This is what ‘Pakistan’ means to me

Published: October 21, 2013

They say that there’s no place like home. I say there’s definitely no place like Pakistan – my home. PHOTO: REUTERS

Walking or driving around the streets of my country, I can never give words to the mix of feelings and emotions that I experience. Is it the sense of belonging, which I never feel anywhere else in the world? Is it patriotism which brings tears to my eyes whenever I see a little boy running around the streets with a giant Pakistan flag?

Driving by the Mazar-e-Quaid waving flags. Photo: Muhammad Noman

“Why do you like Pakistan so much?”

“Why would you want to live here when everyone here wants to leave?”

“What is so good about Pakistan?”

These are the questions which have been hounding me for the last few weeks. However, the most poignant question, which left me speechless was,

“What is Pakistan to you?”

I had looked dumbly at the person asking me this question, but as the days went by I kept asking myself the same thing. Now that I am sitting at the airport waiting to board my flight back to London, I think I might have a few answers.

So, what is Pakistan to me?

Pakistan is my naani, coating my paratha with four spoonfuls of desi ghee (clarified butter) and insisting on adding more.

Pakistan is the rickshaw driver in Peshawer and the kind-hearted Tangay-wala (horse-drawn carriage) in Lahore, both of whom refused to take money from me when they found out that I was a visitor in their city.

Pakistan is standing on the side of a busy road in Islamabad eating rait wali chhalli (sand-roasted corn on the cob).

Corn is roasted in sand and topped with lemon and masala for that added zing. Photo: Farah Kamal

Pakistan is that precious dua (prayer) bestowed upon me by the needy old man at the traffic signal in Rawalpindi.

Pakistan is sitting in the lawn until the early hours of morning sharing life experiences and wisdom with my Khaala (maternal aunt).

Pakistan is walking through the fields and basking in the fresh air of the countryside.

Pakistan is sitting on a charpai (rope-woven bed) in the middle of nowhere and having halwa puri for breakfast.

Pakistan is being taught how to drive a tractor by my uncles, and of course failing miserably.

Pakistan is the quaint streets of Anarkali Bazaar and trying my best not to get lost in its beauty.

The popular food street of Anarkali Bazaar, Lahore. Photo: AFP

Pakistan is that friendly banter of the infamous hijra’s (eunuchs) of F10, who would shout Harry Potter whenever they would see me.

Pakistan is that refreshingly cold glass of lassi on a hot summer day.

Pakistan is the fresh gannay ka juice (sugar cane juice) from street vendors.

Pakistan is those millions of people, who constantly live in fear but still hold fast to their resilience and conviction of a better tomorrow.

Pakistan is the joy that the first rain of the monsoon brings to the faces of the eldest and the youngest.

Pakistan is the kid playing in the rain like it’s the ultimate bliss in the world.

Nothing more blissful than getting soaked in the rain. Photo: AFP

Pakistan is trying to eat the spiciest gol gappay.

Pakistan is the pride of the wife of a martyred soldier.

Pakistan is my mother’s maid Munazza, who would do everything I asked her to, with the brightest smile on her face.

Pakistan is the serenity in the air, right after a heavy downpour.

Pakistan is those thousands of trucks on the road, each one of them more colourful than the other.

Truck art is the pride and heritage of Pakistan. Photo: Matthias Barth

Pakistan is the smile on an old mother’s face when her son comes home from the border.

Pakistan is those long hours of power cuts, but it’s also the unforgettable stories shared during those hours.

Candle lit dinners courtesy power cuts in Pakistan. Photo: Reuters/File

Pakistan is those millions of poor people, but it is also the undying love those people have for their country.

Pakistan is all of these things. However, more than anything else, Pakistan for me is home.

They say that there’s no place like home. I say there’s definitely no place like Pakistan – my home.

Saad Hafeez

Saad Hafeez

A British Pakistani living and studying in London.

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

  • Shakir Lakhani

    How can Pakistan be your home when you’re living in the U.K.?Recommend

  • Muhammad Saim

    Ah ! yet another ILU ILU for Pakistan by a British Pakistani living in London….
    If Pakistan means any thing to you come and live here and contribute……what stops you?Recommend

  • harry potier

    Subhanallah! Mashallah! Jazakalla-khair!Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Well, if this was the way most people defined Pakistan in the 1940s, there would have been no partition, since practically every line sounds like India. However, sounds straight from the heart, good job.Recommend

  • Muhammad Saim

    yet another ILU ILU from a British living in safe heavens of London !
    if you love the land so much, come and deliver….what stops youRecommend

  • blue bird

    nice ….straight from Dil Se !!Recommend

  • Cynical Spectator

    Either the Pakistani escapes in deluded conspiracy theories or he or she paints some idyllic picture of Pakistan. Both extremes are holding the country back, with no prospect of improvement.Recommend

  • TheAverageMoe

    So you think we created another country for lassi and seekh kebobs?

