My love for Pakistan, dangerous but unconditional

Published: April 2, 2013

I love Pakistan. It is dangerous, this unconditional love business. PHOTO: AFP

Being away from Pakistan has drastically transformed my memories of it – an interesting phenomenon indeed. It is not an erratic chaos in my head anymore. Lately, when I try to describe home, I use words such as bright lights and bustling ambition, conveniently ignoring recollections of clenched teeth, sweltering heat and endless agitation.

When I contemplate my current abode in a progressive Massachusetts college, my yearning for home is surprising. I am more comfortable here, by any standard.

I have spent weeks without cussing traffic.

I have not experienced any electric load shedding for even an instant.

Nobody stares at me if I step out dressed in jeans.

I can take classes in humanities without any comments on how “real” career prospects are different.

I am surrounded by people who talk about change as a tangible possibility, a concept that still exists.

I don’t get asked my age, only to be told things like:

“You’re 20. You should be married. Before it’s too late. Tomorrow, preferably.”

I discuss faith and religion with Jews and Hindus, atheists and pagan witch worshippers freely.

I feel safe using public transport.

People around me say polite words such as, thank you, sorry and please all the time.

There are no spat-out-paan stains on pavements.

Everything seems brighter, cleaner, better.

And yet, I feel a perpetual longing for my country, only heightened by the contrast between my present environment and my origins.

Yes, our shortcomings are endless.

We shut down traffic for millions when a government official passes.

We shut down power as soon as the first raindrop escapes a cloud.

We shrug our shoulders when asked how the Sui gas mine came to be exhausted, or why cultural monuments of Karachi disappeared.

We refuse to learn traffic regulations or follow pedestrian rules that would make our own lives so much simpler.

We litter the beach, the streets, the parks, rolling down our windows to toss trash out on to public property.

We bribe everyone and complain about corruption.

We understand democracy as banned websites, suspended cell phone networks and stray guns.

We burn down our own infrastructure and shut down our own economy every time we get angry.

Despite this, we get up in the morning after a bomb blast and go to work. We flinch at the day’s headlines, but nevertheless check news updates regularly and follow politicians’ devotedly.

We place our hearts in the palms of our cricket team, depending on them to make us recall what patriotism felt like. Our streets are lined with cart owners ladling out food for a few cents a plate.

Every Chaand Raat, the eve of Eid, young girls with henna cones run after prospective customers with samples of their work till wee hours of the morning. Every year, colourful lights cling onto buildings and trees for the birthday of the Prophet. Every few hours, the call for prayer, azaan, serves as a reminder of time.

We keep ablaze the infinite lights that dot streets, wide or narrow, through day and night. After battling traffic, corruption, heat and hopelessness on a daily basis, we manage to retain a semblance of faith.

If it is true that actual strength reveals itself when there is no other option but to be strong, my people have been strong for a very long time. We don’t know another way of life. Maybe, that is why it is not as difficult to forgive home and it’s frustrating faults.

Even after I recall every inch of exasperation felt at home. I dream of it. I see it when I close my eyes. I am in love with it, like a senseless lover who knows his beloved’s infinite flaws but cannot tear his eyes away nonetheless.

It is dangerous, this unconditional love business. And I don’t think I have ever felt it with the magnitude that trails every thought and action I engage in now, on the other side of the world.

Read more by Areeba here.

areeba.kamal

Areeba Kamal

An alumna and former employee of Nixor College. She is currently studying International Relations and Computer Science at Mount Holyoke, USA. She tweets @KamalAreeba twitter.com/KamalAreeba

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Hamid Raza

    Very emotive and powerful read! Yes, the love for the mother(land) is always unconditionalRecommend

  • Parvez

    I liked the way you made your point, simple but yet effective.
    Most people who dwell abroad have similar feelings. The crunch comes when its time to come home. Recommend

  • Ali tanoli

    Its a good one maam and true…. we are ninth wonder of world.Recommend

  • arcane

    Expatriate experts, sigh…Recommend

  • Maryam

    beautiful piece. Pakistan is love!Recommend

  • Hamza Azhar Salam

    Excellent piece, spoken from the heart. Recommend

  • Truthful

    So will you come back after completing your studies?Recommend

  • Insaan

    Part of this unconditional love is missing things at home, things that don’t mean much when one is living there.

