Wake up and think for yourself – What Pakistan learned in 2014

This post is part of a series titled, ‘Did we do any learning?’ created by my dear fellow blogger and exceptional writer Timmi, at The Lively Twist. With so much happening in my country Pakistan, I could think of nothing else. These thoughts reflect lessons I think my nation learned this year. As did I.

This was an honor Timmi:). Thank you so much.

This originally appeared HERE on Timmi’s blog:


This year my sixty-seven year old country finally woke up. Millions of Pakistanis learned to think for themselves.

Four months ago, frustrated people stepped out of their homes and stamped their thoughts on the streets under the leadership of Imran Khan. Old men, housewives, students, and children slid open curtains of indifference and made history.

War is when your government tells you who the enemy is. A revolution is when you figure it out yourself. ~Anonymous

This year millions of Pakistanis learned about pain. Pain that transcends boundaries of flesh and geography. Pain that sets things into perspective. Love, family, home, and health. Everything else seems extravagant. You don’t expect to send your children to school and never see them again.

We saw hope and held on to it tight. Perhaps too tight because it left blisters. We learned about healing as skins of faith quickly formed protective layers on our stubborn wounds. My people are even more stubborn.

This year I learned about victory. A victory that marks an end to our closed minds and blind hearts. I have seen my extraordinary people walk to hell and back. They tell me to keep going. Because that is exactly what they will do. They always do. And this revelation makes me realize our power.

I had a dream about you last night…and in it you said, ‘Chin up; it only gets harder.’ ~ Marshal Ramsay

Think. Question. Challenge.

Because once people begin to think aloud, they are impossible to ignore

Peshawar school shooting – Pakistan’s Dooms Day (16th December 2014)


Horror comes to life

You don’t expect such horror in real life. You don’t expect such barbarity from humans.

You don’t expect to send your children to school and never see them again.

But then you do. Because it happens. It happens to our people. Our children. Our teachers. Our schools.

An Army public school in Peshawar (Pakistan) gets run down by gunmen leaving more than a hundred children dead in cold blood and a few teachers.

You’d think these excerpts were from a movie, but this atrocity happened only a few hours ago.

Khan said he felt searing pain as he was shot in both his legs just below the knee. He decided to play dead, adding: “I folded my tie and pushed it into my mouth so that I wouldn’t scream. The man with big boots kept on looking for students and pumping bullets into their bodies. I lay as still as I could and closed my eyes, waiting to get shot again. My body was shivering. I saw death so close and I will never forget the black boots approaching me—I felt as though it was death that was approaching me.” Newsweek Pakistan

I was sitting in the corridor with 10 of my classmates when we heard firing. We immediately ran towards the classroom to hide there but the militants chased us down and found us. They were dressed in shalwar kameez and the only thing they told us is: ‘read the kalma’,” said Ali, remorsefully adding that he was the only one of his 10 friends that survived the attack. The Express Tribune

Raw Uncut Version of Life

It’s not about heartfelt condemnation and hysterical tears rolling down our cheeks as we try to make sense of this incident. Because how do you put such insanity into words? Do you dig up strong emotional verbage from your language, or make  use of cuss words? Or write status updates and substitute sad emoticons on Facebook with those of tears pouring out? How do you express the lowest of lows?

It’s not even about narrowing down a believable reason for the brutality. Or getting into an endless political debate and accusations. Let’s assume the attackers lost their children in anti-terrorist attacks conducted by the Pakistani Army so this was their payback. Even then, does this level of vengeance add up? Does anyone win here?

It’s about a raw, uncut version of life that has been shoved in our faces. So we realize how inconsequential our existence is. It’s about the strength and ability to endure hell and then get back on your feet. Because that is exactly what parents of those martyred angels will do. They will survive. Even if that means with nothing but a shredded heart and blinding pain.

