My friends have been asking about my visit to Pakistan this past summer. I have been struggling to come up with a concise answer that is both close to reality and true to my heart. What was it like, landing in 39 degrees celsius Lahori heat, after ten springs and ten winters in the Great White North?
There were many new, unfamiliar faces, and spectacular changes. And there were also disappointing reminders of the country’s stagnation in certain respects. But for the spectrum of emotions I felt, my heart was full.
For the last ten years, I have grown in several ways, but perhaps my perception of Home was limited to the life I last remember experiencing there. As I grew here in Toronto, my understanding of Pakistan increasingly became colored with the appreciation and grasp of an outsider.
I explored the streets with fresh eyes. Haggled the way my mother used to when I was a little girl. Told off the predatory glances of the men I used to be afraid of. Temporarily became behen and beti to vendors that were kind to me. Tried to be a listening ear to those that could only share their woes in a language I could not understand when I was a child.
Last I saw the Chenab, it was drying up. It was fuller this summer.
Last I went to my village, children would avoid going to school because teachers would assign personal tasks to them or force them to serve as domestic help in the homes of landowning Chauhadries. This time, girls in the fifth standard could read and write both English and Urdu fluently.
I was ecstatic to see change, even if it has been slow.
This time, I ventured into the Pakistan I never got to know before, outside the sheltered life my loved ones had built around me to protect me. That too, independently.
It is quite easy to point out where it is failing. However, to recognize Pakistan’s strengths, one must get up-close and personal. Yes, the institutions are falling apart, but they have been set up for failure since partition and yet, the people endure. They survive.
There is immense potential for growth, for kindness, for compassion, and for justice. We have to figure out new ways to tap into it all. The country’s resilience is what makes it worth it. At least it does for me.
Corrupt politicians and the socioeconomic elite may try to bury the workers, the non-normative, the abused, the tormented, the sick, and the crass. Little do they realize, this is where the growth is; they will rise and rise, again.
So what was like, then?
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