    Did the author feel the same unconditional love when she was in Pakistan?Recommend

  • Op

    yes at the end of the day its is our country Recommend

  • Zee

    very well written…
    nostalgia..! I miss all that as well..Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Unconditional love does not follow Coulomb’s law.Recommend

  • BigotNot

    :-). I am sure that she is going to leave her progressive heaven and come back to Pakistan once her studies are over. All because of “dangerous but unconditional” love…..I don’t think so. Recommend

  • Falcon

    Best line of the blog…”If it is true that actual strength reveals itself when there is no other option but to be strong, my people have been strong for a very long time. We don’t know another way of life.”Recommend

  • Tariq Jameel

    one word…stupidRecommend

  • Ateek

    Love it, thanks Areeba.Recommend

  • Kaalchakra

    It is a good piece written to express childish emotions that are common among the primitive people. But we must never forget that excessive ‘love for land’ is unIslamic. A true Muslims does not love senseless things like the land, trees, or mountains. Recommend

  • N

    “You’re 20. You should be married. Before it’s too late. Tomorrow, preferably.”

    LOL! You are such a Holyoke student.
    Nice, clever article.Recommend

  • http://politicalareeba.tumblr.com Areeba

    Thanks for reading and commenting. Any decision I make regarding my future will be grounded in the reality that my home and family and world is in Pakistan. I understand the cynicism, but this piece is pure, unadulterated emotion. There are a million and one things I am able to appreciate about my country now that I am away. And when I say my country, I imply the people. Not the government, not the political parties. The people, who will forever be our best bet, our strongest asset.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    @Insaan:
    she has been away for less than half a year and this was written when she WAS here :) just got posted late. Recommend

  • Sohrab Karboy

    @Truthful: Are you kidding??? If she comes back, it will only be because of the fond memories of being served by a team of servants: baawarchi, maali, chowkidaars, drivers and maasis, something hard for even the wealthy to dream in the safe environs of Massachusetts. This write-up is just an exercise in nostalgia on a wet and cold weekend in Northeastern US which is lately inundated with severe storms and natural calamities. She has conveniently kept out the fact that how College students and others, specially multitudes of older ladies, volunteer at soup kitchens or at shelters for the homeless, or in hospitals, and hospices to help alleviate the sufferings of common Americans. She probably has not seen the girl scouts, even from the tender age of 6 or 7, selling cookies to their neighbors to raise funds for the organization to help the poor. And, of course, the sight of volunteers for Sertoma, Rotary, & Lions, collecting coins in tin cans at traffic signals to help their projects for the needy has escaped her altogether.

    It would have been so uplifting to read how the Pakistani students at these elite Ivy League universities are getting together to help their countrymen back home; how they are foregoing their $5 cups of Frappacinos at Starbucks and instead donating the funds for the homeless in Lyari, or how they are planning to put together a group that would be going to Karachi to volunteer at the Edhi Centers this coming summer.
    Recommend

  • Gary

    Missing something/someone says more about attachment and less about love :). Recommend

  • Anonymous

    @Tariq Jameel:
    I would advise you to refrain from expressing such negative opinions. If you donot have anything good to say, why not stay quiet. Its a beautiful piece of writing. That is the problem with a lot of the people of this country, they are not willing to do anything and will criticize the ones who do. I would really like to see you try to write something this exquisite. Recommend

  • http://syedaabidabokhari.wordpress.com The Only Normal Person Here.

    Breath of fresh air indeed.Recommend

  • Dr,A.K.Tewari

    The author has root in the uprooted country even then her love for motherland has a broader meaning for me , if not to her . Peace with India and stable relation require a revolutionary change ,it is only then her love for the country will have some meaning for the civilized world .Recommend

  • Historian 1

    Looks like most of NRP’s giving such a grim picture of Pakistan are from Karachi or KPK. I was in Lahore last month to visit parents ( residing in defense ). I found Lahore to be very peaceful , much cleaner , all types of latest cars, new roads, under passes, new fly overs, all types of western food outlets from Mc Donald’s to fat burger to frozen yogurt. It’s only that some areas are crowded due to overpopulation. I travelled from Lahore to Islamabad by motorway and it was nothing less than a freeway in any other developed country. And lastly whenever I spoke nicely to someone he said ” thank you ” to me.Recommend

  • Assad

    @arcane:
    Ignorant comment. After all who else can be an expert on being homesick other than an expat?Recommend

  • AmericanDesi

    Hi Areeba

    You have expressed precisely the emotions we desis ( Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi) feel here. Despite all the comfort which has over years spoiled me I do cherish all the discomforts back in India more. They are by far the most fond memory for me. I truly wish India and Pakistan progress in better direction which make sour livelihood more comparable to the western countries we eagerly move to, to get those comforts. Recommend

  • http://Yahoo.com SHB

    This is typical of first generation immigrant.
    I am out of Pakistan for the last 38 yrs. Still wants to go back but I know it is not going to happen. It is too late. There is nothing wrong to love your mother or fatherland. It is good for your sanity.Recommend

