My blood runs thick and green

Published: December 31, 2011

Some of us migrated decades ago and our children and grandchildren have only superficial ties with Pakistan. PHOTO: INP

The problem starts as soon as I open my mouth. My ‘r’s roll out like a googlie, my ‘t’s sit heavy on the boundary and my ‘a’s are massive leg bys. I have to say two sentences and everyone’s on to me. Where is that lovely accent from? Oh, Pakistan! We wouldn’t have guessed. Where did you learn to speak English? Did you wear a burqa back in Pakistan? How many wives does your husband have?

When you are trying to learn a new language, the first thing you want to know are the swear words- how to say sh–t in French, how to tell someone off in Italian etc. I guess we all like to focus on digging for the dirt because maybe the rest of the stuff is boring?

My first born during his primary school years had a couple of run-ins when his mates found out that he was from Pakistan. They argued that since his country was next door to enemies (Afghanistan) the obvious conclusion would be that his country was bad too. Raahem automatically switched to defence mode and started commenting on the bad treatment of indigenous people in Australia. A heated argument took place where cricket and religion were wrestled to the ground. Thankfully Ms Cusack came through with the peace talks. I was secretly proud of my chit of a boy – then turning all philosophical on my 10-year-old I touted out this theory:

‘We don’t have to defend our country or religion by putting other peoples’ beliefs and values down. The best defence would be to come up with good things about your country, cricket team, politics and religion.’

I don’t know if that made any sense to him, but I decided to follow my own advice and every time people nudged and niggled about Pakistan I had something better, flippant or educational to say; I flash-lighted shiny, happy comebacks.

“You must feel safer here – it is always so unstable in Pakistan isn’t it?”

To which I would reply:

“Did you know that I used to walk home with my friends from college most days? It would take me about 30 minutes and we were hardly ever scared.”

When someone would come and ask:

“Did you have to have your head covered at all times in Pakistan?”

I would say:

“I loved wearing white shirts and blue jeans when I was growing up; I also enjoyed playing street cricket”

Then the ever-popular:

“How did you handle all the fanatic elements around you?”

To which I say:

“Have you ever heard Sufi poetry? We have some fabulous singers back home, you must have heard of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan?”

Is that a bit like skirting the issue? Like being political and avoiding an answer. But I don’t ever want to say anything against my home – a place that nurtured me and where my roots lie deep in that fragrant soil.

So let’s try the honest approach.

Yes, things are unstable in Pakistan – more so now than before. Certain areas in Pakistan are unsafe, but the same is true for most countries, especially developing ones. I never covered my head except when I visited the mosque or elders up in the country side, but we would all show the same respect anywhere in the world.

Fanaticism has grown like cane toads back home, but is present in all religions, in fact different shades of fanaticism are present in sports, music, media and to some extent even in well educated cultured people. All fanatics are harmful to some extent – we all fight them on a daily basis, just at different levels. I still remember a mosque near our college declared a fatwa against dancing, but our school still went ahead with our performing arts week. For every fanatic that raises its ugly head, there is someone always ready to sing a song and dance about it.

Some of us defend our country relentlessly, we refuse to see any dark holes and turn our backs on serious issues of human rights, education, and poverty. We know these things exist but our defence shields only understand nationalism because we love our country no matter what happens, our blood runs thick and green.

There are some of us who migrated decades ago and our children and grandchildren have superficial ties with Pakistan. To them, Pakistan is a distant holiday destination. A place two plane rides away - crowded, noisy and filled with dust. A sight-seeing trip where they find themselves centre stage; pampered and over fed by numerous uncles and aunties with strange accents.  They are vaguely aware that one of their parents or maybe both belong to a town in Pakistan, but they hardly indulge in any nationalistic discussions, they don’t ever grow defence shields. Sometimes they indulge in traditional festivals like Eid, obliging their parents by adorning glittering costumes, but can’t really enjoy its true cultural essence. During a conversation if it’s considered cool to have an interesting background they will play their ‘Paki card’, otherwise they are like spring water; colourless and adaptable to fill any container.

Some of us are guilt-driven because we abandoned our country and are the contributors towards brain drain. It feels like we are somehow responsible for all the unfortunate things that happen back home but we are handicapped like Jake Sully – except when we dream Avatar dreams; surreal, fluttering and fragile dreams.  A place where our Avatar feels tall and loved. People like us are on a rescue mission, we are the activists and big talkers, we have decided to love and judge at the same time. We relentlessly support causes back home, run fund-raisers to aid the poor and curse the negative factors with the same fervour. We are desperate to do something magical for our country – we long to go back but daily grind, life and liabilities cripples us. Jake Sully sits heavy on our mind.