This is our Boko Haram, Ferguson, Columbine school massacre, Gaza, Apocalypse all in one. Because for us, nothing can get worse. Not the worst of natural travesties, famines or wars. This incident single-handedly shattered the thin line between what’s expected in ruthless terror attacks and what isn’t. Now there are no barriers or false reassurances like, ‘Oh they can’t possibly target children!’ And what comes next? Hospitals, weddings, parks, funerals? Pakistan’s flag has soaked in too much blood of too many innocent lives. And it shocks me to think how these blood stains might never wash away.

Lines crossed – Times forever changed

This day marks the beginning of changed ways in Pakistan. As a parent. As a student. As a teacher. There’s a lot that comes in that package now. Like a bad memory, this will become a permanent part of everyone’s minds. Parents will drop off children to school with tighter hugs and longer kisses on their foreheads. Teachers  will zone out during a lecture and imagine a class pouring with blood or at best, train themselves to handle these attacks . Students will fall prey to paranoia and fear. With time the intensity will wear off, but the facts will remain.

What will I tell my children?

Years from now, if my children ask me about the 16th of December, 2014, what will I say? Will I say that their native country could not protect children who were just like them? Will I tell them I also studied in Pakistani Army public schools my entire life and those school years represented some of my most precious memories? Will I tell them it was all in the name of religion but it really wasn’t, because murder has no place in any religion? Will I tell them how life usually doesn’t make sense, especially when it comes to death? Will I tell them they need to be grateful every breathing minute of their lives because many children like them don’t live to see another day? Will I tell them that life goes on, no matter what?

Will I tell them that Pakistan survived, notwithstanding the END it witnessed that day and came out stronger and better? I hope to God that above all else, I tell them this.

My Journey: From Desi ‘Ghee(butter)’ to a Desi ‘Me’

‘Ewee what’s that smell?!’ A familiar outrage when our mothers or grandmothers cooked in Desi ghee (clarified butter). Those were fleeting interactions with the word ‘desi’ in my childhood. As I grew older, doctors began piping the benefits of eating pure and unadulterated food, so Desi (organic) chickens and eggs were now the rave.

After moving to Canada, I realized that Desi wasn’t just about food. Desi could have as many interpretations as the fight against terrorism. Chickens were not the only ones upholding the prestigious title. I was a desi too.

Desi (Brown-skinned) – anthesis of the word Gora (white-skinned)

When you look up Desi in the dictionary it says: South Asian, esp. Indian. People from the Pakistani, Indian, Sri-Lankan and Bangladeshi descent have simultaneously been whipped into a multi-layer Desi cake. Our accents and languages, skin color, food, clothes,culture and beliefs are conveniently defined under the word, Desi. This is sort of like how we call all white-skinned folk of the world as ‘Goras’ – natives of US, UK, Australia etc.

If you are from South Asia/subcontinent region, the confusion is paramount. Especially since Pakistan and India originated from the same womb and separated at birth. Like how people of Hong-Kong or China can get mixed up.

Mississauga – The city oozing with ‘Desi’s’

I live in Mississauga-Toronto where Desis ooze out like maple syrup. Pakistanis represent a large part of the desi pie-chart. There are plenty of Pakistani stores that have everything laden from Tibet snow(ancient beauty cream) to Chawnsa Mangoes. So Pakistani culture is not akin to an alien controversy of Area 59. It is seen tiptoeing between latest trends of shalwar kameez, naashta (breakfast) joints with halwa puri and channay, Pakistan day events at the Celebration Square, Pakistani weddings, smell of our masalas wafting in the hallways of condos and Mosques bustling with activity on EID – you get the picture. It is all quite welcoming.

Contempt associated with Desis

A strange thing I’ve noticed here is the not-so subtle contempt associated with the word desi. And strangely enough, the disdain doesn’t come from ‘others’. It comes from us. It’s like we want to prove a point here. But what exactly? Perhaps nothing more than a hasty generalization.

If we catch a traditionally dressed ‘desi’ woman at the grocery store, we think to ourselves, ‘Uff, look at her dressing sense!’ Or if some driver breaks a traffic rule, our knee-jerk reaction is, “That must be a desi!” Almost like how back home every traffic violation was the doing of a woman (another topic for another time). Litter found on the road usually means that some desi did it. I once wore shalwar kameez to school to pick up my son and he said, “Mama! Why are you all desi today?” Imagine my embarrassment. First at my clothes. And then at what my son just said. It suddenly dawned on me.

