani proof of income by all the banks.

Once these young hard working men have lived a significant amount of their lives trying to be acceptable to others, a realisation sinks in that they’ve never been able to develop their own acceptance of things. And that a lifetime was spent in an environment that they never accepted themselves. Given how their conscience rubs against that foreign culture they live and work in, they never accept the adoption of modernity and western culture back home. A lifetime is spent trying to live with the truth and never accepting it. An acceptance created by someone else, who may not be any smarter, is sought after. Sadly, this internal struggle becomes the status quo.


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