Thoughts on leaving Pakistan

Published: October 14, 2013
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Street of Old Madrid. Photo: Manal Khan

The last time I put thoughts to paper was a year and a half ago, when my husband and I moved back to Pakistan from the US. It happened very suddenly, under very sad circumstances, and there we were – thrust into a disorienting new life, filling roles we had never anticipated, never wanted, inhabiting, once again, the cloistered, uninspiring world of Lahore’s privileged class.

Much elapsed during the past 18 months in Lahore – much to rejoice and remember. Engagements, bridal showers, weddings. Baby showers, and babies! Farewell parties and welcome-back parties, birthday parties and Pictionary parties.

PTI fever, elections, and Pakistan’s first peaceful political transition. Cliff-diving in Khanpur under a shower of shooting stars, dancing arm-and-arm with Kalash women as spring blossomed in the Hindukush,  tracking brown bears and chasing golden marmots in the unearthly plains of Deosai.

Exploring Deosai Plains. Photo: Manal Khan

I rediscovered my love of history, of abandoned old places that teemed with a thousand stories and ghosts and memories, thanks to a research job at LUMS. I spent many days wandering the cool corridors of  Lahore Museum, many hours contemplating the uncanny beauty of the Fasting Siddhartha, whom I had the privilege of photographing up-close. I stood beneath the most prodigious tree in the world in Harappa. I got down on my knees with a shovel and brush during a student archaeological excavation in Taxila, personally recovering the 2,000-year old terracotta bowl of a Gandhara Buddhist monk.

But, there was also dissatisfaction. Frustration. Restlessness. When we were not travelling, we were in Lahore. And Lahore was, well, warm. Convenient. Static. Living there again was like a replay of our childhood; like watching a favourite old movie on repeat. After a while it got monotonous,  somewhat annoying, and a little disappointing.

In Lahore, I could see what the trajectory of my life would be, the next 10 years down. It was all planned out, neatly copied from upper-class society’s handbook, with but minor divergences here and there.

It wasn’t a bad plan. In fact, it was a perfectly good, even cushy plan, one that would have made a lot of people quite happy.

Not me.

The prodigious banyan tree of Harappa, over 500 years old. Photo: Manal Khan

There were other things, too, about Lahore, and about Pakistan, things that had bothered me growing up but now seemed magnified to alarming proportions – the incomprehensible extremes of wealth and want, the insurmountable divisiveness of class, and, most worrying of all, the overwhelming  self-righteousness and religiosity.

You could not escape it. Everywhere, from TV talk shows to political rallies, drawing rooms to doctors’ clinics, there was a national fixation with religion. Everybody, it seemed, was desperate to convince others – and themselves – of their absolute piety, their A+ scorecard-of-duties-towards-God, their superficial Muslim-ness. Instead of the genuine, unselfconscious goodness that shines through truly spiritual people, in Pakistanis I just saw fear. Religion for them wasn’t about peace, and love, and knowledge. Religion was base.  Religion was social security. Religion was a tool of power.

I wanted to say to these superficial Muslims, to all Pakistanis: Just look at the state of our country. Do you really believe that religion has helped us? Has it at any level, be it individual, societal or state, improved the country? Has it alleviated poverty,  reduced rape and murder, mitigated corruption?

Have we as a nation achieved anything positive, anything progressive, in the suffocating garb of “religion”?

No. On the contrary, we, as a nation, have become more intolerant, more oppressive, more barbaric, as our outward religious zeal reaches new heights.

And we still do not realise it. The Matric-fail maulvi at the local mosque still preaches that a woman wearing jeans in public is jahannumi, Hell-bound, the TV reporter interviewing an old peasant who has lost his home in a flood wants to know if he kept his Ramazan fasts, and that educated, apparently “modern” aunty you met at a family dinner launches into a sermon that the reason Pakistan is beset with crises is because we don’t pray enough.

That was the most terrifying thing I found about Lahore, and about Pakistan. It had become a place where no other framework for discussion about the future of the country, about anything at all, was possible. We were mired in religion. We were stuck. We were deeply and hopelessly stuck.

As for the people who thought differently, the elite and “enlightened” class that I belonged to, they responded to the onslaught by retreating further and further into their elite Matrix – a sequestered, protected world where they met up with friends over Mocha Cappuccinos at trendy New York-style cafes, where they shopped for designer Italian handbags in centrally air-conditioned shopping malls, where their children spoke English with American accents and dressed up for Halloween, where alcohol flowed at raucous dance parties behind the gates of a sprawling farmhouse.

It was a parallel universe, where we all lived free, modern lives, like citizens of a free, modern country, utterly disconnected from the “other” Pakistan, the bigger Pakistan, and for all intents and purposes, the “real” Pakistan. Yet perhaps it was our only survival, the only way to keep sane and creative and happy for those of us who chose to live in our native country.

But I could not reconcile myself with it. I found it schizophrenic. Perhaps living abroad had changed me too much. I could not find balance, I could not find peace in Lahore.

So when Z applied to and got selected for a European Union PhD scholarship based in Madrid, Spain, I was thrilled – and a little relieved. Was I looking for an escape? Maybe. Was that the only solution? I don’t know.

When we left Lahore, on that eerie twilight flight in August, our lives packed into just one suitcase and backpack each, it was bittersweet. I was sad to say goodbye to loved ones, to friends and family whom I had spent such wonderful moments with in the past year and a half. I would miss being a part of their lives. And I would miss the incomparable natural beauty of Pakistan – beauty and heritage that is disappearing day by day due to neglect and ignorance.

