To return to Pakistan when you have the option to live elsewhere is not like having a bypass for fun, its because Pakistan for you is a fetish and a curiosity. I realized this quite acutely this when I read Mohammad Hanif's essay about moving back to Pakistan from England, and instantly feeling the obligation to clarify some myths about the country, and thus sinking himself deeper into these very same myths.
He wrote this two years ago, and I wonder if he twists in his writer's grave now when he sees this because most god fearing people should have nothing to do with what they wrote two years ago. This essay is like a new born baby first viewing Karachi covered in the amniotic goo of western paradigms.
Hanif should simply admit that Pakistan offers better material. Its just that life in the U.S, and the U.K., despite the organic lager, becomes sterile and insipid. Winters turn into freezy Februaries, and everywhere you turn, there is nothing engaging. Yet in Pakistan, there are peasants, workers, transvestites, bombers, and so many contradictions. People are religious and sexy at the same time; its cute, heartbreaking all at once. Got writer's block? Come to Pakistan. In fact fly PIA, the material will pour out right at you when the air hostess scolds the passengers, "nahin mein aik aur pepsi nahin de sakti." Take notes. Smile. Feel delight.
So here are some of M Hanif's original observations which, in my opinion, reinforce the myth he purports to dispel.
1. Pakistani people talk about the sex lives of their servants and power cuts.
Queer. People in America and England never ever talk about the sex lives of their servants(employees)? I guess Niles and his brother Fraser were an exception then in their obsession with Daphne, their father's 'servant', and whom she brought into her bedroom. And what about Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Interns were technically servants before the term became politically incorrect in the U.S.. People do not simply talk about power cuts: They pray for bijli to come back; they burn effigies in front of local electric supply offices; they invest thousands on generators and UPS(es); they fret and curse Siemens and the botched privatization of KESC if they are aware of it; they lay awake at night sweating and warding off dengue mosquitoes, they die from dengue, and when the light comes back, its feels so nice, they forget it ever went. They also forget, it will go again tomorrow for seven hours intermittently. And seriously if he or anyone lost heat in a London's winter, they would burn effigies too, and not just to produce heat.
2. People in Pakistan they have musical concerts, protests, film festivals, all in the face of an increased number of Islamic channels and hijabis.
Pakistanis are resilient and persevering, and the country is a living paradox of religion and rock and roll. There are multiple layers to its little projected multifaceted reality, and its my job to tell you about it. There is music and film, yet a growing religiosity, and to make things more complicated, hijabis make out in broad daylight with bearded men with the Arabian sea lapping at their feet.
And then this: "
With over 60% of Pakistan's population being under the age of 30, you see couples in parks and seafronts, and they are usually very careful about public displays of affection, but sometimes when they do touch, inadvertently or not, we only find that newsworthy because we began with the presumption of religion enforcing rules and controlling sexuality. The contradictions are everywhere in the world.
3. Lets find a way to talk about transvestites.
Everyone and their grandmother wants to make a film about transvestites. How they earn, where they live, whether they are hermaphrodites, whether they are gay, how they are discriminated against. And does M Hanif know for a fact its their elegance and poise that keep the police away in homo erotic fascination? Seriously, I think it is romanticizing the oppressed so you can feel better when you have brunch at Sindh Club. And to be quite honest, I am super excited that the CJ rendered a decision granting them legal status and now I can (legally) weave them into every single class of mine.
4. My wife has found more old aunts than I can count...
Now that was bound to happen when you shifted out of the two bedroom flat, and where your only other companion besides your cat called "Billi" was your spouse. Didn't you know your wife had a phuphi, a chachi, a khala, and their cousins and siblings officially classify as aunts too? And the chances are, most of those 27 old ladies did not migrate to London. Seriously, can we develop a healthier fetish and curiosity and write about issues for a change?