Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Joy in Pakistan

I have lived in London for a large part of my life, as a child, as a student and now as a young adult trying to build a career. I’ve always held the desire to remain in Pakistan, or to return were I to leave it, with a view to ultimately living out my life within it.

I would sometimes express this view to elders within my immediate circle, usually following the “So Beta, what do you want to be?” question. Given that there was a real enough prospect of becoming an expatriate, the earnest desire to remain in Pakistan would usually draw one of two responses, namely:
  1. a raised eyebrow in mild surprise (pleasant or otherwise), or;
  2. a cynical “We’ll see how you feel in a few years”. A bit like how one might dismiss a five-year boy old when he express his complete disdain for girls, citing pink as an unambiguous example of lameness.
Common to both responses was the underlying notion, that in objective terms, a life overseas was more promising in terms of prosperity, security and comfort, compared to a life in Pakistan.

Considering the question dispassionately, it is hard to argue otherwise. By every measure that is actually measured in developmental terms, Pakistan lags behind. The average Pakistani is less educated and poorer, less safe in terms of crime, less secure in his (and especially her) political and economic rights. Our access to energy is intermittent, our supply of water is tenuous and our healthcare system is overburdened and sometimes prohibitively expensive. Our justice system can be described as selectively functional at best, or generally dysfunctional at worst.

Those are the somewhat measurable commodities. But within the (admittedly flawed) juxtaposition of Pakistan vs ‘The Expatriate Existence (entailing the far east, the middle east, or the West depending upon your good fortune), I would argue that there is a discernable advantage to living in Pakistan, as part of Pakistani society. For the purposes of this post though, I will keep my comparison between the UK and Pakistan as I am familiar with both countries.

Hiding Truth in Bullshit

I do notice that when people start to make the point im about to make, they tend to focus on really superficial, sometimes untrue caricatures like:

  • “Yaar, on the Tube, no one talks to each other” (True but superficial)
  • “Yaar if you fall down on the street people don’t help you up” (This of course is complete bullshit, in London people help you on the street no questions asked)
  • “Yaar, in the UK or US, you will always be a second class citizen” Once again, a statement that strives to be a truism, whilst actually being complete Uppercase Shite. Of course you can be treated like a 2nd class citizen in the UK, but there are a hell of a lot of people in Pakistan who are treated like 2nd class citizens all-the-friggin-time. When was the last time you heard of servants eating from the same cutlery as their sahibs or begum-sahibs? Or the driver coming inside the restaurants to share a meal with his Sahib’s family? Let us at least concede that such instances are rare.
Bullshit notwithstanding, there is a genuine point lurking in the motivation behind some of the dumbass examples listed above. Pakistanis have a sense of wider community that is substantially less pronounced in the UK. We not only have larger and tighter knit nuclear families, we tend to live amongst our extended families and socialise within an extended circle of inter-married, inter related people.

Conversely, that familiar rant against materialism, wherein the objects in our lives replace the people in our lives, has a grain of truth to it, at least from my experience of London. In the UK, the life plan of the average mid-20s man tends to follow a different structure from what you might expect from the average comparable desi.


To illustrate what I mean, watch the following video and see whether the narrative fits neatly with the priorities of the average Pakistani of that age, or even the un-average Pakistani who is fortunate enough to choose whether or not to be an expat.

Sure, it’s not representative of English people. Given that it’s a monologue from a herionchi in a Danny Boyle flick, I’m hardly going to argue otherwise. But it is reflective, of something. It struck some nerve in the UK, didn’t it?

The Pakistani version of that speech might have read as follows:

Choose high grades and an education because of your family. Choose law or medicine or banking because of your family. Choose a girl or boy, from a good family, that fits with your family. Choose to live at home, with your parents (initially anyway). Choose to contribute to the household income. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home on rent. Choose your friends from childhood and a few new ones. Choose cotton Shalwar Kamizes and Shaadi Khana. Choose arguing with your parents and siblings on the weekends, every weekend, until you move out and when they move back in to yours. Choose mindless numbers of weddings, occasional ganas. Choose living life amidst your large, growing, consistently bickering, co-dependant and genuinely loving family. Choose less choice, more stress, more love.
Some Qualifications and Caveats for those already disagreeing

For those already disagreeing, let me say this: I know what you are thinking,and yes you are right.