Yet, I knew that I had to go. I knew that staying in Lahore – “settling for” Lahore – buying joras from Khaadi, attending tea parties, managing servants, the odd freelancing or part-time job at LUMS, was not going to make me happy. And we could not depend on the love of family and friends to sustain us forever. At the end of the day, everybody had their own lives to lead, their own paths to carve,  their own hearts to follow.

And that is how we ended up in Madrid.

Sitting here in our apartment, a cozy, parquet-floored one-bedroom affair, I can hear the babble of excited young voices below the window, a medley of idioms and accents; the clink of glasses and clatter of dishes from neighbouring restaurants; the smoky strumming of a flamenco guitar, the wheezy chorus of an accordion; the cries of Nigerian hawkers and Bengali street-peddlers, and the low hum of the occasional taxi cab, rolling along the cobbled streets of this lively old pedestrian barrio of the Spanish capital.

A new city, new adventures, new memories. New inspiration.

This post originally appeared here.

manal.khan

Manal Khan

A freelance writer and photographer based in Madrid, Spain, who loves old cities, tall trees, dark chocolate, and being inspired. She is a graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism and a Lahore native. Manal blogs at "Windswept Words" (manalkhan.wordpress.com)

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

  • MrRollsRoyce

    As an expat Pakistani, with sadness I have to agree with you Manal. I would like nothing better than for Pakistan to prosper, for there to be economic equality for all citizens regardless of gender or religion, but I see absolutely no hope due largely to the spreading false-piety that you have pointed out; a mindset that is propagated with petro dollars and which has xenophobia and misogyny as core tenets. These along with complete intolerance to rationality and discourse and a fatalistic attitude (keep on breeding like animals without care for how the millions more will be taken care of) is alas why I see zero hope for our native country.Recommend

  • Parvez

    IF you or your husband are the children of politicians, bureaucrats, senior military, landed gentry, industrialists, big business…………ask yourselves the difficult question as to why Pakistan has reached this stage and of course ask it from the comfort and safety of Madria or New York or London or Sydney or Toronto or even Dubai.
    Please keep in mind I have said ‘ IF ‘ and if not, its worth asking anyway.Recommend

  • ss

    Zinda bhag????Recommend

  • Aamawam

    Very well written. You have described the Pakistan’s obsession with religion and their urge to appear RIGHT. Its more like its a competition and everyone is in it to win it. Very well written you are a beautiful writer but sadly it got a little delusional towards the end.Recommend

  • Hamza Ahmed

    I am really sorry but I don’t think your artical makes any sense… this could probably my first time commenting something bad for an article and I don’t good about it.. I am sorry! I too migrated from Pakistan and America but I love both countries.. talking about religion, it is not that the religion did anything, it is the people who follow this religion stupidly and blindly, they don’t know what this religion actually tells you to do, instead makes their own rules,match it up with one of the law of Islam, pass a fatwa about it and there you go, you have a new rule. This is a fact that Islam has very beautiful and tolerant laws for everyone, for Non-muslims, for women for children, but if you take your own benefit from those rules, you are bound to doom, and this is what is going on in Pakistan, they don’t know the religion, yet they are following it and preaching it!Recommend

  • Cobra Commander

    The title of this blog should be “Zinda Bhaag”. I spent a long time in a western country but moved back to Pakistan in 2010. I dont have any regrets on moving back. I am sorry to say but the “elite ” class has let this country down. The elite class includes all those who the writer describes as drinking latte in US styles cafes and those who drink lattes in Madrid. Instead of fighting the inequality, setting up businesses , creating job opportunities for the poor and marginalized sector, our elite class has taken refuge in some foreign country. The narrow elite of this country prospered by keeping the major population at a disadvantage. We went to the best schools, had cooks in our house, government subsidized electricty and gas for us while our brethern in far off areas had none of it. The elite wasnt content with that, they manipulated the system to benefit their industries and stopped paying taxes a while ago while setting up office and industry outside of Pakistan and also sending their kids to foreign countries for studies. I can go on and on but my point is that I am tired of reading articles like this from expat coummnity lamenting the fact that Pakistan is going to dogs. Either you come back and contribute positively for the betterment of this country or just become productive citizen of what ever country you choose to stay in. But please stop writing negative blogs and posts and feeling sorry for Pakistan and people staying here. We can manage without you guys. Peace out.Recommend

  • Sarah B. Haider

    Thank you! Thank you so much for writing this truthful piece. People around me had frustrated me to the extent that I had started feeling like an outcast -thought for moment that the problem was not with people but with me. My views on the prevalent use of religion as a tool to mould things to one’s personal advantage became a menace for me, since the socio-economic class that I belong to finds it deviant, alien, and too bold for a woman to have a voice of her own
    Now I don’t hesitate to disregard the established, irrational norms of this confused society, to condemn the vices that are always condoned with the use of religious scriptures (extracted out of the context), to tell people straight forwardly that being an infidel is way better than being a hypocrite (munafiq).
    Sadly, however, I cannot flee from this land. I am a Pakistani Muslims who has to survive here with this hypocrisy, with the holier than thou attitude of the 90 percent, with the mockery I am subjected to whenever I talk about something rational, and with the tag of “deviant, pseudo liberal” attached with my name for no reason!Recommend

  • Iftikhar Ali

    MashalllahRecommend

  • Saira Saba

    very well described the bitter truth…. well expressed the feelings of most of the LOST Pakistani………. well done!Recommend

  • Anwar

    I left Pakistan 47 years ago. And now I am often astounded by the amount of religiosity on display in the present day Pakistan.