Among all this I find myself morphing between nationalist, denialist and activist. I get tired of defending myself constantly; I defend obvious throw away matches spiked with match-fixing and try my hardest to paddle free from knee deep corrupt ways of our politicians. Then comes my religion.The funny thing is that knowing about my religion was never an issue back home. I was raised by modern-minded Muslim parents so the ugly mullah version never quite cottoned onto me. Now, however, I need to have all my religious facts at my finger tips because anyone can throw an Islamic yorker at me and I would have to play it. Oh and the icing on top is, being a Muslim woman- makes juggling nine balls on a monocycle look easy. Cover the head? Wear a dress? Obey the husband? Be in-charge of my children’s religious education? Bare my arms? What to wear at a beach? Avoid strangers of the opposite sex? The list is endless. I am a little tired of walking the tight rope peddling my migrant goods.

So here is my new theory -’ Join in’

Now when someone talks about shooting bad drivers, I tell tales of horrendous traffic conditions back home. When someone asks me if my husband ever wore a ‘towel’ around his head I reply ‘real men always do!’ when someone talks about honour killings, I join in; I condemn the barbaric act, curse the system and the law and  loudly proclaim that such Pakistanis are callous. When innocent children get beaten up publicly in the name of religion or justice, I close my heart towards all preaching. When someone talks about beards and burqa and other misguided aspects of Islam, I condemn all religious practices that focus entirely on physicality – it’s like following some Islamic cosmopolitan dress code.

Is this the better theory?

Days riddled with guilt and nostalgia always leads to old folk songs, soulful Punjabi poetry that fills my heart with longing and sadness for Pakistan. When I adorn an intricately embroidered shawl that is my mother’s, my shoulders broaden with nationalism. When people ask for ‘that beautiful chicken recipe’ my heart races to Sunday lunches with my family where drumsticks were distributed to each sibling in rotation. When I oil my hair on sunny afternoons, my tired mind remembers my grandmother’s big hands, massaging away all worries. When I think of everyday rickshaw drivers driving in heat and dust, living their entire lives in one room shacks but still having the cheerfulness to write cheeky one liners like ‘Let the Prince pass’ or ‘A mother’s prayer is like a breeze from Heaven’on their decorated rickshaws, my defence shields turn on automatically – my blood runs thick and green.

Fatima.Sehbai

Fatima Sehbai

An educationalist who has a masters degree in Computer Sciences and a post graduate diploma in education from University of Melbourne.

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

  • Khurram Mansoor

    Loved this comment.

    ‘We don’t have to defend our country or religion by putting other peoples’ beliefs and values down. The best defence would be to come up with good things about your country, cricket team, politics and religion.’

    A beautifully written article.

    Bravo.Recommend

  • RAW is WAR

    r u from Mars?Recommend

  • Umair Majeed

    great great article…it made my blood greener!!Recommend

  • fnaz

    nope- from Venus :)Recommend

  • Dua Nazar

    Such an amazing article, full of pride and love for Pakistan!Recommend

  • saleem

    Keep up the good work madam, be happy and gracious, religion was lot better when we had shab e barat and eid milad with milad at home and fire crackers. Every one joined in for taazia and sherbet for moharram, guess this current awareness and hijab/etc is in itself a disgrace to the religion. Recommend

  • Khurram Mansoor

    @saleem:

    Please this all what she avoided and you brought in. Keep this to yourself please.Recommend

  • Atif

    @RAW is WAR

    Can you please keep your mouth shut for few seconds?Recommend

  • Parvez

    I thought you did a great job of showing up the feelings that a lot of immigrants must be experiencing. I suppose its a tough call, but it is your call and yours alone. Recommend

  • http://asgharkhanmayo.blogspot.com/ Asghar

    Undoubtedly, it is beautiful write up for people who live out of Pakistan. It is shows the situations one has to face while living in West. Recommend

  • hamzad

    why are Pakistanis ( and Indians) so worried about PROVING to the ugly-west that they (Paki/Indi) are MAADREN..what is wrong with being THE MOST MODERN by being Iran like .
    Burqa, Hijaab, Beard, Mulla, Maulvi, Madressa , Masjid have been PROVEN to be MOST MODERN today…..Iran KICK the west’s a2@rse..Indi/Paki KISS the west’s a2@rse.

    WHO Is most modern? those who kick or those who get kicked?Recommend

  • Chachi jaan

    Burqas and beards are a misguided parts of Islam? Although not compulsory honey, they still are.Recommend

  • Syed Nofil Bin Arif

    I have recently left Pakistan. I can totally relate some portions of this essay upon myself. The feeling that I have left Pakistan for a long time boggles a question in my mind…..How am I going to make it? One word….Nostalgia! Recommend

  • mind control

    Well you have GREEN blood and then take exception to people looking askance at you. Recommend

  • Marium

    Fantastic blog, if only more people believed that their blood ran thick and green Recommend

  • Shahid Raju

    Dear Editor

    ,
    the photo of this kids expose by me and uploaded from the NNI news agency. but u mention the caption with the name of INP news agency. this is not fear ……………..

