November 15, 2006

Lahore Lahore Hei!

Posted in Reflections at 1:44 am by egalitaria

Coming back to Malaysia after being in Pakistan has been quite a change. Not so much culturally, but politically.

Pakistan, located in South Asia and much closer to the Middle-East region, is exposed to a much more global political and current affairs scene that is Malaysia. Sensitivities are heightened. Issues loom larger than our petty ones back in KL. They’re about life and death. Islam and its interpretations. Religion and international relations. Militancy and decency.

Air strikes at Bafaur, killing 80 youth in their twenties: controversy arising from whether they were indeed militants in training by a banned Islamic extremist group, or students attending a madrasah. Were they conducted by Americans or the Pakistan government? Is there a difference? Why did the government disallow journalists to come on site the attack?

Political strikeback: suicide bomber in Dargai, killing 43 people. Opposition parties in Balochistan (one of the provinces in Pakistan) refusing to attend meetings. Main opposition party MMA grouping together wanting to oust the President because he is not listening to the sentiment on the ground.

A very pro-American government, hardlined against “terrorists” and taking a military approach in handling them. A slow but steady uprising from the local madrasahs and street peddlars, calling him “Busharraf” instead, stating their religious conviction with full might. They hate Bush and hate America. They kid around with us foreigners, poking each other in the ribs saying the other is a terrorist from Afghanistan. They consider it a big joke.

Indeed, it is a big joke. What a land of controversy and paradox. The liberals and the conservatives; a match for the other. Face to face in a street market stall.

The patriarchal society. Men walking around in their very traditional shawal kamis, it is an official gear as well. They go about their business, in eateries and work duties. The women strangely behind the scenes (yes, the odd one or two high powered lady within government departments; only the elite educated). Where is the woman’s culture? In the shops, buying cloth and fabric for daily wear, weddings and future festivals.

But what a lovely, hospitable and friendly society. I love these people. They live in full colour and vibrancy, embracing many other aspects of life we tend to forget. Donkeys and sheep on Lahori streets. Dust and smog fill the lungs, but what beauty comes out of this calour, this chaos I can imagine is home for them. Music and dance, percussion heavy beat, rhythm waning deep into the night, wee hours of the morning in the distance so I cannot hear myself breathe. Instead, I breathe the air of Pakistan, this full sweet sticky smell deep.

Intellectuals are intellectual. High class is high class. Their flair for writing is incredible, I scan their daily newspapers in awe, especially “Dawn”, the oldest newspaper founded by Mohd Ali Jinnah (Pakistan’s founder as well) – beats any Malaysian newspaper flat I tell you, flat! The level of discourse, writing style, focus upon issues that are important and relevant. Coming back to the NST and Star is just horrible – I crave that broadsheet in the early mornings, proper news one can digest into one’s system before the start of day.

Interpretation of religion differing from our “seperti katak di bawah tempurung” one. Women domestic and home-grown, but hardly conservative in nature – headscarves used as a fashion item, not for religious reasons. More than willing to own dogs in households. The only creeping Islamisation comes probably from the religious schools. And publicly of course, they are an Islamic republic – therefore, no legal sale of alcohol, drugs or women. Publicly of course. Behind the scenes, you’ve got yourself a modern nation, a generation of youth exposed to everything Western you can imagine.

Incredible food and fabric, reds and oranges and goldens and yellows. Greens and meats, dry and thick, saag and soggy, intense and heated. Lethal, beauty and brains. Hard flavours, sharp to the tongue and mind, piercing your tastebuds with tastes so strong that you forget you’ve ever tasted anything else before.

A beautiful country, northern areas surrounded by hills. In wintertime, snow falls and covers the tips of Margalla hills. Mountain ranges up north will be an interesting place to go. Next trip, travel up to Murree, Gilgit, and perhaps sneak a glimpse at the Himalayas. You can travel through Khyber Pass and get through to China from Pakistan as well. The Shangri-La mountain roof is located nearby as well. If one dares, one should visit Kashmir. The old beauty of a Cashmere is now distorted by troops and military protection, but the mountains are still the mountains. Valleys and lush green put together – you have an Asian Switzerland, and pay much less. (Pakistan, I’m doing you a real free tourism advertisement here!) Yes, I would return to this country.

Because it is curious, an interesting heart of Asia that holds India’s oldest Indus civilisation. It is where Babur, the first Moghul king, started his empire. The country is rich with heritage, history, culture, arts, music, dance, natural beauty – and foreign direct investment is flowing in like nobody’s business. Well, of course it is their business. Hotels are sprouting out (Dubai’s 7 star hotel company is going to build one in Islamabad!), brands are spotting the 160 million people population this significant country has. It’s any marketer’s dream destination land, really. Watch out world, here comes Pakistan tagging very closely behind India.

Thanks everyone for making my stay there so incredibly heartwarming! I had loads of fun experiencing the local people, delicious delicious food (I have a long list of things to scout out in Little India, Malaysia, now), dress and culture, political environment, government administration, and most importantly having interesting conversations aap kaisa hei aap ka nam kia hei bogat shukria.

Lahore Lahore Hei! Zindabar Pakistan! Allah Hafiz.

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