    The realization dawned on me o when I was jolted into confronting the reality as Salman Taseer was assassinated by his own guard in broad daylight and under the applauding gaze of a majority of the nation. It was a shock, an eye-opener for me – this was not the Pakistan I had known. It revealed to me the depth of extremist drift. I reckoned around me that Mumtaz Qadri is not just a man — he’s a mindset. Extremism permeates all strata and socio-economic groups within the society. Violent extremists may still make up a minority but extremism now enjoys popular support. Gun-trotting zealots apart, religiosity in Pakistan is now extremely stifling, pervasive, and grating. The myth of a ‘silent majority’ of moderates stands fully evaporated.

    Today Pakistan is a far cry from the Pakistan I grew up in. Although Mullahs –abetted and used by the unpopular rulers of the country and Pakistan Army- had started making inroads right from the time of its creation, Pakistan of up to seventies was a liberal and a peaceful country where sectarian divides were far less palpable than differences along ethnic or even political lines. I always grew up in multi-sect environments (comprising Bralevis, Deobandis, Shias, and Ahle-Hadith, and also Ismailis, Bohras, Ahmedis, and the then minorities alike) and while as we grew up we became aware of the existence of various schools of thought, we would never witness the kind of intolerance that is rife today. Religion, or the practice of it, was pretty much an individual business as if the society, like other human societies, lived up to the notions of spirituality being a human need. Then Zia’s missionary fervour backed by Saudi riches transformed the landscape. As Ayaz Amir once wrote: “Backed by state patronage, mullah power, hitherto not much of a factor in Pakistani politics, began to show its muscles. There was a ban on politics in any case. Apart from PTV, there was no other TV channel and even PTV was being conquered by the mullahs. Newspapers lay under a heavy blanket of censorship. The only thing to do under Zia was to either watch Indian movies at home or perform the various rituals of religious hypocrisy in public. The begums of the good and great, never behind their men folk in bowing to the prevailing wings, entered heavily into the business of arranging religious ceremonies (milads) under one pretext or another. Pakistan became a very pious and hypocritical society. Even army promotions began to be affected by one’s reputation for religious observance or otherwise.” Zia’s idea clearly was to increase Islamic traditions’ popular appeal by converting them into displays of piety and power imagery.

    Recommend

  • Ali

    When European countries will put their Muslim populations in concentration camps (happened with Jews in the 1940s) even a shed in Makran would be acceptable my friendRecommend

  • BlackJack

    Very interesting – a great read, and incredibly insightful.Recommend

  • Lubna Aziz

    Manal, you have my sympathy for the disappointments you faced here. But with all due respect, I do not agree when you blame religion for Pakistan’s shortcomings. Trust me, the people responsible for ruining Jinnah’s Pakistan are driven by selfishness, not religion.
    Yes, I know that you intend to condemn the act of religiousness put on by some people, who in their heart are all but driven by worldly desires. I have seen bearded maulvis ogling at girls. I have seen self righteous girls whose dupattas leave their heads the moment their ‘rishta’ is fixed. And I have seen the elite class of Pakistan living their ‘modern’ lifestyle too. I have lived here all my life, so I know. And it saddens me. Because in the end, a lot of people strive for wordly gains. They all want to be accepted and respected, no matter what they have to do to gain acceptance.
    But I feel, that even though that may not be your intention, you ended up blaming religion for the pitfalls Pakistan has faced as a society. I wish you had mentioned that Islam, in its essence eradicates superficiality and all the other evils plaguing our society. I’m sure you agree with me. We just wouldn’t want any youngsters to get the wrong idea that our religion is a nuisance or a hurdle in terms of social and economical progress.Recommend

  • sadia

    i went to UK and I had same experience , people are full of hatred they looked down upon me for being a south Asian girl . there are so many people like you there ,who are more than happy to be lowest in that hierarchy .they were so happy in those one bedroom flats where there is no sun , food was so crap it taste like mud . I did not had any equal rights and i was not respected . yes i do love freedom but wearing jeans and tight cloths is not my priory .their weekend culture was so disgusting . you are so happy in Spain ? tell me how many Spanish you know ?how many english friends you get their ? and when you were in US did you get to know any US family as friends ? if not then why ?do they think you are inferior than them ? do they always look down upon you ?

    you left Pakistan …great …staying here was not a favour to Pakistan . in twenty more years Pakistan will leave you too. have a good life in one bedroom flats and old houses .Recommend

  • st

    why ?????Recommend

  • Indian

    Very reasonable comment…esp.the last 2-3 lines. Liked the thought process.Recommend

  • Well …

    Sorry,that’s not going to happen.
    The reverse may happen, however …where in 50 years,the multiple children of immigrant muslims who’re today existing on Swedish govt.welfare/dole ask for Shariah to be established in Sweden or Germany..etc…Recommend

  • islooboy

    i tend to disagreeRecommend

  • islooboy

    not happeningRecommend

  • Falcon

    Simply loved your comment. Well articulatedRecommend

  • Humza

    I too would disagree- I see great hope for Pakistan; There is always hope as long as there are enlightened people to show the contrasts that exist in our society and work to better things instead of complaining. That’s why Pakistan is now seen as a democratic success in the West among Muslim countries compared to Arab countries, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iran etc. I think the writer hit the nail on the head when she pointed out that there are many Pakistans- one for the rich and one for the poor. She can choose her own social circle of like minded Pakistanis and build the kind of Pakistan she wishes to she. In the context of Lahore and Punjab there is no discussion about violence and instability which is an issue in other parts of the country like Karachi but the she has the luxury of being from Punjab.Recommend

  • Ali

    Why cant we just let Manal express her ideas ad actually take a moment to reflect on her thoughts. It hurts when I see some comments asking manal to return and blah blah blah. Let her express! Manal keep writing!Recommend

  • Danial

    Im sorry but you have no right to pass judgements on something you hardly know, i.e. Pakistan. Did you ever speak to a common man? Did you ever realise how different your life is from the common man. Is it not unreasonable then to expect them to share your views about society, and life in general.