There are therefore two important qualifications to my argument that anyone posting comments should endeavour to read and understand:

Qualification One: I appreciate that most of our readers are expatriates who are settled abroad (no doubt very happily, with families and communities of their own). Similarly, I accept that my own knowledge of either the UK or Pakistan is limited and specific to me. In that regard, the view I have presented is both a personal opinion and an argument in favour of a proposition. In other words, I would like to hear from people who have had a different experience or who generally disagree for their own reasons because that would help inform me.

Qualification Two: There is a second, more important qualification, namely that it is more often our commitment to our families that compels us to become expatriates in the first place, so the choice between ‘Desi community’ and ‘western independence’ is both an unaffordable luxury and a false choice. There are countless immigrants who hate living away from home, but who do it to earn for their families and provide them with better lives than they could possibly ever have had in Pakistan. I accept that this is true.

In that respect, it is not for me to argue against the benefits of living overseas (as I stressed in paragraph 5, they are undeniable). My point was to argue in favour of a positive aspect of Pakistan that I feel is not given its due weight in such decisions, and which could in many cases be a factor to tip the scales back in Pakistan’s favour, if duly considered.

Trading Up, not Down

Perhaps relationships matters more in Pakistan because things are so uncertain so often. In the absence of any welfare net, we create our own ‘social’ ‘security’ through our networks of family and friends and by continuously maintaining and building upon the bonds between us. But our ‘social safety nets’ aren’t just that. The strength and support they provide is less crucial than the sense of meaning that communities imbue life with. They therefore improve day-to-day quality of our lives in a way that is both real and hard to measure.

To say this is not to devalue independence. There are likely to be few families in Pakistan that manage to strike an ideal balance between individualism and community. But my point is that Pakistan strikes a better balance, that it works in a way that something is not working in the UK, that we are more fulfilled as people because of it. To some degeree, there is more warmth, and colour in our lives and in the lives of our elders and children, because we are perpetually surrounded in each other’s light.

Like everything, that comes with a price, and this post would be incomplete if it did not address the cost of Pakistan’s family values. ‘Community’ means that many of us feel overwhelmed by the total interference of our families in our personal affairs and the lack of respect for our personal space. To take another poor but somewhat reflective example, compare a queue at a ticket counter in London with a queue at a ticket counter in Karachi; sometimes it feels as though every trivial to important personal decision made in Pakistan is that crowded, that hassled. In that respect, community and societal opinion weighs down hard upon us. Very often it is both intellectually and emotionally stifling, and the weight of those pressures can stunt the personal growth of those who have been unable to wrest themselves from under it.

Community in that sense imposes a real burden. But I feel the ‘independence’ I encounter in Londoners entails a measure of isolation, an ultimately unhappy exchange of communal intimacy for privacy. And whilst there is an obvious balance to be maintained between the two, I know which I personally accord greater value to.

As an aside, community has also has a value in personal religious terms. And I speak of religion not in a mundane sawab-gunnah sort of way, but in terms of spiritual satisfaction, particularly if one of the primary objects of faith is to self-forget (and I would argue strongly that this is the case). Take Islam:

  • When you pray you remember Allah (and forget yourself)
  • When you perform Hajj you join the stream of like clad pilgrims (and forget yourself) and focus your mind towards God (and forget yourself further)
  • When you give charity and fast to empathise with the poverty and hunger of the poor (you forget yourself)
In all of that, in all those activities, save for a substantial portion of prayer, our transcendence involves community. We cannot escape ourselves unless we are able to enter the hearts of our mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.

And that for these reasons, despite everything, I would argue that in objective terms, the Pakistani experience is, in key ways, better and more fulfilling than the expatriate experience.

And commenters, before you proceed to completely rip me to shreds, please remember the caveats!


Umair Javed said...

I agree with most of what you've written although probably in a different framework. I've been in the UK for a grand total of 4 months, hence i hardly qualify as an expatriate.