    Or were you expecting the author to write about Islam?Recommend

  • Anon

    Don’t pay attention to the haters dude. Great piece! Recommend

  • LalaMujahid

    Keep dreaming..dreams have no money in them…and even if we dream…that should atleast be pragmatic….take my words..after 2014..something big is going to happen….Recommend

  • Amer

    I love your blog and it deserves an honest comment. I have lived all my life outside of Pakistan, grew up in Saudia, studied/worked in a major US city while in college, worked in different parts of the world before ending up in outback Australia now. There is no place on earth like our land but the fear of my loved ones getting in kidnapped, murdered, robbed at gun point or made a ‘missing person’, is more then enough to keep me away. It’s like a house that my parents and grandparents built with their blood and tears after leaving India in 1947 but today that house is burning and the only thing most of us can do is stand outside, hope that some day that fire would stop burning and we can go inside. Most of my relatives live in Pakistan, some of them are there by choice like my khaloo would was a prominent property dealer in Islamabad but was killed last Ramadan, then burnt in his own car.

    His family knows the killers but feel very helpless since the police is also kept quite by them and don’t want to register an FIR. Everyone loves their life my friend and maybe some of us prefer not to be killed by NAMALOOM AFRAAD or get burnt in our own cars! That is the reality of our beloved Pakistan.Recommend

  • blue bird

    well it looks like it was created for all the wrong reasons because as i see it, between india and pakistan only lassi and seekh kababs are common these days , pakistan got islam and lost stability , social harmony.Recommend

  • Shahab

    Awkward moment for Pakistanis when most of the stated things match with India as well.
    But nonetheless a great piece nice to read it!Recommend

  • TheAverageMoe

    That’s what your textbooks teach you, most Indians don’t believe that Pakistan is a sovereign state, not now, not since 9/11 but since 1947, your leader Nehru always talked about ‘reunification’, you guys never moved on.

    “between india and pakistan only lassi and seekh kababs are common these days”

    Yeah, in Pakistan we don’t have HUGE slums, nor do we have as much poverty on par with sub-Saharan Africa(which you do), nor does half our population defecate in the open.

    Your astronomical growth rates mean nothing to the average Indian, even those GDP growth rates you love to brag about have slowed down, the man that coined the acronym ‘BRICS’ said he would leave the I out BRICS now.

    It’s good you acknowledge we’re not the same, nor do we look the same.Recommend

  • AP

    Better you come back and i will go in place of you….Recommend


    The food looks so tasty in the above picture. I would love to be there right now.

    Ali KhanRecommend

  • Ghost

    what did secular india got??? Gujrat roits, khalistan, naxalites, poverty…need i say more?Recommend

  • Ghost
  • Shah

    To all those going off about the author living in Britain etc. This guy has described the positives of Pakistan and the little things that make it ‘home’ despite the fact that he lives abroad. Which is a million times better than sitting in Pakistan, eating away at its resources and STILL bad mouthing it.
    Ps. Please tell me how many of you have gotten the opportunity to go and live abroad and turned it down because of your own free will. Or better, please state which one of you was abroad but returned to serve the country and solely for your “love of Pakistan”. You guys are such ridiculous hypocrites that its almost funny. Recommend

  • Osama Sajid

    Yahi Pehchaan Thi Meri Har Pehchaan Se Pehley Bhi
    Pakistan Ka Shehri Tha Mein Pakistan Se Pehley BhiRecommend

  • Parvez

    All you have said is that you can get out of Pakistan, but you can’t get Pakistan out of you………….and you said it very well.Recommend

  • Mars

    Sums up exactly how I feel about Pakistan…sitting 7000 miles away :/Recommend

  • Carl

    Why is this guy getting on a plane back to London if he loves Pakistan so much. Truly bizarre.Recommend

  • Pasanni

    Despite the fact that i have come to the US for only a month and few days, i still want to go back to my country as soon as possible, I love you I love you Pakistan.. :)Recommend

  • Zahra

    quick question..if an arab christian uses these words does it have the same religious connotation? Just a thought..Recommend

  • Itsova

    Partition was a must. Joint rule is impossible due to the inherent contradiction between the ideologies of the two groups and one group would have to be subservient to the other and/or compromise their beliefs and potential.

  • Ajay

    Believing in extremes- is there a name for this disease?Recommend

  • Ajay

    Gujrat riots- once in 67 years, driven by a trigger. In Pakistan people get killed daily for no reason.