    And you talk about religion? Religion in Pakistan isnt truly practiced, it is only commercialised. If you were true to your self and Pakistan, you would have utilised your intellectual prowess to help this nation. Perhaps, Pakistan was only a little stop for your life, which you didnt like, so you criticize. Please take into consideration that people exist in this nation who love it, it is dear to them, so respect them.

    Enjoy your time in Madrid.

    Please dont impliedly criticize Islam. Take me for a mullah, but it is the perfect religion! Recommend

  • Nero

    She has every right to write her opinions on a blog. These are her feelings, not yours. Portraying someone’s experiences as negative, just because you feel uncomfortable with them, is just running away from reality.Recommend

  • Jazib

    Here’s another piece from someone who “claims” to have a soft corner for Pakistan and Pakistanis, yet doesn’t posses the courage to be a part of the change they want to see. It must have been very easy for you to think about and to write this article over a cup of your fancy Mocha Cappuccinos, but I’m sure you really had no intentions of doing something good for the country.
    It’s good u came back to Pakistan, had a nice 18 months partying, going on trips, admiring the natural beauty of the country, but all of this doesn’t give u any right to go on about these critical issues.
    If you really care, then think of doing something about it, as a phrase says “it is far better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”. So if you can’t light a candle, please don’t spread the darkness either. :)Recommend

  • HST

    Sir, I understand your point that due to some Uneducated people and clerks, you have moved away from Islam but there are many good scholars also. I hope and pray that you come back to the path of Islam.Recommend

  • Nero

    If following a religion (any religion) “blindly” can lead to all the problems, how can you blame the people? Don’t all religions demand complete faith?Recommend

  • Fanarl

    Why even bother commenting when you left the country 47 years ago? All your perspective and knowledge comes from the Western backed media. Obviously, you would only find the negative things in the country. Simple logic.Recommend

  • Asad Malik

    The elite class you are taking about is the pseudo intellectual crowd running and prancing around. I come from a well off family and I have friends who would make these elites look like paupers. The only difference is, they don’t show off their wealth, nor indulge in such pseudo-social behaviors described by you. There’s a completely different side of society which you unfortunately have no clue about.

    I see attending Berkeley and spending time with the tree-hugging pot smoking crowed which is pretty widespread in Berkeley changed your perspective. All you need to do is drive down to LA and see the exact same materialistic egoistic society you talk about. These people exist everywhere, not just Lahore.Recommend

  • Abid Javed

    I dont understand why Religion is described as the cause of all the Crap that is happening to this country. The Life you ought to lead in this ELITE world of yours is the not defined by our Religion ISLAM in the first place.

    I am sorry but having a point of view on the basis of Religion & that also which you don’t know enough about, I will rather define it as your lack of incompetence as a writer having not carried out your homework pretty well but defining your whole ideology of Islam as to what happened to you during the 18 months stay in Pakistan.Recommend

  • sorry abt ur comment

    you think so?Recommend

  • Think again …

    I tend to agree with your point of view..but the author must Not be asked to Not write a blog with her accurate assessment…(that sums up to people living in denial & faux patriotism )
    If you don’t analyse/diagnose/correctly identify the disease…how can you start the right treatment ?
    Her diagnosis is spot on & your comment is a small part of the overall treatment..
    Recommend

  • grapefruit

    Very disappointing and baseless blog.I wonder why writer even bothered to write her pathetic thoughts.Recommend

  • Annie

    I am sorry, but I cannot take a person seriously when they claim that religiosity is more damaging to a country than economic divisiveness between the rich and the poor. I am not even sure which religiosity she is pointing towards because if Pakistan was truly religious there would have been simplicity in our lives, majority of the people would not be hypocrites and there would be a better balance between rich and poor.She claims to be enlightened and on the basis of what? The education that her parents were able to give her in foreign countries. What is the percentage of people in Pakistan who can afford such a privilege? She is looking at the problem from the surface of the murky pond that is Pakistan, not wanting to take the risk of diving inside to find the real reasons behind it’s murkiness.Recommend

  • Oh dear

    My heart aches to read this. Your comment resonates with truth & anguish.
    It’s agonizing to hang on to convictions when you’re in a negative environment that doesn’t validate your logic.Recommend

  • Alann

    The problem is not the author and the people like her. The problem is the government and the military. The problem is the illiteracy and rising poverty. The problem is the rising extremism based on religiosity and the failure to separate it from one’s daily life. Pakistan has become a ship which is fast sinking because the people at the top do not care and they have failed to provide security to the masses.
    No business can flourish, no one even feels like striving for the betterment of such a place where there is no political will. Too many wrong decisions taken over last 67 years and yet the country’s so-called rulers are still in denial mode. Some day they will either simply die of old death after looting everyone & living a lavish lifestyle for years to come, or they will run away to their “second homes” in other countries if the people start to rise & ask questions.
    When there is a change in the mindset of the masses, all others who have fled their homes would start coming back to make it an even better place. But until then, people like the author will continue to leave their land in search of a better place where they & their family can feel safe and flourish. It is not right to blame the author for running away, major blame lies with the “half-dead zombies” in Pakistan, who themselves have given up hope and are happy to put the blame for everything on “others”. India used to have a large brain drain till few decades ago when the brightest left for US & elsewhere, now they have slowly started returning back to India as conditions improve and are setting up businesses here contributing to India’s steady rise on the global stage.Recommend

  • Dr.Anon

    Sorry,you’re wrong.No white person looks down at an Asian who is highly educated,cultured,polished,well read & articulate. They may sneer at those who aren’t polished (that happens in south Asia too)
    You may want to rethink WHY your experience was different.Recommend