As far as the 2nd class citizen argument is concerned, you gave a rebuttal based on the fact that a lot of people in Pakistan are treated as 2nd class citizens. Fact of the matter remains that its not YOU who's being treated as the 2nd class citizen. If you were wealthy enough to go and get an education abroad, you're probably set for life as far as getting treated in a first class way back home is concerned

Secondly, as far as the social security, community sentiment is concerned, well thats how our society has generally been structured for time immemorial. Whereas class has been the divisive and defining factor in socio-political surroundings across the West, ethnic/linguistic/kinship cleavages have been our forte...More so, for the upper class educated/professional expats, the sense of community becomes even more valuable because it works as a form of class insulation as well. An example of this would be how marriages tend to take place within a certain segment of people, the 'right kind' in simple terms. Hence the existence of this communitarian association back home not only acts as a safety-net, it acts as a symbolic gesture of power/status/wealth and social hierarchy.

The point being this generalization of having a better life back in Pakistan is contingent on the background of the individual concerned. I, for one, believe that upper-class alienated educated Pakistanis have it made back home...while the material comforts are significantly lower, the social mobility and status compensate for that to a large extent. Plus the rapid advances of westernization within our upper class should ensure that material differences are wiped out soon enough.

M. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zubair Sheikh said...

a real honest assessment, good job!

It a fact that " our transcendence involves community" and we cannot escape it. I completely second that.

Also, one thing that i have noticed while living in US is that when immigrants from Pakistan comes here they always accept the above mentioned fact, but once they get their family here their wish to settle back in in Pakistan gets dim. I don't know how write i am at this observation, but i have seen this happening. May be it has to do with the ladies. As i have seen very few wives of the Pakistani men who are willing to settle back in Pakistan even though their husbands are dying to go there.

Anonymous said...

i think the most important qualification that you (or somebody) touched upon but didn't explicitly state is class/wealth.

if you are inherently (or otherwise) wealthy, then your life in pakistan will be just about comparable to life overseas and the points you make about pakistan's intangible benefits are valid.

however, if you are not wealthy, then there is not a single person who would willingly choose to be in pakistan. the reasons for this are too many to list.

this reality is reflected in every pakistani who i've every met here in the UK. the poorer ones wouldn't dream of every wanting to live in pakistan whilst those who are rich love entertaining the idea (and indeed some do go back).

a simple reality exists:

all those things that UK residents enjoy which pakistanis don't; inc. security, free healthcare, free education, world-class universities, welfare, human rights, access to justice, etc...

ALL can be bought at a price in pakistan if you have the wealth and/or the connections (through your wealth).

if not, you're jacked.

Naqiya said...

nb: i'm not anon!!

NB said...

@ Umair Javed:

You make some really interesting points, so thanks for your comment.

2nd Class Citizens: Yes, you are correct in your point that there is no way that I, or anyone else with my privilege, would be treated as a 2nd class citizen in Pakistan. Whilst I don’t disagree with you, let me clarify why I argued that point the way I did:

1. The point was too particular to a specific kind of economic migrant or, namely the upper-class alienated educated Pakistanis you refer to. Admittedly, that is the bulk of the incoming crop of Pakistani tier 1 immigrants, but it is not the bulk of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Generation Pakistani immigrants who are currently already settled in the UK. Most of them are working class immigrants, i.e. the ones that came decades ago. In that sense, they've moved from sometimes being 2nd class citizens in Pakistan to sometimes being 2nd class citizens in the UK.

2. If you are not working class, and are an upper class Pakistani, its anyways kind of hypocritical to be complaining about being a 2nd class citizen in the UK, for the reasons I set out in my post.

On your other point namely:

"the existence of this communitarian association back home not only acts as a safety-net, it acts as a symbolic gesture of power/status/wealth and social hierarchy."

Never thought of it that way (what does that say about me) and I agree that is a factor. In a way it is sad, because that dimension of our communities is self-constricting; there is so much more to be gained from a community that is wider and richer through the diversity of its member's backgrounds.

@ Zubair Sheikh

Thanks, and I’m very glad to meet someone who understands what I mean about the real religious value of community!

As for your other point, I think it is the ladies. They have a lot more independence to lose by coming back to Pakistan and so the trade off doesn’t work. They lose to society, to conservatism, to gender biased employers and perhaps MOST importantly, to their Pakistani Mother-in-laws!

