I am Pakistani, just like you. Except we’re not the same

Published: September 26, 2016
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That is why, even in a place that is half the world across from Pakistan, we continue to search for people from similar pedigrees and judge others on preconceived notions.

Edmonton like many other metropolitan cities is an interesting blend of people of various nationalities, race, religion and creed. Walk around in the neighbourhood or enjoy the lazy summer sunshine in a park and you will be struck with a variety of people and languages you hear.

The same exotic sampling of populations is present in schools, which gives children a wonderful opportunity to not only mingle or learn about various cultures but also to accept their differences and forge friendships out of their own communities at a very young age.

It was a special day for the children of a small elementary school in Edmonton. They had been preparing for the event for quite some time and now it was time to appreciate their efforts and hard work. The event was a Cultural Festival organised by the local school to celebrate its multicultural and diverse community.

The students made the decorations for the festival themselves. As a part of their Social Studies curriculum, teachers had been discussing their native countries, religion and languages. Thus, they encouraged their students to communicate in their native language at home rather than in English. The participants were asked to attend the event dressed in their traditional clothes and bring along their native cuisine to be sampled by others.

Considering there are limited opportunities for him to showcase his native clothes in front of his school friends, my son was quite animated that day as he carefully chose a white kurta, a black vest and a matching cap that was embroidered with gold threads and embellished with small mirrors.

The school grounds were adorned with giant marquees with each continent having its own booth manned by volunteer parents and students and decked up with student made garlands, flags and streamers. The Asian marquee had a Nepalese, Indian and Pakistan booth. We headed for the Pakistani booth and greeted our fellow countrymen with delight. Young boys were smartly dressed in kurtas, ladies in vibrant hues; everyone was flaunting our culture and it made me rather nostalgic about my life earlier when I lived in Pakistan. The aroma of chicken biryani wafted through the booth. Curious visitors kept coming to sample the delicacies; the biryani proved to be a hit and had vanished in no time.

Amidst tending to the crowds of samplers, we exchanged pleasantries with one another and started conversations by asking,

 “Ap log kahan sa hain?”

Where are you all from?

It was here that my child got his first lesson in ethnicity, and he was informed that, for Pakistanis, when making a choice between nationalism and ethnicity, nationalism is always secondary. No matter which part of the world you’re living in, you will always be judged based on the genealogy of your family tree rather than being just a plain old Pakistani. Beginning with your province and ending at your caste, with your sect and family in the middle, everything will be carefully inspected by your fellow men.

She asked my son what he was wearing and he was perplexed – perhaps by the absurdity of the question. Surely this beautiful lady in a blingy shalwar kameez, flowing dupatta and clanky bangles looked every bit like she belonged to the same native land. Then, why was she asking him what he was wearing? Doesn’t she already know? Or maybe she was just trying to start a conversation with him.

He replied, “It’s a kurta shalwar.”

“Yeah, but what are you dressed up as?” She probed again.

Again confusion clouded his small face, “um, I’m from Pakistan.”

It was time for an intervention. I stepped forward to ask what the problem was and if I could help.

The lady turned to me and asked,

“What is he dressed up as?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

She clarified,

“My son is dressed in our province’s traditional clothes, and those kids over there are in another province’s folk clothes; what is your son wearing?”

Glancing at my son, I forced myself to reply,

“He is just dressed as a Pakistani; not as Sindhi, Punjabi, Pakhtun or Balochi – or any other.”

She looked confused and I don’t blame her.

Regrettably our inherent disposition leads us to form identities through ethnic alliances and not with the country itself. That is why, even in a place that is half the world across from Pakistan, we continue to search for people from similar pedigrees and judge others on preconceived notions.

And, what is wrong in doing that?

Nothing; if we wouldn’t have let our ethnic biases supersede our national agendas. Yet ever since the inception of Pakistan, we have seldom displayed the true character of a nation and continually fallen prey to our deeply ingrained bigotry that is rooted in the fertile soil of ethnic conflicts and mistrust.