    Poverty is a common 3rd world problem driven by corruption and lack of social programs. At least in India, we have taken steps with reservations & welfare laws.

    Nxalites- again corruption driven since their lands were taken away for industry without properly accommodating them. Unlike Pakistan, our problems are not religion driven which are of a very dangerous kind.

    Khalistan- is it a problem?Recommend

  • Muhammad Saim

    Shah g,

    Take a deep breath and a glass of water !!

    Your argument that living abroad is better than sitting in Pakistan, eating
    away at its resources and STILL bad mouthing it….is rather little bizarre and
    speaks of your own negativity. I say, sitting in London and writing blogs about
    Pakistan is as useless as sitting and Pakistan and bad mouthing, both do no
    harm no benefit. But if you truly love Pakistan then live here and deliver
    positively. Few nice pictures and honey mustard wrapped words won’t make any difference but your presence will.

    The point is you are leaving your “beloved” in times of trouble and still announcing “I LOVE YOU” least stay quite yaar…..Recommend

  • Pappu

    if you were given a choice before birth, would you choose Pakistan as your birth country? Please answer with honesty.Recommend

  • SBH

    I was moved by your piece –even teary-eyed for a minute. It
    is easy for people like you (and others like you) who have the means to move out of Pakistan and settle in another country. I am reckoning how emotional it would be for you to admire little things about your homeland. However, for someone who chooses
    not to be a part of the silent majority, someone who lives here and knows that there is no way out, and they ultimately have to die and be buried here, life is suffocating
    –in many ways.
    And though there are a LOT of positives about Pakistan, the negatives are becoming exceedingly overpowering. The negatives you see on individual level every day. The growing indifference. The mounting hypocrisy. The escalating selfishness. The haunting spiral of silence immune to oppression and tyranny –these together with the imminent problems -conflict, poverty, political instability, and most of all terrorism, etc. -makes life very difficult for an average Pakistani. And this difficulty, in turn, makes them forget how to appreciate the little things that you are able to see as an ‘outsider’.

    Nonetheless, nice write-up. Good job!Recommend

  • Sane

    You belong to the class who runaway from their native land for one reason or the other and keep saying Pakistan is….. Pakistan is……… Just nonsense.Recommend

  • Sane

    Anti Muslim riots every now and then in India. Recent is Muzaffar Nagar. Information jno0w moves very fast the ugly face of India is known to everyone. There are around 67 separatist movements in India. Khalistan is one of those.Recommend

  • MS

    Before you get all excited, check the stats majority of your brethren(close to 99%) will never come back. It always feels that way initially and then reality sinks in.Recommend

  • Itsova

    Yes. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, India, m.e., china / russiaRecommend

  • Saad

    What stops me is the fact that I can’t get a job with a proper ‘recommendation’. Why don’t you sort that out first, since you live there and love the place so much? Recommend

  • Saad

    Pappu jee, Pakistan is my country of birth. Recommend

  • Sad but true…!!!

    If some one is not living in Pakistan doesnt mean tht he has no right to open his mouth…wht a lame post…!!!!Recommend

  • Shah

    Offcourse it can ppl liv in Pakistan and still dont call it a home…LAMoooooRecommend

  • Pappu

    true..but not the country of your choice.Recommend

  • Saad


  • omair93

    To all the people throwing comments and labelling the author of this article, just know this. You are Pakistani by identity, not only by birth, blood and living there. Most of the political leaders you now follow have lived abroad for many years. There is a whole world out there outside the territorial boundaries of Pakistan. God encourages us to travel for knowledge and experience, and if you are fortunate to afford living abroad then why not? If you have a problem with Pakistani’s living overseas then you are just jealous. Dont tell me you people also have problems with Pakistani’s have settled abroad out of safety against Religious genocide, etc,? Before judging others falsely, improve yourselves and then expect a change..Recommend

  • Guest

    M. Saim, I feel like your failure to comprehend the argument above is bizarre if anything at all. Also, I agree with Shah’s post script. Not one of these people bashing the author for living abroad is anyone who’s returned to the country to serve it/ living there to make a difference and will never go abroad despite being given the opportunity.
    One thing I will never understand about people here in Pakistan is that they will attack anyone who says anything negative about this country however, they will ALSO attack anyone who attempts to highlight the positives. Phadday phadday everywhere. Frustrated qoum we are.Recommend

  • Custard_Pie_In_Your_Face

    If you’re based outside of Pakistan and write something positive about Pakistan, you’re branded delusional, if you write something critical of Pakistan you’re near enough branded a traitor. Pakistan is headed in exactly the right direction it deserves because for the most part it is populated by lemmings who couldn’t put a critical logical thought together if their life depended on it.Recommend

  • Chunky Lafanga

    Pakistan isn’t my country of birth but I call myself Pakistani when asked where I’m from.Recommend

  • gp65

    Nicely written. Straight from the heart. Somehow the description seems very familiar to me as an Indian. It reminded me of the song ‘Aisa Des hai mera’ from Veer Zaara. In this song, the India Veer describes India from his eyes and the PAkistani Zaara says
    Tere Des ko maine dekha, Tere Des ko maine jaana
    Jaane kyo yeh lagta hai, mujhko jaana pehchana
    Yehaan pe wohi shaam hai wohi savera
    Aisa hi Des hai mera, jaisa des hai tera.