@ Anon 1206

I agree that Class and wealth buys all that is otherwise lacking in Pakistan. I disagree with the following:

“however, if you are not wealthy, then there is not a single person who would willingly choose to be in pakistan. the reasons for this are too many to list.”

That may be true-er when you look at the impoverished (which I accept is a huge number). But apply this statement to the working and middle class (not the upper class, but the working and middle):

Because those segments of society are not affluent, so much more of their life is built around their communities rather then their material possessions, and for that reason they may be loathe to leave. In that sense, I think there are people who, whilst not wealthy, are profoundly uncomfortable with leaving Pakistan. They may have a job opportunity overseas but be held back by the old age of their parents. They may not be ambitious in the career sense, but in the communal sense. They may say they don’t want to bring up their children in a country that teaches ‘immoral values’. What I feel they are actually saying is, I cannot leave my community for no community.

@ Naqiya

Don’t worry I figured!! And thanks for having so much foresight dude. Seriously.

Smci said...

Excellent post!

I do disagree with the 'communal' reading of Islam. "La tansa naseebaka min ad-Dunya." There is ample opportunity to be self-reflective, self aware and self-concerned in Islam.

Anywho, my family migrated to the U.S. 20 years ago when I was 7. What's more is that we migrated to a part of the Northeast where there were few Muslims, much less Desis to interact with.

All of mine and my brothers' schooling occured here. All of our friends are here. We had effectively no connection to Pakistan other than hazy memories of growing up in Nazmabad with cousins on my mother's side.

My parents are both rather liberal-minded in the American sense, not the Pakistani 'burger' sense. We take each other's sovereign choices seriously, but never impose our opinions on each other.

They sent us to Sunday schools, but always taught us that our Islam is ultimately personal. Ironic then that all three of their sons are more religiously conservative then the parents.

We were taught that family is there through thick and thin and special occasions, but other than that, no one sticks their 'taang' in anyone else's business unless explicitly asked to.

We chose our careers inspite of the occassional suggestion that every generation should atleast have one doctor - and my mother's suggestion that we all go into Bollywood.

My older brother joined the Marines when he was 17, fought in Iraq, and his first son was born the day that his battalion crossed the Kuwaiti border headed for Baghdad.

He and I married without arrangements. We're Dehlvi Muhajirs but my brother married a half Irish/half Irani Shi'i and I married a half Punjabi/half Bhopali Muhajir.

We all live seperately but close enough to see each other on weekends.

It's an unspoken truth that my brothers and I are our parents' retirement plan. Retirement homes would be a shameful disgrace given the sacrifices they've made.

All of this goes to say that my impression has always been that life for Muslims, and Desis in particular, in the UK can be rather stifling. There's always been a depressing melancholic undertone to it.

Perhaps it's the overarching socio-economic circumstance British Muslims face?

Even the recently migrated gas station, 7-11 or Dunkin Donut owners here have expressed a sense of release coming to the U.S. Even after 9/11.

Or maybe it's because there are so many other groups here for xenophobic tensions to be released on? Perhaps its the sheer size of this Republic and the seemingly limitless ways to make it through?

Who knows?

But we have had distant cousins come to study here and refuse to settle because of the supposed corrupting effects this 'maashra' might have on their prospective children. I always that was a bunch of boohockey. But hey, to each his own. Enjoy life in the Banana Republic.

Indophile said...

Moving back to Pakistan/India after staying in West for any long duration of time, for any emotional reasons, is like preparing yourself for untold miseries. Most of these emotional things seems important when they are not available, but once you settled down, then they don't matter much, after that the actual quality of life matters which sucks generally back home.

NB said...


I really enjoyed reading your comment.

You are right, in that there is somethign to be said about the difference between the UK and the US. In that sense, I am glad i restricted my comparison to the UK and Pakistan because my arguments are that much stronger within that specific context.

Perhaps its just that the Americans are themselves relatively more community minded, warmer and socially open than the english? So in that sense the US is a little closer to home, and more homley? Im not sure. But the experience of Pakistani Americans and Pakistani Brits does vary. Possibly because that melancholic undertone in the UK that you wrote about has a real impact.

