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

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

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