    Just because someone does not live in a country does not mean they cannot love or contribute to the land they love.Recommend

  • gp65

    IT is unclear why India bashing had to start in a beautifully written blog about Pakistan. Anyway, since you have raised some issues it is worth answering them also. Riots in India are rare and almost all Hindu Muslim riots start with Muslims killing Hindus who retaliate. This is true about 1993 Mumbai riots, 2002 Gujarat riots and also the most recent Muzaffarnagar riots.

    I however do not generalise these aggressive actions to all Indian Muslims nor do most Indian I know. The perpetrators of riots will be brought to justice in India regardless of their religion. This is what happened with regards to Gujarat riots and this is what will happen in Muzaffarnagar as well.

    Incidentally, while India and Pakistan have almost the same number of Muslims – more Muslims have been killed in Karachi target killing alone in just 2013 than have been killed in communal riots in the last 10 years in India. Shias in India do not look over their shoulders while going to a mosque to pray nor does te CM of any state describe them as non-Muslims and Ahmadis are not prevented from worshipping on Eid by the police. That is what secularism is. Secularism also means that someone can freely call himself/herself an atheist and a Hindu who converts to Islam will not be punished for apostasy. In fact if he is talented like A R Rehman, people from all over India will open their wallets to buy his music and let him reach the top.Recommend

  • gp65

    You don’t have huge slums in Pakistan? Heard about Orangi?Recommend

  • gp65

    Adapting Rudyard Kipling I see “You can take a boy out of the jungle but you cannot take the jungle out of the boy”Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Which are these two groups? The so-called group in India has as many muslims as Pakistan; there was only one group and one ideology which was called two-nation theory, and this espouses exactly what you are now repeating. India is built on secular and socialist principles, and most Indians have little occasion to ever mention their religion for any official purpose, and muslims have more political power than their share in population warrants.Recommend

  • Pappu

    How many years have you lived in Pakistan? Do you hold Pakistan passport? Although i am born in pakistan and hold pakistan passport, can i tell people “i am American” just because i like american way of life.Recommend

  • Ayla

    This article brought tears to my eyes, and then some of the comments below brought tears of rage. I grew up outside of Pakistan, but visiting was always my favorite thing to do – instantly feeling like I belonged, all these people who spoke like me and shared my skin tone, called their fathers “Baba” and so much more. Everything you’ve written, its like you took them right out of my own mind. Its perfect.
    Took me six years to realize that I had moved back to Pakistan and it really was my home, and always had been. And that realization was the sweetest thing, after years of being in limbo. And now, on the verge of leaving somewhat permanently again, I find myself often thinking about how my time here has changed my and why I love it, why I will always identify myself as a Pakistani, regardless of where I was brought up, and why I will never feel as right as I do here, no matter how much the traffic, politics, family politics etc. anger me, at times.
    “Pakistan is those millions of people, who constantly live in fear but still hold fast to their resilience and conviction of a better tomorrow.”
    No matter where we are, Pakistan will always be home, and only someone who has been away on a permanent basis can understand where we come from when we confidently say that, without being here physically, and no amount of words can ever properly explain why we feel that way.
    Thank you for this. Not many people speak up about this. I have, on my personal blog, and to see someone else take the initiative, on a much wider platform, is heartwarming.Recommend

  • Chunky Lafanga

    I’m not sure what kind of argument you’re attempting to make. I lived in Pakistan until I was 18 and yes, I do have a Pakistani passport. If you’re insecure with your identity, it doesn’t mean other Pakistanis are.Recommend

  • Pappu

    My argument is simple. There is difference between “calling yourself Pakistani” but you dont want to live in Pakistan, work in Pakistan, raise your children in Pakistan etc by your own will or choice.Recommend

  • Pappu

    My argument is very simple. Given a CHOICE, would you prefer to live, study, work, raise your family in Pakistan or UK or USA?Recommend

  • Lol…

    ‘Nor do we look the same’
    I suppose that’s why we have people who look as terrible as Bengali Sushmita Sen & South Indian Aishwarya Rai,Asin etc…Recommend