Re: Islam, I dont think we disagree. I also beleive there is ample opportunity to be self reflective, self aware and self concerned in Islam. My view is that Islam encourages the growth of its followers by exhorting them to connect with their inner selves and with the hearts others close to them. For me, the best expereince and the finest understanding would entail striking a fine balance between the two sides when they compete, but also allowing them to complement each other.

Anonymous said...

As someone who just repatriated himself back to Pakistan after 12 years, one aspect of society here is that striking up random conversations and friendships among the upper middle class / upper class here doesn't seem to happen - you have to be vetted by knowing someone in common, even if you're from the same social class. There seems to be a sort of cliquishness, whereas abroad you feel comfortable enough to start a conversation or friendship with anyone, regardless of social status. Its one of those paradoxes, whereas one is supposed to feel isolated in a Western society, but here you can be in an even worse situation if you don't know anyone.

Of course, that's just my experience so far.

Smci said...

@ NB

Ofcourse the story is different for desis settling in different parts of America. Those who settled in cities like New York, LA or Houston have had a strong sense of community. Their first generation didn't feel the need to 'branch out' as extensively as others in order to survive with some semblance of sanity. This is the case with my wife and in-laws. Her father migrated here 5 years after the '65 Immigration Act and encountered very few Pakistanis. Whereas by the time he had children there were possibly tens of thousands of Pakistani families living in Houston, so they naturally raised their children around other Pakistani families. Houston is primarily a city of desi engineers (on account of the oil refining industry), entrepreneurs, and ofcourse, doctors. So most folks there genuinely have middle-class roots in Pakistan. The Northeast (Delaware-Maryland-Virginia-DC) largely contained (until recently) those immigrant Pakistanis who were deliberately granted visas after '65 and brought here as government scientists, engineers and bankers (many NASA researchers, NIH and World Bank staff). They tend to have upper-class roots in Pakistan. New York has always been different. I say this with no righteous indignation, but it is largely settled by folks who overstayed their VISAs in the process of applying for legal residence (who hasn't?). You'll find the common phenomenon of fathers who can't apply for green cards, but the INS made a deal with them that so long as they don't apply, their wives and children won't have an adverse impact on their case files. Then there are ofcourse those who came here on 'jaali' Visas by means of paying off American women to claim them as their fiances or paying midwest farmers to claim them as employees. LA is like Houston, absent the Oil industry. And finally there are the affluent Pakistani Doctors who are littered all across America.

Smci said...


Also, my impression about the better experience of Pakistani Americans vis-a-vis their Pakistani Briton brethren is based in my reading of the countries' ethnic history. And it's probably missing a lot of caveats. However, the view is that most Pakistanis who came here in the 70s started as either university students doing odd jobs to feed themselves, or fathers living with 3 or 4 other friends or brothers in apartments... usually saving up money by working lower class jobs to get their wife and kids over here. As such, their encounter was largely with descendents of non-Episcopalian ethnic groups such as the Irish, Italians, Blacks and Latinos. All of these groups had already suffered the rough and tumble of minority existance prior to the throngs of Pakistanis arriving in the 70s and 80s. Plus, here most people, particularly in the large urban centers where Pakistanis settled, have a very strong sense of ethnic identity and can usually trace their family's experience back to places like Ellis Island. So they have an appreciation for the trials of being accepted and treated fairly as an ethnic outcast. As Pakistanis moved up the economic ladder and to more 'desk job' type environments is where they slowly started to encounter 'priveledged' Old English America. And that itself is slowly dying off as the final generation of pre-Civil Rights Caucasians are passing away. So our experience on the whole has been rather peaceful, and our lives here are what we made of them, which can't be said of other minorities.
I suppose this is startkly different in the UK, where the law may ban discrimination, but attitudes may still be deeply racist. Add to that the vestiges of the colonial relationship most British immigrants have with their country, and you've got a dismal situation. I think the fundemental attitude towards immigrants is different in our two countries. For most Pakistanis, 'average Americans' are those self-consumed buffoons who can't even point to Canada on a map, so how can they propose to be superior to us in any way? Nevermind that you're actually fleeing your country to better you life in theirs. I think this is inverted in Britain, where the ethnic legacy and civil rights legacy is not as rich, and the remnants of a 'civilizing colonial' mentality still lingers in the minds of some... to the point where they treat Pakistanis as recently civilized, but still largely, savages. (obviously that's a little exaggerated, but you get the point).