My son was gradually becoming ‘anti-desi.’ I did not like it one bit.

The confusion

My tenant told me how she loved our Indian food. I kept saying, ‘Yes, you mean Pakistani food.’ She didn’t notice the difference because of similar ingredients and method. The end-product is still different. Indian food is delicious in its own place, but for many like me, Pakistani food is like mom’s cooking, closer to home and the heart. It’s like asking for Chinese food and getting Japanese in return. It’s not just the food. Our identity is a complete hodgepodge.

Despite our thriving representation in places like Toronto etc., why isn’t our Pakistani identity more comprehensible? This is not as much of a complaint as it is a confused query.

It. Is. Our. Fault. Period. 

Sometimes it’s like we are built that way – inherently confused desis, embarrassed Pakistanis and bewildered Canadians. Everything about us appears less worthy once we move to a foreign land. Many of us think that we have to let go of everything old to submerge into a new culture. The unending sequel to East meets West continues.

In my short time here, I’ve seen young Pakistani-Canadians feeling embarrassed for wearing their desi garb in public or in speaking their native languages. I don’t give my son kebab sandwiches in school because he’d smell like Pakistani food. Some people here don’t take the day off from work or school for Eid (religious holiday).

These trivial examples are relative to the priorities we hold dear. But what never changes is our desire for others to respect us.

Irony is, whatever roots we cut off, we are always DESI and BROWN in other people’s eyes. In our minds, we are not even that. So who are we really?

Finding my way

I am a confused-desi-immigrant trying to become a focused-proud-desi-Pakistani-Canadian. How hard can that be?

I love pancakes, but desi Parathas on a sunday morning are luxury. I love the contagious joy of christmas, but EID will always be my holiday. I love jeans but dressing up in shalwar kameez for a Pakistani wedding is precious. I love latte but a daily cup of bubbling hot Chaye (tea) will always calm my frenzied nerves. I love pasta and pizza, but the scintillating aroma of chicken karahi always means that much more. I enjoy Ellen Degeneres and Madam Secretary, but once in a while, some lighthearted ramblings of a Pakistani morning show or family quibbles in a drama are just what I need. I love the high quality of life here, but sometimes I miss not having a horde of people at arm’s length back home who’d need our help.

I love the big hearts of people here in Canada, and that is why I need to show a Pakistani’s simple heart to the world.

Rock the desi in you

I am no traditionalist. But this need to mummify my origin seems more important now than ever. I can’t expect my children to feel the way I do about Pakistan, but I can keep their association and interest alive.

More than anything else, this is a reminder to myself and my family. Be it a Pakistani desi, an Indian desi or a desi chicken, to us Desi should be the new Black, or Pink, or whatever is in fashion. How do you become a loyal and responsible Canadian citizen without understanding your complex and colorful origin. We will always be different here no matter how much we mingle. Why not put that to good use by balancing the best of both worlds? Not easy, but doable. I’m definitely up for the challenge.

Two generations from now, even if my children’s children are  immersed in their new environment, their parents and grandparents were still Desi’s. How do you ignore what’s in your blood? You don’t.

You accept it and let your roots give comfort when needed, like an old song you once loved, lost and then rediscovered.

And now you just can’t stop humming its tune.

Gotham has Batman, who does Pakistan have?

Noone plays ‘good vs.evil’ pingpong better than comic books. Worlds and cities with raging battles all around. Morbid clouds vowing never to let the sunlight through. Fiendish villains constantly hatching plans to unleash some carefully processed and planned misery on the poor masses. And then of course, the most important pillar of these rotten places, the super-heroes; the masks, the capes, the gadgets, the courage, the charm, the righteousness.

Gotham till date, has been the most decrepit and worn-down scum of a city to have crossed our comic-reading, high-definition movie-watching eyes. The grey in Gotham is a most disturbing shade. The evil-doers are almost inhuman. The good-guys are almost human. But Gotham survived. Sure, it’s a fantasy place and it will rule in the world of entertainment as long as the story-teller deems fit. But every hint of fantasy is masked behind a stark reality. A reality that we relate to in our daily lives.

