Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Pakistan and Hindustan reflections...

I was recently asked a two part question that I thought deserved some time and effort. I was also on the University of Punjab campus today meeting with the head of the sociology department, Dr. Muhammad Hafeez. I was given a tour of the facilities and managed to get into some discussions with some of the master's level students that touched on the same topic. [ed. These conversations influenced this post to make the comparison between the two countries rather than finding the commonalities within the culture.]

After spending so much time in the subcontinent, how has your perspective changed on:
a. Your impression of India/Pakistan (since you grew up outside the country and probably had ideas from books and videos and what people told you or short visits). But now you've spent a longer time in these countries and really gotten to know them.

I have been continually asked to compare the two countries and state which one in my opinion is my favorite, or which one is better. I was given a pearl of wisdom today which lends to this particular situation... "brothers always fight but strangers never do". There is a constant comparison and battle amongst these brothers.

The picture that was painted for me was no where near what it actually was. A distorted Salvador Dali like painting emerged. I thought Pakistan was a dirty, third world terrorist breeding ground full of Islamic fundamentalists that interpreted the teachings of Islam and rendered them conducive to their own agendas. Some of these points are accurate like an arrow piercing an apple on top of someone's head. The two countries were once one and since partition in 1947 they have their own identities.

I experienced both countries in a different manner. In Pakistan I was surrounded by family constantly and hosted properly. In India I was a vagabond just roaming about discovering. So these two different ways of traveling creates two different experiences. But what I will tell you
is that the concept of 'mehman' is very strong in South Asia. Mehman means guest and here [ed. two countries as one] they treat their guests royally. People go out of their way to accommodate you, help you and make sure that everything that you need is accomplished. I found that in Pakistan the level of hosting is much greater than in India. Not to take away from the plethora of people that lent me a helping hand during my travels in India.

Another thing that stands out is that whenever an Indian found out I had been to both India and Pakistan they instantly wanted to know which one was better. I always answered with diplomacy, never quite giving them the answer that they wanted but still satisfying their query. Pakistani people would never differentiate whereas Indians would always make comments towards Pakistanis. There is a saying I learned in India and it is 'Chalo Pakistan'. Chalo means to 'go' or 'let's go' and when they say 'go to Pakistan' it is a curse meaning go to hell - Pakistan is hell, then you go to it. This is something that is commonplace in India. You'll never find anything like that in Pakistan. The problem is that Pakistan has no where near the tourist industry that India has. People get to experience India and form their opinions of the ashrams they've been to, the sadhus that passed on their wisdom, the amazing architecture, landscapes and people. Only a hand full of 'brave' travelers venture off to Pakistan. When I was at the Canadian Embassy in Delhi and spoke of my travel plans to Pakistan they handed me a twelve page travel advisory not to travel in Pakistan. I was amazed.

I also made the observation that Pakistan seems to be more developed than India. India is a filthy place but has a power house economy, nothing in comparison to Pakistan. India is a very rich country. I'm not saying that Pakistan is any cleaner, but the cities are very well kept. A possible reason is that Muslims hold cleanliness next to godliness. Whenever I was traveling in India, the guesthouses in the Muslim areas were much cleaner as were the area housing them.

The progressive attitudes in India were found in the major metropolises, those are the areas I tried to avoid. I passed through Kolkata, haven't yet been to Mumbai but I'm sure it will be more plastic than Delhi. [ed. I make this statement with the distaste I found in Delhi still resonating. I simply mean that it is a large center that is full of hustle and bustle. I should have chosen my words more carefully, something I work on on a daily basis. You either like the fast pace or not. These days I am siding with the relaxed nature of smaller cities and villages. I used to love the fast pace and who is to say that I won't like it again. Given the right circumstances, which most likely will present themselves in Mumbai, I could easily fall back in love with it. Moving and shaking... I've always been good at that.] In Delhi it was interesting to witness the hierarchy of classes though. If you were a posh citizen, then Hindi was rarely spoken and replaced with this slightly Queen's English influenced accent. And speaking of hierarchies, Indians are taught to differentiate between people from birth. If you are born into a certain class, let's say a lower caste, then you are taught that you have to tolerate being treated like dirt. In contrast, if you are born into a higher caste you are taught that you can treat people with little to no respect. I had the privilege of staying with a friend in Anand Lok. A small little colony of well to do, border line uppity types. Whenever I walked the colony, security guards, drivers and the like would light up and smile and we would exchange kind words. These people are working class and god forbid anyone living here should speak to them like a human being. That is the one thing I really disliked about the caste system in India. I would always connect with every human being whether it be a rickshaw driver, servant, driver, beggar, business owner or a suit. I was raised to respect all human life and I have an appreciation for the connection that you make when you look someone in the eyes and see the inner child light up.

I could continue to write on this subject but I think this little blurb is sufficient enough to satisfy the question and give some insight to those who have never traveled here. So in summary, my perspective has changed by thinking that these were developing, borderline Third World countries and I now find that they are both rich in culture, life and spirit. The only thing I don't understand is why these two countries that were once one make extraordinary efforts to segregate themselves from one another. We are all brothers and sisters and reiterating the pearl of wisdom I received... "brothers always fight but strangers never do" - my only explanation. [ed. If I were to assume that India and Pakistan are the same place then my findings from previous have changed dramatically. It is a culture rich in family. Something that lacks in the culture I was born into, although there are exceptions. I always thought of this area as poor and backwards. It's funny in retrospect but I now have to say that North American culture is the one that is poor and backwards. Here they have things right. Family values are of utmost importance. You can have four generations of people in the same room listening to music and all of them are tapping their feet and sharing their thoughts with one another. The tight knit is absolutely impressive. People here are more wealthy for their love of one another.]

b. How did it change you? positive way, not so positive?

It's changed me in the sense that I prefer buckets of water for my bathing, I prefer squat toilets, eating with my hands and am tolerant of dirt. I could give up my existence in the North American world and remain here completely content. Something I could have never imagined a
year ago. It is all familiar, it's home. I can't explain it, but I've been here before. So I have to say that it was completely positive change and the insights gained into my family, especially my father have been enormous. We can all make up our minds about something but until you've experienced it first hand you have no right to pass judgment. I'm guilty of that last one, my judgment was passed swiftly. I am so thrilled that I was given the opportunity to experience this. [ed. The only way I know how to answer this simply is that I don't want to go back. My thoughts before experiencing it first hand were to sample it, take something back with me and continue on with my draining existence in the consumer driven world applying what I learned. Instead I find myself with the desire to remain here and continue my existence among these people and making all the efforts to do so.]

My initial response to the question:

a. the media has painted a picture of pakistan that doen't quite match
up to what it actually is. india however is geared up for the tourist
industry where pakistan is not and has more stringent barriers on
border. there is a saying here... same same, but different. they were
once united in a land of desi and now the differences are just that -
differences where they should be our commonalities...
-short response
b. absolutely positive. not only did it give me perspective in who i am
and where i come from... but also my parents...
if i could... i would stay much longer
i'll respond to this in a blog if you don't mind... i think it's a great
question and would like to share my findings...


  1. hey, i might be wrong, but i don't think mumbai is more plastic than delhi! it's a bigger city, but it actually has an urban identity and people way more decent and civil. i hope you'll be pleasantly surprised...

  2. I don't think you're wrong Deeps... Mumbai is an unknown so it is yet to be written...

    Surprised pleasantly I will be...

    Congrats on your extension and enjoy the wedding ;)


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