But when all else fails, just remember, France is much worse.

Anonymous said...

I live in Britain and was born here. I think we can't generalise about the Pakistani experience in this country as being disadvantaged or miserable. I live in London and know many highly successful British Pakistanis in business and in professions, including the financial sector. I guess it depends on your upbringing and your outlook on life. All the folks I know have a positive attitude and don't let real or imagined hurdles get in the way. They love their country but Britain is the home they love.

Captain said...

read the first few paragraphs and loved it alot
you share the same view as many overseas pakistani youth.
personally i believe the biggest advantage of living in pakistan is because you are around your people and your culture [and religion]
everything else is b.s.
lol im about to blog about this [you'll get a linkback for sure as you striked the idea in my mind]

Anonymous said...

hi its me sana
my id is sana_nelam@yahoo.com
my cell no is 0323 4371627 and 0323 4948891
contact me i wana sex partner from pindi cantt
uummmahh waiting for hamdsome sexy guys

Nikesh said...


Well put. Must tell you that I am not a Pakistani, I am an Indian but the mantle you constructed fits me perfectly.
Just a point of reference: I have put some bit of what you've written as my facebook comment. There is an acknowledgement to Five Rupees. Just in case you need some amendment or further acknowledgement do let me know.
Once again, well said my friend.


Naqiya said...

@ anon (sana):
you have come to the right place! how did you know that Rs5 also runs a brothel on the side?? please contact Amjadia Nawaz at amjadianawaz@gmail.com. She handles that side of the business

NB said...


What youre saying about the US, particularly in respect of its recent ethnic-immigrant history makes sense. In that sense I can see how the desi experience and desi values are to some extent more universal in the US, particularly in the urban melting pots. In other places, our numbers allow us to recreate desi communities within the US, like in Houston.

I dont know how much rascism has much to do with it in the UK though. As you will note above, I stayed away from the '2nd class citizen' argument here in the UK. Like Anonymous 1026 (just after you) pointed out, there are a lot of Desis in the UK who genuinely call it home and dont feel as though theyre treated badly at all.

I think with hindsight, pretty much all of what I have written primarily applies only to 1st generation immigrants, people who have been raised in Pakistan but then face a choice to step out and work/settle overseas. 2nd and 3rd Generation desis were either already brought up overeas in reconstituted desi immigrant communities , or werent (and therefore havent experienced it to value it)

@Anon 1026
In that sense, I accept what your saying. There are tons of perfectly happy communally living desis here in the UK. But I would say that the generalisation I have made with respect to the UK having a lonely side to it reffers to the culture of the host population (a loose definition, i know) and the experience of 1st generation desi immigrants(rather than the 2nd and 3rd generation desi communities that have had time to reconstitute themselves here).


Thanks man. I look forward to reading your post.


Good luck finding sex partners in Pindi Cantt through Five Rupees. Honestly, you will need it.


Prior to the post I had actually had this conversation with a few of my Indian freinds. So I appreciate that it applies to you; perhaps because of how well India is doing economically, and fact that its actually a safe place to live, there are more Indians than Pakstani's likely to sympathise with my arguments. And thanks for the acknowledgement, very kind of you.


My thanks to you and Ahsan for turning Amjadia Nawaz into some sort of weird Five Rupees Sex Massage Mascot. Well done, 10 points each.

Naqiya said...

@nb: dont be sad, amjadia will always has a special place for you in her heart.

karachi khatmal said...

in the 90s, and from there on onwards, bollywood reaped the benefits of a vast diaspora of NRIs (non-resident indians) who longed to be back home by making flicks like Dilwale Dulhaniya Lay Jayengay etc that highly romanticized the desi experience - makkai di roti etc etc.

perhaps as a reaction, the argument here so far is based on facts, figures and statistics about the quality of life. however, as a terribly home sick person in the UK, i don't think you can base everything on that alone.

how about the fact that an overcast day in karachi feels like heaven, but feels like every shit cold rainy day here? or that you can't ever take your car out to meet friends at random, instead of having to consult tube maps and individual schedules and what not to spend 30 minutes together? or that everything is so frickin expensive here? or that home is where i grew up, where i walked my first steps, where i fell in love the first time, where my voice finally dropped well after everyone else in my class? you can't classify home in statistics or facts or class markers alone. if you can, then ask your computer to make the choice for you, and live there happily ever after.

sorry to sound like a shamless plug, but i did make a student film that briefly touches upon differences between here and there. you can see it at


AGM missile is online.. said...