This brings me to a comparison I would never have resorted to, if it hadn’t been for the resilient protests and the ‘change’ mantra headed by Imran Khan, a.k.a. ‘Kaptaan‘. A majority of Pakistan’s less privileged believe in him and see IK as their hero. I dare to compare a hellish city like Gotham to my beloved land. But cosmetics and exaggeration aside, a morally depraved society, over-the-top skanky characters and a believable but irrational good guy forever dodging skepticism are similarities hard to ignore.

Imran Khan - image credits theMajiks Imran Khan – image credits theMajiks

Gotham has ‘Penguin’, Pakistan has ‘Politics’ 

Many of us hate  but are secretly in awe of super-villains like the Penguin and Joker.  In Gotham, they take the story-line to an all new level of thrill and the gory. In Pakistan we also have our fair share of bad-guys who by no means trigger envy from the masses. They are no diabolical geniuses either, but they are shrewd and narcissistic. The two most important requirements needed to suck Pakistan dry.

The Common man is not an angel either

Pakistanis, the supposedly naive common folk who know no better, actually do. We know we are not angels. Who needs to pretend sporting a halo anymore? We mean business, but only if it gives us something tangible and preferably some crinkly ruppee notes with our immortal wrinkled hero, the Qaid. Just like Gotham, here too, from the ‘sabzi-wala (vegetable vendor)’ to the ‘school-wala (educator)’, everyone’s self-destructive drug is money. Without getting into a long-exhausted rhetoric it’s hard to describe our present situation. We are a broken record that slits through anything that brushes against its rough edges. We are that ghastly a tune.

Pakistanis desperately looking for its own Batman

In Pakistan, we have always wanted a hero. We don’t like to face matters head on, but instead believe in fate, chance, luck, and more importantly, a saviour from above. In our case above could be anything from up North to the heavenly skies.  We are chronically delusional. In Bhutto, we thought we had our savior. His charisma, his wit, his powerhouse of an acumen, everything swooned the masses into submission. He was a hero. Until he wasn’t. As much as we cling on to our angelic phantoms, when we notice their humanness, it gets overbearing. To a point where we crack quicker than an egg-shell under a shoe. And then what do we do? We pull them by the collar and throw them down real hard. Once the poor hero is safely rotting away six feet under, we dig up memories of their glorious days.

credits: https://www.facebook.com/ImranKhan.Official/photos/pb.143462899029472.-2207520000.1417539216./923952540980500/?type=3&theater credits: https://www.facebook.com/ImranKhan.Official/photos/pb.143462899029472.-2207520000.1417539216./923952540980500/?type=3&theater

So now there’s IK. A viable, emotional and stubborn crusader. An unmasked avenger breathing fire and promising a changed nation. His honesty is hard to challenge, but truth be told, his words are difficult to actualize. As much as hope is the wind beneath my words, it sometimes shakes me to think what Pakistanis will do if IK does not come up to their expectations. And there is a huge chance that he will not live up to our schizophrenic ideals. Well at least not all of them. IK’s words are fueling the passion and resilience of millions of Pakistanis. His plans to change the nation are as vast as the alphabets in the English language. His words are causing a well-intended ripple in stagnant minds. His beliefs are making him a hero. I just hope that his actions (present and future) keep him a hero in the eyes of the public.

And more importantly, here is where we draw a line between fiction and non-fiction, between Gotham and Pakistan. The people of Gotham revel in make-believe because they are too weak to do anything themselves. Pakistanis are different, or at least I think we are. Let’s snap out of fantasy and look at our leaders for what they are; unmagical homo sapiens with blood and bones. While leaders are responsible for shaping a nation’s track, they are not solely in line for the guillotine. Until we realize our worth and accountability in the entire change process, no one will fit the mould of a hero we naively create in our minds.

No one will save the day for us, because it’s not theirs to save in the first place. It’s ours.