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica,

“Nationalism, ideology based on the premise that the individual’s loyalty and devotion to the nation-state surpass other individual or group interests.”

Contrarily, for most Pakistanis, the feelings of loyalty and devotion are caged within the walls of ethnicity.

Ironically, our country’s genesis was laid on the premise of religious nationalism which later on experienced partition by the very sword of ethnic differences. After its inception and the Quaid’s untimely departure, the leaders of this nascent nation failed to generate nationalist harmony and channel patriotism. The cracks of division began to show early and religion failed to curtail ethnic incitement and conflict, eventually resulting in the break-up of Pakistan.

During the last 69 years of existing as a sovereign country, there are only a handful of times we actually displayed solidarity as a nation. Recalling those treasurable moments might even prove to be a tall order for the younger generation – who are now surrounded by a bubble of perpetual ignorance and are indifferent to the issues of its motherland.

Saba Ansari

Saba Ansari

The author resides in Canada and is passionate about writing.

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

  • Rohan

    Pakistan still plagued by identity crisesRecommend

  • pathanoo

    Pakistan is dysfunctional from the start because it was created in fear, hatred and exclsusion. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the first Education Minister of free India, prophesized in 1946, even before the partition took place, and said that East Pakistan would separate from the West Pakistan because of the same sectarian poison Muslim League is using to create Pakistan. How prophetic was he. And, Pakistan still has not learned the lesson.Recommend

  • Muhammad Saleem Usmani

    You are correct. Some of our people are ignorant and unfortunately take their ignorance everywhere. This is a problem with us globally. But the only way is to be patient and bring them the light.Recommend

  • aafat

    What a pity, really. So parochial, that woman insisting on asking the little boy what he’s wearing? She might as well wear a badge proclaiming her ethnicity …Recommend

  • Parvez

    You have managed to write a rather ominous article from the thoughtless rambling, but quite innocent, question of a lady at a school function.Recommend

  • Humza

    I think the problem is that you cannot understand that an ancient land like Pakistan has many diverse cultures. This is true for many countries. For example you can go to Germany and a Bavarian will wear regional dress from Bavaria and still be German and someone from Saxony – Anhalt may wear something different and still be German. Similarly someone from KPK can be wearing Peshawari Chappal and dress and be Pakistani and a Sindi may wear and Ajrak and Sindi Topi and be Pakistani. Some people wear from Karachi saris since they migrated from India and this is also completely different. You need to appreciate the variety of dress and culture in Pakistan just like it exists in other countries and celebrate it instead of feigning confused sanctimony about why someone is asking what type of regional dress another Pakistani is wearing. If you want to find fault you can make it up but if you want to try to understand and appreciate diversity within a nation, it too can be done.Recommend

  • Naveed

    We need to stand united both at Pakistan as well as abroad,
    what I have experienced that Pakistani communities abroad are divided in small
    groups and people only expose themselves to limited 4-5 families, while others
    are more connected within their respective communities. Due to this behaviour
    of our communities we are not only losing social benefits but also some of the political
    benefit, which we can gain by standing united.Recommend

  • harish goswami

    The crisis of identity of pakistan will continue so long they do not understand their identity they share with rest of subcontinent instead of living in false illusion of separate ideology of muslim nation hood created out of exclusion,and hatred toward the people with whom they lived for centuries.Recommend

  • Salman

    With respect I disagree with the author, there is nothing wrong with being in touch with your ethnicity. Infact there are very few countries which are homogeneous. Even a country like America is very diverse in culture and they embrace it openly and this is what makes them strong, they are not Americans because they are wearing some american clothes or eating some american food but because they love America equally even though culture in different states can be very different (NY, California, Texas are just few examples), they are united as Americans. UK on the other hand is still struggling with its identity by not fully devolving powers (as some may remember the Scottish referendum was a close call, 48% of people wanted to leave UK and that struggle is still going on).