  • Hmm …

    Can you explain why misinterpretations of religious texts by followers of other religions,haven’t wrecked an equal amount of havoc/controversy & loss of life in this century on different continents (from Nigeria to Indonesia to Chechnya to the world trade centre) ? Recommend

  • Naveen

    If every enlightened well off Pakistani thought like the author, there would be nobody left to take that place out of rut. As Kennedy once said- Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.Recommend

  • Ex-Karachite/Torontonian

    Manal – you have articulated my thoughts exactly. There are times I want to go back but convince myself that the place I grew up doesn’t exist anymore. It was been hijacked by fundamentalists and corrupt politicians. There are days I feel guilt and as Mohammed Hanif put it a vague feeling of duty to partake in the suffering of the people I left behind. There are days when the mix of guilt and nostalgia are so overpowering, I contemplate returning. But most days, I am at peace living in a country where I have rights and freedoms.Recommend

  • Ex-Karachiite/Torontonian

    Manal – you have articulated my thoughts exactly. There are times I want to go back but convince myself that the place I grew up doesn’t exist anymore. It was been hijacked by fundamentalists and corrupt politicians. There are days I feel guilt and as Mohammed Hanif put it I feel a vague feeling of duty to partake in the suffering of the people I left behind. There are days when the mix of guilt and nostalgia are so overpowering, I contemplate returning. But most days, I am at peace living in a country where I have rights and freedoms.Recommend

  • Mr.Blue

    why would you ? this all sounds very real to meRecommend

  • Syed Bushra

    Completely agree.

    Basically, its internet activist “wanna-be-Gandhi-types” offering “long distance advice” and spreading wisdom to the “natives” from a Café in “Madrid”.

    Yet these people have no answer when the same foreigner say,“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”Recommend

  • Syed Bushra

    Filing this under “yet another long distance advice” from someone who isn’t willing to contribute back.

    What is it that JFK said? “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

    Doesn’t JFK know the importance of long distance advice?Recommend

  • siesmann

    fighting inequality?Look what happened to Malala.Listening to a different view-point has become an anathema to many Pakistanis.The author’s moving abroad or your staying home doesn’t change the condition Pakistan is in today.Admitting what is wrong with the society opens the way to making it right.Denial can be a nice coping mechanism,but not healthy.It just prolongs the pain.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Exactly what the author is saying.Recommend

  • jin

    Most people would die to return back to their home city and I am sad and hurt to read how brutally u have bashed our beloved Lahore.
    This is what I believe. People see what they want to see. Having lived all my life in Lahore, belonging to a religious family, I have hardly ever seen people stuffing religion down other people. Even if they did, I simply ignored or didn’t try to remember because it SHOULD NOT BOTHER ME!! We are inherently free and we have always been free to do what we want.

    How does one auntie talking about prayer causes u to move abroad? Its a really sad state of affairs of how the people have come to perceive their own country. Im sad to think about all the wonderful times you mentioned here in Lahore, that u failed to TRULY enjoy them and then even decided to share this misery on other people through this blog. Utterly disappointed.

    Why did you even come here and wrote a blog about it? Adding insult to injury I guess.Recommend

  • siesmann

    All societies have their zealots. The difference is the way the society deals with it.Tolerating,not drawing a line beyond which nobody should be allowed to step, is a recipe for disasters.Zealots are always vocal ,and more active in advancing their view-points. Every victory over the society by them makes them bolder and reckless.And winners always draw more adherents ,and so their grip on the society keeps on increasing.And slowly there comes a point of no return. The societies need to keep a vigilant eye for trouble,and draw lines which nobody should be allowed to cross under any pretext.Only then the society can assure its survival and avoid chaos.Recommend

  • Adnan Qamar

    Yes, I see a lot of ‘superficial’ religion in my country but I also see people who are on the other extreme end; people who believe in ‘same sex’ marriages, who drink and gamble and are cut off from the cultures and norms of our country. We are not the United States or Spain or any other of your ‘sane and happy’ country but at least we never gave up on the people of this land. And what do you do? We are neither ‘goras’ and nor do we want this ‘superficial’ religion. We are proud Pakistanis and Muslims and we will never give up on this country. We have a separate culture and identity and yes the times are bad but we pray and work for the betterment of our country. Recommend

  • Sucha

    Same old same old ramblings of the self righteous elite …when invited to the unjust party’s at farmhouses did we say” no” we cannot come because it is wrong to have fun while so many starve …Hell no! we went along and partied all night ….so why the tears ? Give thanks that you are not a poor person from Pakistan …Recommend

  • bigsaf

    He was full of criticisms about Pakistan. Where did you get the impression he moved away from Islam? Pakistan IS NOT Islam. You highlight exactly the probablematic irrational petro-dollar driven false-piety mindsets he complains about and sees little hope for in his native Pak.Recommend

  • Cobra Commander

    Plenty of people have already assessed whats wrong with our country. Day in day out I read blogs where people discuss whats wrong with Pakistan and her people but whats the solution to fix the problem? Running away from Pakistan on one pretext and other is not a solution. I have an issue when people from far away write down articles criticising everything and expecting us, the ones who are living in Pakistan, to fix things. So these people expect us to fix the issues, end militancy, end religious intolerence , improve the economy etc etc so they can move back and live life in peace and harmony. Where is the dedication to fight for the country? If people who are suppose to start the right treatment decide to run away from Pakistan than no one will be left to administer the medicine. The Pakistani elite is fickle , we ( I am part of it) sucked the life out of millions of our brethern and when the life becomes a bit tough we are leaving the country in droves.Recommend

  • bigsaf

    Such brave idealism should be appreciated and points on the elite and negativity are valid. But some people have tried to go back, help and readjust, but simply can not do it.