Indophile said...
Moving back to Pakistan/India after staying in West for any long duration of time, for any emotional reasons, is like preparing yourself for untold miseries. Most of these emotional things seems important when they are not available, but once you settled down, then they don't matter much, after that the actual quality of life matters which sucks generally back home.

Spot on and not to be diregarded.

I've been going through this issue in my head since returning to Pakistan. Being young and amongst friends and family was great but I hate being an adult over here.
I felt more love for the country and what it means to me while away. Since I've been back its been hell. I hate life here, but the fact is I love living and there's a whole world to do that in. Though I am against the idea of Southall and Lil' Pakistans in other countries.

As to why I am here its because of the whole family issue. The guilt society we were raised in does not allow me the luxury to be 'Nashukra' and demands of me to fulfil my responsibilities being the only son of an ailing father. How typical can a story get.

@NB : If you have not stuck here because of family business or stuff like that .. LEAVE.
Start somewhere new and fresh and visit Pakistan for vacations. Its amazing then and thats all the Pakistan I want to deal with anyway. Don't get overwhelmed by patriotism

Anonymous said...

Alright seriously the title is extremely misleading. :P it even attracted Sana or whoever is using that pseudonym.

Captain said...

here u go bro:

Ali said...

Word, NB I remember we were talking about something similar a few weeks ago, and it was no coincidence that I had just returned from Pakistan!

One comment I'd like to make is that while reading your piece, I could not help but see a cyclical paradigm of social/cultural/religious/economic development in comparing 'Pakistan' with 'the West'. All the points you mentioned that would tip the balance in favour of Pakistan are cultural/economic/religious phases that 'the West' has gone through - but Pakistani society is still functioning on that basis.

Way before the welfare state, free healthcare and education, state responsibility and cosmopolitan centers in the West, western societies were exactly how you describe Pakistani community-based support networks to be. Kinship and community cohesion was shaped by (and in turn, reinforced) economic and religious trends in western communities too.

The difference between the two (Pakistan or the 'non-West' & the 'West') is that naval exploration for economic gain/control, the Protestant Reformation & secularisation of Europe (what Max Weber called 'the disenchantment of the world'), the rise of industrialisation & capitalism led to the gradual and inevitable shift from family/clan/tribe-based support systems to more complex and far-reaching economic and political networks - and all these factors affected each other reciprocally. All this led to the 'decline' of the extended family network for economic and political reliance. The welfare state had been put in motion. The material advantage European/Western nations had over the non-West in this regard is that economic extrapolation/exploitation of resources from the colonies to the imperial centers funded the welfare system. Western nations now had all this money to provide free/subsidised education and healthcare, thereby diminishing the reliance of extended-family/community-based support systems.

I feel like I'm rambling now, but do you see what I mean?

Western societies once shared the same exact features of contemporary Pakistani society which you describe in terms of community-based support networks (be they familial, ethnic, religious, etc). Who knows, a century or two down the line Pakistani/non-Western societies will start mirroring Western societies in this regard and you'd be attributing Pakistan's benefits to a completely different set of factors.

Banana cognac.

Ali said...

I just realised that in my last paragraph of my post above I have suggested that you might live for 100 or 200 years.

midwestpakistani said...

I understand where you are coming from. I came to the USA when I was 3. I went back to Pakistan once in 1984. I have not been back since then. There are times where I feel drawn to the country and then other times I want nothing to do with it. For me, I don't think I could live there, but there is a desire to see the country and the people.
One thing that is still strong there, families always meet with each other. In the USA everyone gets caught up in their own thing and it's hard to maintain the connections.