    Pakistanis need to open up to this, embrace the fact that whether someone is dressed as Baloch, Pashtun, Punjabi or Sindhi, they can still equally love Pakistan, only then we will be united and strong. Unity will only come when we will accept each other.

    Having said that, that lady should not have kept on pushing for the question.Recommend

  • Sami

    There is no such thing as a Pakistani Ethnicity.Just like there is no such thing as a One Indian ethnicity. Being a Pakistani means you are from Pakistan. So how come the author is mixing the two terms is not comprehensible in my view. Pakistani is just a nationality but not an ethnicity.

    Ethnicity and nationality must coexist in a mult-ethnic country like Pakistan.
    Forcefully shunning the local identities to make the fake ethnicity will not work.

    Also there is no such thing as a Pure Pakistani dress. I wear jeans all the time but still i am a Pakistani. Kindly stop this forceful conformist agenda. You can be a Pakistani without conforming to strict so called Pakistani definitions.Recommend

  • Patwari

    [People in Germany are educated. Not 70% illiterate as they are
    in the Land of the Pure. Where millions of children are out of schools,
    because the Sharifs are building roads and motorways and Greenlines
    and Yellows trains.and overpasses. Where the slightest rain makes a quagmire,…for days. And where every banned outfit is allowed to carry
    on …..in Punjab.]
    Really?…Hhmmmm….they need YOU to draw them little pictures,
    to understand what being a Pakistani is? After almost 70 years they
    cannot grasp this concept.? They come together only if India is rattling
    it’s swords, thumping it’s chest and doing the saber dance.
    Get a life. As long as Punjab gets all the money and Punjabi, provincial
    and ethnic policies and voting are in effect, rest of the provinces will feel
    alienated. Like Step Children.
    Now, was that hard to understand?Recommend

  • Sami

    But The core of Pakistaniat lies in shunning and destroying the local identities. So embracing the different cultures and ethnicites is not a part of Pakistani ideology. You have to be strictly conformist where not only Culture but Religious ideology have to be defined exactly by the state. You have to hate the local people, cultures and everything to prove you are a Pakistani.Recommend

  • Humza

    Pakistanis have no issue with identity but the you have only managed to obfuscate a reality. The people of Pakistan have different influences and it is reflected in the geography and culture of the people who live there.Tell me does a Tamil in South India wear the same clothing as a Sikh from Northern India? Are they not both Indian even though the Sikh dress is influenced by the Shalwar Kameez which originally came from Central Asia via Muslim invaders and the Tamil dress is a typical sari which is the indigenous dress of South Indians. Just because the author of this article has formed a judgement without understanding diversity, is no need for you to vent your own anti Pakistan hatreds.Recommend

  • Mamnoon

    Then brace yourself for the fact that there is another distinct group in Pakistan ,the Muhajirs Now the debate should be concluded ” Why you call yourself Muhajirs after 60 years “?Recommend

  • Chitralwala

    Well,..see,..the provincial / regional dress of Punjab is a dhoti/kurta.
    on the Pakistani side.
    [a carry over from their heavily influenced Hinsu culture]
    The Indian Punjabis/Sikhs wear a slim pajama like garment,…
    the women wear shalwars. The Indian Punjabi Hindus mostly wear dhotis.
    The Pathans, Sindhis, Balochs, Chitralis, Baltis, Hunzakuts [Northern areas]
    all wear shalwars, both men and women. So you are dead wrong.
    The national dress is Shalwar/Kameez.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Dhoti in Indian Punjab??! WOW !! EVen in villages, hardly anybody wears it.Don’t believe what Mullahs or Pakistani textbooks teach.Recommend

  • siesmann

    The concept of National dress or ethnic dress in hardly relevant these days. Dress is becoming uniform in the globalized world,especially the male dress,but increasingly female dress too.Recommend