    Not everybody can continue to manage there due to the situation and circumstances, which aren’t easy, and do want or need an opportunity to get out.Recommend

  • bigsaf

    The reactions after Taseer’s assassination was a watershed moment for a lot of Pakistani moderates who were in denial about how bad Pak’s extremism had gotten but finally realized they were not the ‘silent majority’, but the silent minority.Recommend

  • bigsaf

    Why do right-wing nationalists feel so little, dig themselves further in isolated hostility and act sensitive to objective negative criticism from anyone perceived viewing from outside?

    Perhaps he’s still fond and concerned for the old country he came from? How do you know he doesn’t stay in touch with folks back home or even visited?

    Western backed media, has a lot of good journalism, if one were to look past their own anti-West paranoid sentiments and propagandistic delusions. Besides there’s ET and Dawn. There’s negative things reported mostly from the troubled Pak state, because there’s a lot of it. I think that be simpler logic than irrational conspiracist denial.Recommend

  • bigsaf

    So what is your solution? Adopt your type of Islam Sharia only? What if someone disagrees and out-Muslims you? In the States you’d realize how the Republican party has played the ‘God’ card and who their constituents are. What does it say about them religiously and ideologically?

    Wouldn’t it not be practical to save Islam from being exploited or abused nationally by munafiq/hypocrites or public mob extremists in Pakistan by separating it from government power at least because it can be so superstitiously invoked for selfish power and not be made a criteria against others? Simply saying that people don’t know what true Islam is doesn’t help in undoing the false piety and self-righteousness that is easily practised…Recommend

  • bigsaf

    There is something called religious hypocrisy and we need to stop downplaying it, which is equally responsible for downgrading Jinnah’s nation. Do you think discriminatory or enacted religious laws are simply borne out of ‘selfishness’ alone without some ideological or prejudiced rhetoric? We are also quite dishonest with our ills due to bias.

    Yes, when we practice fake religiosity, wearing it falsely on our sleeves, particularly ones with questionable ideologies and intolerant practices, rather than simple good non-judgemental tolerant Islamic practices, it does become a nuisance and a hurdle in our social and economical progress.Recommend

  • bigsaf

    To be fair there are non-Muslim religo-political militias and extremists who do prong up time to time and I wouldn’t discount the other non-Muslim racial religious nationalist movements and states in the 20th century either compared to this relatively young 21st century.

    Having said that, unfortunately we do have to admit there is a global ideological crisis of religio-political Sunni Islamist extremism particularly of the Wahhabi/Salafi jihadist kind, apart from other violent or militant religious, ethnic, political groups and threats.Recommend

  • Well …

    The answer to all the people quoting Kennedy is,you can come and work on your poor country,but it’ll progress for a while and go back to the dogs again,if the bigger issue of the bizzare national psyche of ‘holy pakistan’ &’everyone’s conspiring against us’- isn’t fixed first.
    Obviously the author can’t change the country’s psyche..&any effort she puts in here economically,to fix the country,is a total waste till then.So better,than living among self-righteous angry patriots in denial is a wiser choice ..
    Everyone who’s stubbornly scolding Manal here,is basically proving her point by showing,how much denial they live in about their virulent holiness..Recommend

  • Denialistan

    Democratic success…great hope…
    I just read an article here, where pakistanis are praising Hafiz Sayid…the same chap who offered prayers for osama bin laden..
    I think the author hasn’t even written the entire truth about how bad the national mentality really is ..
    Salman Taseer’s shameful assassination & bin ladens residence are just the tip of the iceberg..
    This titanic is goin down ..author,stay put in Madrid !Recommend

  • Shahid Javed

    I live in Sydney. No doubt its one of the best cities in the world and peace, tolerance, multiculturalism and tolerance for others have made it such a wonderful place to live. In spite of this I feel proud to say that LAHORE is a far better city. No place like Lahore in the whole world,

    All we need is to develop a sense of tolerance and respect for others. We must adopt simplicity in our life styles.Recommend

  • Honest

    It’s ironic that you missed another elephant in the room: the production line of corrupt Grammarians and Aitchisonians that constitutes your social class. These are the people who are in all the important decision making positions of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Well …

    She did administer the right treatment-she wrote an article with a diagnosis (to start the process of introspection)..that’s the starting, before the treatment.
    Her physical location doesn’t matter (till the national psyche changes in a few decades-people here can’t even tolerate Malala..a barometer of the pak psyche..)
    When the national psyche changes-the author can be scolded for not contributing to the pak economy [ until then any effort put in here can be wasted as things can go backwards with this cultish religious mindset ,installed by zia in the 80’s ( just like the well endowed pak of 50’s-’60-’70’s has slid backwards today,inspite of the headstart it had over India(drought & famine),with east pakistani tax money & theft from the American funds meant for the Afghan mujahideen battling the Soviets in the Afghan-Soviet war) ]Recommend

  • Real patriotism

    She didn’t bash Lahore…re-read & figure out what she’s actually bashing.
    She wrote a blog because she loves her country & wants to point out whats wrong with it,so that it can be fixed.Recommend

  • Nb

    Isn’t your comment directed at cobra commander & not at indian.
    You seem to have clicked the wrong reply to type your remark.Recommend

  • Someone

    If every pakistani thought like the author-then problem solved.
    The mammoth task of changing the national,hyper religious,Zia arab psyche is gone.
    Nation building & economy building won’t be so laborious after that.Recommend