Hira Mir said...

it is not a hidden fact that the cream of HR in Pakistan is exported. However, I agree with your decision that you remained in your country and are working for the better of it. We must realize that not all happening is wrong. Just if even the grants and aid coming into Pakistan is capitalized in the right direction a huge change can be seen. e.g US provided $16.5m to upgrade powerplant to decrease the ongoing electricity problem.

Butters said...

I found this post distressingly collectivistic, to be honest. Everyone's experience is their own, but there are some general statements you've made that I disagree with.

Spirituality is about self-forgetting not in the mundane sense of doing things for or thinking about others. Even such other-oriented acts are egoistic, though they may not be selfish ('egoism' is not the same as 'selfishness'). Interaction with others actually creates our ego / brings it to the fore, since we have to present ourselves to others, thus creating a 'face' and becoming self-conscious. In fact, that is probably how the ego originated in the first place.

The point of spirituality is... well, there are many points, but one important *stage* in the spiritual process to allow our ego to slide away, at least temporarily. This is absolutely impossible to do while interacting with another person. That's why monks and nuns have to live in relative isolation from society, and why many people need a place of silence to pray.

Additionally, confusing society or family with God is a type of idol-worship. To worship other human beings is considered spirituality, but is its very antithesis. If we do not worship our own egos, we should not worship the egos of others either. Self-forgetting -- which does not occur in social settings anyway, but rather the opposite occurs -- is not an end in itself, but must be replaced by a deeper, truer self which is an individual, a complete and whole individual who does not need others but who does not harm them either. This individual is the soul, and is brought out by love for God, but diminished by egoism and idol-worship (including the worship of other humans).

Ahsan said...

I have no idea what this Butters chick just said, but I do know she completely pharoed NB's.

Naqiya said...

yeah NB, you islam hating, 'shirk' committing ass!

NB said...


I agree that interaction with others can create our ego and brings it to the fore, because of the reason you state, namley that we have to project ourselves outwards "thus creating a 'face'"

In terms of the other side, namely to "allow our ego to slide away", it is not impossible to do with another person. It is possible to do alone, (through meditation, solitude, and inner reflection, as discussed in the comments above by another), but it is equally possible to do through empathy, which is to 'put yourself in another shoes' or to feel what another is feeling to the point that you have trancended the boundaries of yourself. To 'lose yourself' through your compassion and empathy for your fellow man (which is not the same as placing your fellow man on a higher pedestal than God, for the reasons in the next paragraph).

With regard to Shirk, you have misunderstood my point. There has been no suggestion of equating family with God, rather that to love your neighbor and to be an active and positive part of your community is to walk on a path that by its nature elavates your spirit. E.G if Heaven lies at the feet of the Mother, it is not because the mother is the object of worship, but that to respect & love her is both a reward in itself and a manner of ibadat.

I hope that clears up any confusion.

@Hira Mir

Im actually not yet back in Paksitan, I am still an expatriate. Im simply hoping to return, partly to be part of the positive process you describe in your comment.


I know what you mean, in terms of being double minded about Pakistan . Despite the fact that Im arguing for Pakistan here, when Im in the country, there are often points when I just want to rip my hair out and run somewhere else.


I think i will write a post on Shirk. Thatll get me into trouble.

2/2/10 5:52 PM

Butters said...

@ NB

Yeah, I get what you're saying and it's a fair point, however there are some things I said that perhaps weren't communicated properly.

When we have empathy with others, we're not actually losing our selves, since that would amount to either an experience of non-dual 'awakening' (e.g. Nirvana) or a psychotic break with reality. Our ego is there in the equation even when we have compassion for others; indeed, it has to be integrated (thus healthily self-centered) for a coherent experience like that to occur and be comprehended/dealt with.

I guess it's not idol-worship to simply respect or love others, but to confuse loss of self of the spiritual kind (e.g. Nirvana, or even loss of ego with the maintenance of Self, the latter being something truer or more eternal than the ego [i.e. the soul]) with loss of selfishness of the temporal kind, is at least a mistake even, if it's not idolatrous.

I didn't mean to put you on the spot with the idol-worship thing, and in any event I'm not Muslim and commit idol-worship myself probably, at least in the eyes of a Muslim :P.

Great post though :)