  • http://politicalareeba.tumblr.com Areeba

    @Sohrab Karboy:
    How ignorant of you to assume that anyone studying in a US institution has hordes of servants and is immune to the meaning of community service. There are hundreds of us who make it on our own, winning scholarships and acquiring honors, letting people in First World countries know that Pakistan’s human capital is a force to be reckoned with.
    It would be uplifting to read of all that, yes. Which is why I recommend you google initiatives led by Pakistani youth across the globe. Fundraisers at Pakistani Student Associations at every college we attend. Initiatives to raise awareness on everything from drones to sectarian violence to girls’ education. I’ve been at college six months, and I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve spoken out for my country, upheld causes or initiated campaigns.
    This cynicism, this assumption that anyone who cares about Pakistan enough to write an ode to it must be a liar, must be all talk and no walk, it is sadder than any other issue facing us today. Believe in the youth of this country. We’ve been given a very, very heavy burden. But we’re shouldering it. Left and right, there are NGO start ups, youth campaigns, adopted schools, foreign student exchanges, published writing, you name it. We’re trying our best, and we will until we make positive sustainable change happen.
    Give us some credit. And if you’re incapable of that, cut the cynical talkRecommend

  • Sohrab Karboy

    @Areeba: It’s very possible, and since you have already stated it I do not have a reason to doubt it, that you are like I was, from the middle of the middle class family, in my freshman year in a University in the US, struggling to keep up the grades, work at a grocery store, and simultaneously work in advancing the causes of the Pakistani students and community in the United States. If you are doing that you most assuredly know that you belong to an extremely minute minority. What I witnessed, and surely you know it as it is happening today, that beginning in the 1980s, the Pakistani students coming to attend most of the elite universities and colleges in the Northeastern United States, invariably belonged to well-to-do and super rich families in Pakistan. The characteristics I found common among them was aloofness and indifference to issues concerning Pakistan. In our days, we could not even get Shaheed Muhtarma, who was a student at the Radcliffe College, to give a few minutes to the Pakistani activities. The situation I described is widely symptomatic of the Pakistani students and if you are an exception, kudos to you.

    I did precisely what you suggested; I googled “initiatives led by Pakistani youth” belonging to the Pakistani student community in the United States. I found a sum total of 6 entries and not a single one pertained to the Pakistani students in the U.S. It would be grossly unfair to target you in your individual capacity as someone collectively responsible for all the ills of the Pakistani student community studying in the United States and please rest assured it was not my intent.Recommend

  • Nishant Sharma

    Areeba,cheers girl! A very wistful article indeed.Made me feel nostalgic about my own country, India.And,the best part is after reading it; I forgot that you are talking about Pakistan….so much is common between the two neighbours.

    Like you,I am amongst the millions of Indians,Pakistanis,Bangladeshis,Lankans and Nepalis who left their native land in search of a better environment,a much more organised and democratic system,a deserving and worthy opportunity,best education and probably a happier and a peaceful life.

    We all left for better.In a hope, to leave behind all those imprecations at the corrupt system,frustrations due to lack of value of merit, pollution, traffic jams, delays in service, lack of safety, everday hassles….well it goes on and on.

    Living abroad in a multicultural and multilingual surroundings is a great experience for sure…you forget that you are sharing your room with a moslem,and that too a Pakistani and are reminded of this fact only when there is an India Pakistan cricket encounter.You not
    only make friends for life with this Pakistani roommate and respect his Namaz timings with a passive acceptance of his non veg. food stuff lying around but also start questioning the differences and distrust of so may years while living in the respective native countries.

    You might date a cute Bangladeshi,ask for a lift from a Lankan and might visit a temple along with a Nepali.

    But when you live away from home,your family and friends in a different country you miss a lot of things….the motherly care;everyday fatherly instructions;sibling rivalry and love…memories of the scent of mud during the monsoon,ringing bells of the temples,enchanting wedding ceremonies,eventful festivals,vivid customs……Ah! life seems so different abroad.

    You gain something for sure,but what you miss is invaluable….Longings for my mother country have got deeper after reading your write up.Recommend

  • M

    I really enjoyed your article. Just like you, I myself was studying in the UK for 4 years and so strong was my dangerous and unconditional love for Pakistan, that despite having the option to stay I came back. And you know what, although I miss my life there, I don’t regret my decision. Our country is no ones stereotype and there is still too much hope and good left here. If you come back, we can all work together. We have been taught that change is a tangible possibility, a concept that still exists and if you come back and so do many others like you, then we can make this concept a reality. May God bless you my friend.Recommend

  • Imtiaz Hussain

    Thanks for such a great read…Indeed every Pakistani have the same feelings, but need of the hour is to converge this unconditional love into building a great nation too.Recommend

  • Mehdi

    @Areeba:

    As a moderator of this blog, your opening remark to Mr Sohrab’s response was a tad harsh. Why I say this is because when a moderator loses his/her patience, he/she looses her impartial credibility to the audience. please keep that in mind. I know it is a very difficult job, I am guilty of this practice. But anyway your blog was a great read. I had couple of friends from Bangladesh who attended Mt Holoyoke. Good school. This college has a long tradition of educating fine young women from Indian sub continent. Good luck with your studies.

