There are quite a few things that make my blood boil: child molestors, people who abuse animals, playground bullies, girls who wear foundation several shades lighter than their skin, and so on.
However, nothing annoys me as much as a certain class of people I’d like to call “Pakistan snobs.”
I can explain. If you’ve ever had an experience like the ones below, you’ll understand automatically:
(Scenario 1) Let’s call our two characters ANUM and FAHAD:
FAHAD: Hey, what did you do this winter break?
ANUM: Nothing much, went to Dubai with my family, did some touristy stuff. It was great.
FAHAD: Oh, that’s cool man. I went to Kashmir, spent time with the people there. There’s so much natural beauty.
ANUM: Yeah I know; I’ve always wanted to go up there! But it hasn’t been very safe so my parents aren’t okay with me going just yet.
FAHAD (smirking): Oh, right. But they’re okay with you going to Dubai and stuff. I guess you guys aren’t into Pakistan a lot.
ANUM: No, that’s not what I said. I’d love to go up north but my family’s worried about the safety issue. I love Pakistan.
FAHAD: Ha ha. Man, you can’t call yourself a true Pakistani. If you were, you’d see the whole country, no matter what. Tum jao Dubai (you go to Dubai).
ANUM feels snubbed, and sad.
(Scenario 2) ANUM and FAHAD are sitting looking at rainfall:
ANUM (contentedly): Man, I love monsoon rains in Lahore. It’s a beautiful time.
FAHAD: What’re you talking about? You’ve never even experienced Monsoon properly!
ANUM: What do you mean by that?
FAHAD: Well, the thing is, to really experience it the Pakistani way, you should go out and dance in the rain like little kids do in the villages. That’s real freedom.
ANUM (confused): Hmm, I’d love to, but the thing is, I don’t live in a village. But I can dance in my garden! I love doing that.
FAHAD (smug): Anum, you haven’t lived Monsoon the true Pakistani way. I mean, it’s all well and good to live in a house in a fancy colony, but the real people don’t live that way. They’re living in the true spirit of Pakistan!
ANUM: So by that logic, should I just go out and dance in the streets? Will I be a real Pakistani then? What if I can’t do that, because people will stare and it’ll be weird?
FAHAD: Well then, you’re not a real Pakistani because that’s how you should be enjoying Monsoon. Like the real people do.
ANUM is confused and feels bad about living in a house, and not a village with small children.
(Scenario 3) FAHAD has asked ANUM to meet him at a dhaba somewhere in old Lahore:
ANUM: Fahad, I can’t stay out too late. My parents are a little worried about me being in that area after 7 pm by myself.
FAHAD: Anum, why are you being difficult? It’s still a part of Lahore. You’ll be fine.
ANUM: Yeah but my parents are concerned because it’s not as safe as Cantt and there have been these kidnappings recently.
FAHAD: Please yaar, nothing will happen to you. And plus, you’re not even living in the real Pakistan if you’re living in Cantt, or Defence or whatever. It’s all fake.
ANUM: What do you mean?
FAHAD: Well, you think that true Lahoris live there? They live in the old city. I mean how can you say you’re Lahori if you’ve never prayed in Badshahi Mosque or had lassi at ____’s dhaba or run through the narrow old streets? The place you live isn’t truly Pakistani at all.
ANUM (a little tired of Fahad’s shit): Listen, Fahad, I’m Lahori. No matter where I live, I’m still Pakistani and just because I don’t do these things you keep going on about doesn’t take my identity away from me.
FAHAD (unperturbed): Whatever, you’ve never lived in Lahore for real. Please don’t act like you know the real Pakistan.
ANUM walks away.
Okay, I was trying to point out two things.
First off, Fahad’s bitch-ass needs to calm down, excuse my French.
And secondly, Pakistan belongs, at once, to none of us, and all of us.
I didn’t grow up in the old city. I’ve visited it, but by no means have I done things that people constantly categorise as being “truly Pakistani.” I haven’t prayed in Badshahi Mosque, neither have I run around in a sea of swaying mustard, or forded River Ravi. I haven’t driven a tractor, plowed a field or lived in a village (at least not for too long).
Does doing all this make me less of a Pakistani? Bull.
Here’s some of what I have done. I’ve woken up before sunrise, to watch the skies glow purple, then pink, then bright eye watering blue. I’ve slept on the roof of my house, counting stars till I dozed off in jasmine-scented night air. I’ve rung doorbells and raced away, heart thumping, flush with illicit excitement. I’ve made friends with a stoic buffalo who wandered away on Eid-ul-Adha, and then cried as it was slaughtered. I’ve whispered secrets to my best friend atop a parked car, watchful for the owner who remained blissfully ignorant. I’ve walked barefoot in the earth, captured grasshoppers and earthworms and sung stupid melodies to my ladybird friends who I’d look out for every spring.
I’ve kissed a boy in my garden, under the pitch black mantle of night, and giggled with my sister all night afterwards. I’ve had my heart broken and put back together in the arms of this city. This has been my Lahore.
And yes, I have travelled abroad. Unashamedly. I even live in the Middle East now, a land that’s slowly becoming familiar. But every summer or winter break, I rush back home, to the country that birthed me, and the city I love, with stars in my eyes. Because no matter where I live, or what I do, this country is mine, my home.
And tomorrow, on Independence Day, all the Fahad’s need to take a seat. Because Pakistan belongs to you, you who lives in Defence or Cantt or Model Town; you who travels to foreign lands but cannot access Kashmir, you who knows in your soul, that you will always be, irreverently, unabashedly, Pakistani.