  • Arsalan

    Wow. Wonder what you thought you were possibly contributing to the conversation. So you went, you analyzed, and you left. This article is an insult to all the people working for change in Lahore. By the way, newsflash: Lahore has been warm for hundreds of years – what else were you expecting? Your observation about what life would look like in ten years is entirely one person’s opinion, and a result of the fact that you were either unwilling to or unable to think of creative solutions to the problems you were observing in society. Residents of that same Lahore have racked up significant achievements in the past few years, in arts, economic development, social work, politics. Instead of actually getting engaged in one of these fields, and taking on the challenge and hard task of trying to produce change, you chose the convenient route of criticism from somewhat of a distance.Recommend

  • Arsalan

    And second, step out of the apartment and speak to that Bengali street vendor and ask him about the disparity in Spain. You will likely find his answer enlightening.Recommend

  • elahi

    Excellant reply.Recommend

  • N

    Not ‘enlightening’ enough to make pakistan look any better..Recommend

  • Jia

    manal is right and realistic in her discourse. sadly, however, the overwhelming feel from the article is ‘disappointing’ and depreciative of Pakistan. When the article began, i was so swayed with the beauty of the places and the things she mentioned about Pakistan, that the stuff that came afterwards dint seem to break that spell. besides, religion isnt what we see around. its something inside. If one gets frustrated by the quest for self-righteousness and piety, that only explains why we pay heed to things that shouldnt matter. Supposing manal was dissatisfied with the kind of religion she sees here, i hope she found better in Madrid. Although i dont think you find ‘religion’ as such a thing in real. Its got to with ‘YOU’ and your insides. Nontheless, loved reading it. Cheers ^.^Recommend

  • asadkhan

    I think, we should love our country, what ever it is, rich or poor it is our country. I would like ask simply question that, what you can do for your country. if you qualified PhD after getting your PhD, settled abroad and writing some comments and criticism and blogs in prominent English newspapers in Pakistan. is that your job? still I am confused that, what we do for Pakistan? . my observation generally, Pakistanis are great people, with great culture and there is room for reformatory in the society. only Pakistanis need such genuine good leadership, but who are expecting to be leaders, those are running away and writing criticism? . I think, that is not to be. we all must live in Pakistan give our time and dedication what we can do. first thing first is, we must bring drastic reforms in education then, people of Pakistan will understand what is good and what is bad. but still it is striking me who are educated, what are they doing for Pakistan?
    only criticizing. we must take a stance for our country. Pakistan is beautiful country. we should love our country with heartily.Recommend

  • Sane

    I appreciate your comments. Mostly you are reasonable and display rationale. You are not like other Indian fanatics.Recommend

  • Hasnain Ali Syed

    Although i completely understand this perspective of hers, also, the fact that she says she does not really fit in the ‘elite’ class, the class she actually belongs to.. makes it a good blog to read for us and thus, portrays her as the ‘naive uptown girl’ who is rich but really pious at heart. kudos to her for that,
    but come to know of it, what she perceives about the country’s detrimental condition, is, beg her pardon, entitely wrong. Religion, has never, and will never be a mere cause for any of the countrymen to land in a predicament as of present! religion, or in her words, ‘too much religion’ can NEVER jeopardize the life of the practician, infact it steers his life into the right direction, on track and thus alleviates distress and unrest amongst masses!
    But, this, totally is a perspective of my own and it may have to do with the fact that i believe to find answers for everything in the religion itself. i am conservative when it comes to religion and im proud of it. and if you also agree with me then it means that we are from that ‘other pakistan’ she talked about… the truth is, its not her mistake, she belongs to the class where ‘religion’ is not the first priority and hence is weakly understood in her family. she is a little better human than others in her circle, which is why she atleast feels ‘confused’ because i am sure, the rest in her family wouldnt even have this confusion and would still idealise the alcohol-filled-dance-party life of theirs!
    Manal is herself struggling as a Muslim, i reckon, if she wasnt, she’d have understood what serenity of mind it had to offer to all the ones that believed in it and followed it! May Allah guide her!
    p.s: we all are entitled to our own opinion! id like you all to respect mine :)
    also, ignore my grammar!:)Recommend

  • Faulitics

    is the the author making you feel uncomfortable by her observations on society?Recommend

  • Faulitics

    you don’t?Recommend

  • wj

    Saira saba from the British Council ??Recommend

  • HST

    Please Read Mr Rolls Royce other comments. He has clearly said that he has left Islam, and religion makes good people do bad things.Recommend

  • Faulitics

    You make no sense. Do you realize that? The author talks about how false piety and religious extremism is destroying society and what exactly are you talking about?Recommend

  • Faulitics

    Its a question of degree. I am sure they have false piety in Spain also. But honestly….Do you think the Spaniards can beat pakistan in that game of false pity and religious fundamentalism? You are just setting up a false equivalence as a defensive mechanism.Recommend

  • Hasnain Ali Syed

    Although i completely understand this perspective of hers, also, the fact that she says she does not really fit in the ‘elite’ class, the class she actually belongs to.. makes it a good blog to read for us and thus, portrays her as the ‘naive uptown girl’ who is rich but really pious at heart. kudos to her for that,
    but come to know of it, what she perceives about the country’s detrimental condition, is, beg her pardon, entitely wrong. Religion, has never, and will never be a mere cause for any of the countrymen to land in a predicament as of present! religion, or in her words, ‘too much religion’ can NEVER jeopardize the life of the practician, infact it steers his life into the right direction, on track and thus alleviate distress and unrest amongst masses!
    But, this, totally is a perspective of my own and it may have to do with the fact that i believe to find answers for everything in the religion itself. i am conservative when it comes to religion and im proud of it. and if you also agree with me then it means that we are from that ‘other pakistan’ she talked about… the truth is, its not her mistake, she belongs to the class where ‘religion’ is not the first priority and hence is weakly understood in her family. she is a little better human than others in her circle, which is why she atleast feels ‘confused’ because i am sure, the rest in her family wouldnt even have this confusion and would still idealise the alcohol-filled-dance-party life of theirs!
    Manal is herself struggling as a Muslim, i reckon, if she wasnt, she’d have understood what serenity of mind it had to offer to all the ones that believed in it and followed it! May Allah guide her!
    p.s: we all are entitled to our own opinion! id like you all to respect mine :)
    Recommend

