Pakistan may be poor, but it has a rich culture – much richer than any country in the west

Published: February 28, 2017
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I would come back to my motherland and help make a difference because home is where the heart is; and my heart is always in Pakistan. PHOTO: AFP

As I grew up in the 90s, every couple of months I would see my mom and dad pack up their bags and go on official tours around the world; America, Europe, you name it.

My sister and I would eagerly await their return, not because we wanted to see our parents, but because we wanted to open up their suitcases full of goodies. They would be stuffed with clothes, toys, chocolates and things that we apparently couldn’t buy in Pakistan. We would wear these international clothes with pride and we felt “better” than everyone else, because we had more expensive things.

My whole life I was told,

Beta baray ho kay Amreeka jana hai”.

(You have to go America when you grow up).

Relatives would tell me,

Wahan toh chotay chotay bachey bhi angraizi boltay hain”.

(Even little children speak in English over there).

That would leave me in a state of awe. As time passed, I looked at my culture and the system and thought the “gora” does it so much better. Why are we so backward? I would question how we have not evolved with time and why still wear shalwar kameez? We still eat “disgusting” desi food. In my teens, every chance I got, I would go to Pizza Hut, McDonalds, KFC because this food was so much better than the desi alternatives. With my mind set only on one thing all times,

Dekho gora hum say kitna behtar hai”.

(Look, the foreigners are just so much better than us).

By the age of 19, I was thoroughly sick of my country. Then six-years-ago when it was time, I applied to different universities around the world in hopes of a “better” life. As fate had it, I got accepted to the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. It was a city most of the people around me hadn’t even heard of, because all you hear about on TV and social media are Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

I still remember being awestruck by the clear blue smog free sky when I got off the bus outside my university, for the very first time. Everything was new, all that I had dreamt of was better than everything I had ever come across. The people were polite, who would hold the door for you and even say sorry for the times they accidentally did not do so. Drivers barely ever used their horns to honk, and there was virtually no smell of car exhausts. Everyone was treated equally, no matter their social status. It made me really happy that I was finally in a place that had so much positivity. In short, life was good.

However, as the years passed by, the magic I was once fascinated with began to fade. This is where the bubble started to burst for me.

But let’s rewind back to history. Our sense of inferiority began when the British invaded us. So I question, what is the best way to suppress a culture? It is to make the people believe that everything about another culture is better than what you have. You constantly believe that your culture is backward, your skin colour makes you inferior and everything that comes with being “white” skinned is superior. Our ancestors were made to believe that they looked better if they had a lighter skin tone, with western clothing, and that the bench mark of success was the western way of life. Even a thousand years of history had not produced  some of the biggest advancements of human existence; chess, mathematical theories and even shampoo, to name a few. Well unfortunately, this inferiority complex was stuck and has been passed on over to generations.

The emergence of skin whitening creams, the overwhelming cluster of people at fast food chains and adopting western clothing over our own shows how we still live in this inferiority complex. You know how they say,

Angraiz toh chalay gaye par tumhein peechay chor gaye”.

(The British went away but left you behind).

This phrase embodies perfectly the inferiority complex I am talking about.

So after a few years, I went back to visit my family in Pakistan. I was hanging out with some friends when someone asked me the following question,

“What is the difference you see in Pakistan and Canada? And are you happier there than you were in Pakistan?”

At that point, I truly didn’t understand the premise of the question and responded with,

“Yes, they are so much better than us and I am truly happier”.

However now I sit here, with the question still stuck in my head?

“Are they really better than us? Am I truly happier?”

Well here is my answer.

In Pakistan, we talk about being Muslim and how we are somehow better than the non-Muslims just on the basis of religion we were fateful enough to be born in. We are stuck in longer beards and shalwars above our ankles but it is the “gora” who truly embodies Islam. They unknowingly embody the true values of equality, justice and love for all. They are more organised and educated than us and that’s their power.

But really, that is all there is. They have zero culture, they are so stuck in the concept of individualism that they forget that a culture is what makes you powerful as a nation, the very same thing we run away from. I realise the culture we so often run away from is our strength and our happiness. You see, what we don’t realise is that we are sitting on a goldmine and we have so much potential as a nation, which is being wasted away only because we refuse to look past the glitz and glamour of the west. We continue to admire the western way of life and complain about how this way of life should also look the same for us.

Here is where I will burst this bubble.

Almost half the year everything is draped in snow, so life is virtually at a standstill. Sure, they’ve found a way around this but it’s still unbearable to go out in -25 degrees Celsius and people are mostly stuck indoors. The nights in Canada are long in the winter, sunrises and sunsets come and go without being noticed, which is why their winters are highly correlated to depression. Their food is bland and there is nothing you can identify as purely “Canadian”. They have Poutine, sure, a local dish that has fries, gravy and cheese, which really isn’t food if you ask me.

The average house is made of plywood, costing a fortune to live in. Your food choices are already made for you because their super markets are stocked with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) infused tasteless fruits and food. Even the clothing, we ogle over from across the ocean, is made in our countries, labelled and retailed on a much higher price.

There is no depth to life here.

Let’s compare this to Pakistan, where there are four seasons and everything is produced naturally. The food has flavour, the people are diverse, the languages are beautiful and rich and the land is fertile. There are rivers, beaches, mountains and deserts. There are plains and plateaus. The diversity in culture across the land is so much, yet we don’t value it. Our local people are warm and welcoming. The clothing is beautiful, especially the handmade ones and are of much higher quality.

The richness of our culture is unmatched. We are blessed with everything a nation can hope for. Unfortunately, because we view the west from our rose tinted glasses, and propaganda we see on western television makes us believe the west is a little piece on heaven on earth.

The point I am trying make is this; the life that most people dream of achieving by going abroad is basically a fassad (pun intended). Trust me, it only looks good on the surface. Don’t get me wrong, I am not ungrateful for what this country has given me because it has helped me grow immensely as a human being, as a person and as a professional. I owe a lot of my success to this amazing country but this is only because they have a better education system and equal opportunities for everyone.

Imagine for a second, if most of our population was educated and our people and politicians made the right choices, we would realise that there is no better country to live in than Pakistan. The love we share for our people and the unity we have as a nation is amazing. A gold mine of culture awaits to be used as a strength. Imagine if we stopped ogling over the west and looked inside, the things we could achieve are immeasurable. Trust me, this is not fantasy, because we are the people of the Indus Valley civilisation, the people of Mohenjo-Daro.

Our ancestors did figure out these secrets and used them as our strengths and ruled the world for centuries. I dream that we will also realise that the “gora” is not better than us. We should believe that we have it in us to be the best in the world. We just need to realise that education is important, that everyone is made equal and should be treated as such.

As Allama Iqbal said,

Nahin Hai Na-Umeed Iqbal Apni Kisht-e-Weeran Se
Zara Nam Ho To Ye Mitti Bohat Zarkhaiz Hai Saqi”.

But of his barren acres Iqbal will not despair:
A little rain and harvests shall wave at last, oh Saqi!

One day I hope that we will rise above it all. We will be the nation Jinnah dreamt of. We will unlock the secrets of success and the potential Jinnah and Iqbal saw in us. One day, I hope when I accomplish my goals in education, I come back to my motherland and help make a difference because home is where the heart is; and my heart is always in Pakistan. Bleed green till the day I die.

Pakistan Zindabad!

Ahmed Hayat

Ahmed Hayat

The author studies Developmental Psychology and works for the University of Alberta. He is an advocate of equality and love. Although far from home, his love for his country is undying. He tweets @ah_med_hayat (twitter.com/ah_med_hayat)

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