Proud to be a Pakistani

S. Tariq

I recently had the opportunity to travel from Abu Dhabi to London on business. Let me confess that I am not a happy air traveller and nine times out of 10 am inclined to take a sedative and sleep my way through the flight. This time however, I made an exception and struck up a conversation with a middle aged, distinguished looking European sitting in the seat next to mine. After our initial exchange of pleasantries was over, we came to the inevitable question of where we came from. When I told him that I was a Pakistani, he looked at me in a distinctly uncomfortable manner. Feeling a bit peevish and angry, I asked him if something was bothering him. He stuttered a bit and then said: “To tell you the truth, I do not know how to carry on a conversation with anyone from Pakistan, since they invariably come around to lambasting westerners for all ills that beset their country.” I was now confronted with a complex situation where I had to, in the few hours that we had available, act as an unaccredited ambassador of my country and also keep myself engaged in conversation to distract my mind from the ‘perils’ of flying. By the time we landed at Heathrow, I had managed to salvage the Pakistani image to a large extent and secure an invitation to lunch at the gentleman’s family home in Sussex. We are now good friends and ‘Wally’, as I shall discreetly call him, has become an avid lobbyist for everything Pakistani.

Passengers travelling on a foreign airline flying from the United Arab Emirates to Pakistan were awakened from their reverie by loud expletives answered by a soft female voice trying to explain that snatching up a second tray of food from the passing trolley was a definite ‘no no’. Perhaps it was the sight of the chic stewardess, who spoke Urdu flawlessly, that had aroused the ‘macho male chauvinist’ in the moustached and bearded Pakistani, but the man was berating the poor girl in a language that made me lower my head in shame.

The other day, while window shopping with my family in Jinnah Super, we were stopped in our tracks by the sight of a Pakistani escorting a group of elderly foreign visitors around the shops. The man, who appeared educated and fairly well-to-do, was engaged in what can best be termed as a despicable show of subservience and sycophancy towards his charges. I wonder whether he was amply rewarded by his colonial master’s for selling his pride and making a fool out of himself.

And now we have the story, where a bunch of our so-called ‘cricketing heroes’ got the snubbing of their life in the recently conducted Indian Premier League bidding gala, when not one of the teams made a bid for them. I wonder how many of these stars will return home chastised with the realisation that they have brought a bad name to Pakistan and how many of them will once again rush to the next auction only to suffer more humiliation.

Somehow our concept of national pride got warped with the early demise of our Founding Father and the inept leadership that followed. We set aside the notion of collective pride in being Pakistanis and set about developing individual vanity. We nurtured a culture where quiet dignity and humility were considered signs of weakness and as an icing on the cake, we demonstrated our negative qualities to the outside world. We did not even then realise what damage we had done, till such time we were singled out at foreign airports and visa offices and subjected to procedures that no self-respecting human would tolerate.

I often wonder if we can turn things around, before it is too late. I have begun a personal campaign of politely telling people not to spit on the sidewalk or litter our roads, not to put posters on road signs meant to guide people, not to break queues or traffic lanes and generally behave in a dignified manner. In doing so, I have courted trouble, but I intend to persevere in the hope that others will follow my example and perhaps one day this small group of people will grow, heralding a change – a change that will spawn a new breed of citizens who will travel forth into the world commanding respect, awe and pride in being a Pakistani.

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