  • Humza

    The fellow you rants this anti Pakistani drivel is himself of Indian origin. Don’t be fooled by his nickname of Chitralwala or Patwari. It’s the same anti Pakistan hating commentator. He is an Indian origin individual who never misses a chance to badmouth Pakistan. Think about it, what Pakistani would denigrate his own country and the native races unless he knows nothing about it. Punjab is the majority province in Pakistan based on population. Do you think a Pakistani would call it majority culture “Hinsu” knowing that historically Punjab like most of Pakistan has been part of many different empires over the span of centuries and has many influences. That’s why Pakistani people, think of their culture as a mix of different influences. I get that he hates Pakistan which is his right but I just think it’s unhealthy for him to always try to badmouth Pakistan and it would be better for him just to praise his Indian homeland and the area of his family in India.Recommend

  • Humza

    I get it. You hate the majority people of Pakistan and you consider Pakistanis illiterate. You especially hate Punjab and you think it’s not as developed as India. Fair enough but what does this have to do with trying to explain to the author that a nation can have different regional dresses? Take a chill pill and relax under a coconut tree in Madya Pradesh.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Ah! See! There. When a brainwashed Sharif supporter cannot come up with the right jumble of words to defend his Lord And Master Nawaz, [also known as Panama Sharif] then blame it all on an Indian. Not to mention lockstepped Punjabis
    always follow their omnipotent Masters, The Sharif Cabal.
    Same place where minorities like Ahmadis and Hindus are not even allowed to shop in the main bazaars. they must get others to buy their groceries. or scuttle in sideways.
    So where they burn and razed a colony of Christians, to the
    ground, killing more than 200,….this could go on for 10 pages.
    So, do you savvy yet? Nope,
    Back to Gujranwala and the crossroad of foreign armies marching through and depositing their seeds…….different empires??Recommend

  • http://www.scribd.com/asifameer AsifAmeer_AP

    Advice for the younger generation. Loyalty belongs to family. Rest is all dogma.Recommend

  • Agha

    “After its inception and the Quaid’s untimely departure, the leaders of this nascent nation failed to generate nationalist harmony and channel patriotism. The cracks of division began to show early and religion failed to curtail ethnic incitement and conflict, eventually resulting in the break-up of Pakistan.” Do you know why did that happen? God i am so sick of downplaying and treating ethnicity as if it was something bad. It was DUE to degrading and arrogant attitude towards the Bengali identity that Bangladesh was formed. It was by suppressing ethnic identities and forcing overarching pakistani nationalism which was always about islamic identity that ethnic nationalistic movements sprang up. You can’t force an identity down people’s throats. And it wasn’t supposed to be like that either. Pakistan was to be a union of different “nations”. Not one nation at all. When you love pakistan its nationalism. But when someone loves Sindh and its land and feels proud of that identity then its “ethnicity”. After all these year people like the author fail to understand that unity is in diversity. If someone is proud of their ethnicity (which is not just ethnicity but a nation unto itself by every definition of the word) that doesn’t mean they are arrogant and keeping pakistani identity on the back. You seem so hung up on pakistani nationalism. Isn’t sindhi, punjabi, pathan and balochi a part of pakistani identity? So whats the problem?Recommend

  • Arsalaan

    “I am Pakistani, just like you. Except we’re not the same” And thats a GOOD thing. Stop getting so scared of “ethnicities”. They MADE and MAKE Pakistan. The title is SPOT ON. Except it is presented as a bad thing. Diversity is never a bad thing. Might I suggest a better title? Here goes: “I am Pakistani, just like you. But thank goodness we’re not the same (how boring that would be?)”Recommend

  • Agha

    Muhajir is not an a “ethnicity”. Its a refugee status. Those who came here 60 years ago are NOT refugees anymore. They are citizens by all means. They can identify with their ethnicity which they belonged to in india.Recommend

  • Agha

    “I am Pakistani, just like you. Except we’re not the same” And thats a GOOD thing. Stop being so scared of “ethnicities”. They MADE and MAKE Pakistan. The title is SPOT ON. Except it is presented as a bad thing. Diversity is NEVER a bad thing. Here is a better title: “I am Pakistani, just like you. But thank goodness we’re not the same(how boring would that be?)”Recommend