  • Hs

    It is a good thing that you have not left the country. We need rational people, otherwise this entire country will convert into a mental asylum.Recommend

  • naveed

    too bad pakistanis feel so bad about living in their own country. especially when no other country wants to give them any visa. in 2014 the % of pakistanis deported made up more than 75% of total deports from this country… simply because they dont fit in the western culture. (note that muslims from iran and other northern african countries are seldomly deported).
    sucks to be a pakistani in todays world.Recommend

  • Grace

    The sad reality of how most migrants live in Europe is known to us all! When you see so many 3rd world people living on welfare with no jobs in dirty slums in the UK, it can only tell you there is a problem in the UK. PS I’ve travelled there many times and yes not just BNP racists but a lot of common British are sick of colured people from poor countries living on welfare benefits in the UK.Recommend

  • JustMe

    buddy she is not criticizing Islam. infact she is not talkin about Islam at all. she is criticizing Muslims. and on that she is spot onRecommend

  • JustMe

    which UK u r talkin about? is it United Kingdom or like Columbus you have found a new UK? cos last time i checked racism in UK is far lesser than Australia, Canada and other EU states :)Recommend

  • JustMe

    Christianity is 650 older than Islam. and there was also a time in Christian history where Christians had sects among them and were at war to annihilate each other. they also suppressed other religions and opposed modern sciences. they declared many scientists as wizards and killed them infact still under Vatican laws postmortem of a dead body is not permitted.

    at the moment Islam is going through that phase and shall be out of it soon.Recommend

  • SBH

    I agree with the points you have made in your comment. They rightly point out the functioning of a feudal cum capitalist society. However, I guess you misunderstood the point. The author talks of the growing religiosity in the country. How everyone has become a self-appointed judge of other’s actions in this country. How EVERYTHING in life is seen through a religious lens. How people easily get away with all the wrong doings in life through the use of religion. This is, indeed, very suffocating. The majority might be okay with this since they have become highly conditioned to this behaviour, however, those who somehow are able to realise this hypocrisy and try to go against this are conveniently labelled “outcasts” even athiests -though they are not!Recommend

  • bigsaf

    I apologize. Should have made it more clear to what you were responding to though. It is also still not addressing the specific comment and concerns here and gives the wrong impression.

    Somebody on the other comments claimed that I was ‘abusing Islam and Pakistan’, hence questioning me religiously and nationally, on my criticisms on Pak and highlighting of religious extremism. So I was a little wound up. Sorry.Recommend

  • gp65

    Salute your patriotism and understand your point of view. I partially agree. YEs of course it would be best if elites concerned about the direction the country is going in, chose to live and work i Pakistan to set things right. Do not however undermine the contribution that can be made by those who love the country living outside it as well.Recommend

  • Indian

    Thank you,much appreciated.There are others who share my chosen nickname.
    Happy Bakrid, to all.Recommend

  • Naveen

    An Ordinary Pakistani has no time for thinking what the author thinks. Only the ‘Enlightened’ ones have the spare time and resources. It is upto these people to stay put in that country and guide the country in right path instead of leaving for greener pastures.Recommend

  • Waqac

    He has done exactly what you’re doing.
    Nature !Recommend

  • GV

    “Where is the dedication to fight for the country?” How are you and others you are exhorting to fight, will do so for the country, when the other side has sofisticated weapons with outdated medieval ideas with an aim to establish islamic shariah in the country. Not only that, they want this in entire non-muslim countries and you can see the result in Europe already. Within 100yrs, Europe will islamic shariah (already in part of England), then you have to think of escape from those lands.Recommend

  • GV

    Did you ever try to accept their culture so that they can invite you into their homes, or did you complain and fight for your religious rights and showed them how they on the false path.Recommend

  • GV

    If that is the only way cancer of jihadi terrorism can be stopped, so be it, although I am more concerned that Europe will become like Pak/Afganistan in 100 yrs. Already part of Europe is no-go for the police where shariah is implemented.Recommend

  • Malik Awan

    I think religiosity effects Muslims/Pakistanis in the West more. I grew up in North America and I think the number of aunties justifying their gossip by wearing hijabs and bearded uncles behaving like they are God’s chosen people just because they moved to out of Pakistan exceeds the zealots in Pakistan. In Pakistan, it’s a struggle for survival, only the elite can afford to sip lattes and wonder what went wrong.Recommend

  • Ganaja

    I agree with Sadia. They do look down at most foreigners. Their hatred of their ‘own’ not polished, cultured, educated people is mild. It is like an English hating a German but considering him equal. Same is not true when they hate a South Asian. They are considered lower level people.Recommend

  • well-wisher

    You missed the elephant in the room: the corrupt elite class which includes some of your peers, class-fellows, family-friends etc etc.Recommend

  • Syed Bushra

    First, you’re trying to make this a chicken and egg problem with your circular logic i.e. “first fix the people then the country” since the people can’t be fixed why fix the country? That’s a very bizarre worldview. In reality, it doesn’t matter where you start or you have a “perfect” start, all that matters is that you make a start.

    Second, you can’t expect everyone on this planet to agree with you or your vision of Pakistan. Pakistan means different things to different people. There is nothing “patriotic” about what I said. I just told the truth. Isn’t the author passing off long distance advice while placing bets elsewhere?
    If you like to be “rational” then at least make a rational argument rather than relying on red herrings.Recommend