    @ Sohrab

    I came to US to study at a reputed liberal arts college in late 90s from Bangladesh and I had 80% scholarship. I believe you owe the author a big ‘Sorry’ for being presumtuous of her future intentions. I didn’t come from a family who had lot of money and hordes of servant. So yes in US you can make it solely on your merit. Rest of the reason you stated about pakistani student in general are correct, again there are exceptional.Recommend

  • Mehdi

    @Sohrab Karboy:

    You shouldn’t be flaunting your grocery work experience in this blog because working off campus is illegal under US immigration law. Be careful what you write in the Internet domain.Recommend

  • Mehdi

    @M:

    In order for you to make your western expensive education worthwhile for your people at least you need to come back to a country with a descent security situation. What if you get shot or blown away by bomb blast, how good that education will be to your immediate family. A healthy dosage of cynicism is good for your patriotism. Personally I always think from my head not my heart.Recommend

  • Mehdi

    @Kaalchakra:

    People like you brings Islam into disrepute by your irrational remark.Recommend

  • Pakistani

    Such a Nice article. You wrote my heart out. i am living in abroad as well so i can totally agree to this. The Call for Azaan, something i miss the most.Recommend

  • Aimun

    @Kaalchakra:
    Why spoil something as gold as this by irrational remarks, that do not even find a realistic base?Recommend

  • Tahera

    Well written, thoughtful and a pleasurable read. Keep writing Areeba, and don’t be disheartened by negative comments. Pieces such as this one are meant to make people think and get the conversation going. It looks like you did a great job on that count. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and you are entirely entitled to yours and do not owe anyone an explanation. Some of us can relate/understand you, and some never will. To each her own.

    Looking forward to reading more from you. Recommend

  • Sohrab Karboy

    @Areeba: You seem to have a beautiful soul and a prettier heart. You write well; and you have expressed your nostalgic thoughts about the homeland in an emotive way that has pulled the strings of many. My sincere apologies for my mis-directed scorn and disparaging comments regarding your well-written article. I am very well aware that there is no dearth of Pakistani students in the U.S. who come from very decent families and struggle and work hard and become successful and are a source of pride for all of us. Also, it is important for me to clarify that it is not an abomination to come from a well-to-do and wealthy background either. Truth be told, my fury was directed at multitude of Pakistani students I have seen in the U.S. who are scions of Generals, Government officials, and businessmen of dubious backgrounds, that live a life of luxury in unimaginable comfort with no expense spared and we all know that it is done on the backs of our dispossessed and disenfranchised masses who do not have the basics of everyday life.

    @Mehdi: As they say “blessed are the peacemakers.” My compliments for a job well done. It may be illegal now, but during the time period my comments pertain to, foreign students were allowed to work a specific number of hours per week during the semesters and full time during summers with due permission. It was completely legal. Recommend

  • Sohrab Karboy

    Correction: “You write well; and you have expressed your nostalgic thoughts about the homeland in an emotive way that has pulled the heartstrings of many.”Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Areeba,

    The grass is always greener on the other side. You write well with lots of emotions and express it as a child would. This is good as long as you do not forget that you are of age nor loose your head when you feel free and walk on clean pavements. You have used your intelligence in transforming home sickness into home yeaning remembeing the bright lights and not which were dark. You love is for home and not for the country, for the family and friends and not all the millions of the land. But remember, what you see and live in Massachusetts was realised by the people of the land. If you were to visit Obama city of Chicago, you will consider many parts of Pakistan a paradise, and if you were to travel to Mexico city or Rio in Brazil, the police in the city of Karachi will look like your pals.

    Asian continent is the futue world; the people under the proper leadership have the task to make it the real paradise. There is no short cut to hard work.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • @author
    so you r 20:)Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    @Pakistani:
    What about the church bells?

    Rex minor Recommend

  • MAK

    I’m in the same boat as you Areeba.. no words can describe my love for Pakistan, cannot wait to go back home xxRecommend

  • Sinn Sal

    @Ali tanoli:
    Yes your the Ninth wonder of the world! Only a sad wonder! Recommend

  • Saf

    I experienced same emotions when I was abroad for short duration and that was strange for me to understand my own feelings,I realized that the fact we cant change,no matter where we are and for how long time,one reality we cant change is that we belongs to PAKISTAN and it belongs to us,every person evaluate us in the back ground of Pakistan,we dont want anybody to look down on us because of our motherland.I think we are lucky we have a country,there are many people in world who are not so much blessed.I think our country Pakistan gave us so much things to feel proud ,but we did not appreciate it as a nation.its our generation responsibility to contribute in the progress of our country so that our next generation feel proud whenever they compare themselves with other nation.It will be our negligence if we will not perform our duty. Recommend