    Regards,

    SHAHID RAJU
    PHOTOJOURNALIST
    NNI ISLAMABAD Recommend

  • Pakistani in US

    I can also relate to your narrative because I’m in somewhat similar situation. The major difference is that I’m in my late twenties and I don’t have a family of my own to pass on our values or defend our roots. I am still struggling to make a career in US. And being a Pakistani muslim here is like living in guilt, for a crime, that I never committed. So I have become more or less neutral. I don’t talk about Pakistan unless someone brings it up, which sometimes doesn’t happen for months. Or may be I have finally started to blend in, I don’t really know. But I can tell you that when faisal thing happened, I couldn’t leave my apartment for the whole weekend out of sheer depression. And then came the OBL thing, and now I’m just plain old numb. My feelings about Pakistan is like that of a stage-3 cancer patient, happy memories but finally accepting the fate after living in shock and denial for a very long time. Recommend

  • Salman Arshad

    Instead of defending the impossible,
    you can simply say “You are right. I was extremely fortunate enough to not have experienced —add-particular-problem—, but there were issues of extreme intensity DUE TO which I have so far as migrated out of Pakistan. And each and every citizen of Pakistan wants to get out of there.”
    .
    That is the more honest way to handle criticism from foreigners. There is nothing that is not true in that sentence. And nothing in that sentence undermines your self-respect either.
    .
    You must get of your own house when it is on fire. There is nothing to be ashamed in that case. And you must appreciate people showing concern about your own house burning down.Recommend

  • Athena Beshir

    What you have written here is pertinent to all immigrants and their progeny. As an Australian born to Greek and Egyptian parents, I can particularly relate to your point on having “superficial ties” with both these countries. Yes, I must admit, when the occasion calls for it, I will pull out my ‘Egyptian card’ or my ‘Greek card’ in conversation. It is a sad truth, but testimony to the unfortunate situation that is immigration. Recommend

  • http://yahoo Farhan javed

    Well done and Thank you very much for this blog.
    You are a great patriot.
    Pakistan zinda baad!Recommend

  • ASADULLAH SIDDIQUI

    The best Mode in Code of following Life is Holy Quran,Shariah & Sunnah. Why shouldn’t we be apologetic when Hazrat Muhammad(P.B.U.H) is included in on Top of 100 influential people throughout History in all respects.We should come out of defensive mode & be proactive in advocating our dear Homeland in all circumstances because whatever we are anywhere are recognized because of it. We should have an overt posture to highlight PAKISTAN & should not dingle JUST ON FOCUSING WESTERN SYSTEMS & CULTURES Recommend

  • Adnan

    Good one Fatima. It feel really nice when someone give words to your inner feelings. I guess, most of us feel the same, no difference on gender.

    God bless you… and all!Recommend

  • MK

    It was a very emotional piece and your sentiments came across very effectively. It was also very balanced which is a big refreshment these days especially after reading several bigoted pieces.Recommend

  • Sidra

    Honestly, I don’t mind when people ask me if it’s safe in Pakistan…They are not asking in a hateful way, they just want to understand, and giving them a snarky response will just confirm for them, that, yes, Pakistanis do have an attitude problem. They are only going by what they have heard, and I welcome their questions, because it means they are curious enough to learn more. Granted, some may be trying to antagonize you but a honest, non-sarcastic response is great. My mom does not get offended at all she answers questions, and people are so nice. In fact, her coworkers now remind her when it is time for zuhr and asr at work. :) Only thing that bothers me, is that knowing this blood running green is a recessive trait. For the next generation living in the West, Pakistan will be some ancient fairytale, not a personal experience.Recommend

  • GreenBoy

    This article makes me feel that I am not alone in this world of gullible impressionists. Like all countries 99.999999999% Pakistanis are good people, moderate in nature and who want to see their country prosper. Having all essential resources, manpower and material, it is matter of time this nation of potential can turn itself around. With everything at our disposal and the curiosity to achieve we do at this time lack the necessary ability because of mass destruction and killing by foreign forces descended from around the world for the past four decades. Those goals of yearning to be more worthwhile and notable is what the country so desperately needs. Should I pray or should I act or should I do both? Time to get your hands dirty and show your work, get the right people involved, no work is small when portions from like minded come together it is a ever growing feat that many around can proudly feel, be part of and pass on to the generations to come. We are suffering anyway lets suffer a bit more to rid ourselves of the gulliblesRecommend