It was a cultural shock. I didn’t comprehend this representation of Pakistan, my homeland.
I travelled to Glasgow, Scotland in September 2011 to pursue a Master of Business and Management degree from the University of Strathclyde. At the airport, while checking in luggage, I knew I was in for something different and unexpected. Yes, I had travelled abroad extensively but had never been a resident of any other city besides my own. But at that instant, I made up my mind. I would integrate into the society and not ‘act’ as a member of a secluded community.
Initially, the people I met identified me either as a Lebanese or an Iranian. They said I looked different. I had to convince them of my national identity by conversing in Urdu. As days passed by, I missed being surrounded by ‘desis’, people I could call my ‘own’.
George Square, the city center that was at two minutes’ walk from the campus and where I usually spent my time with friends, didn’t show a frame with Pakistanis. There were Europeans, Arabic and of course Indians but not Pakistanis.
Upon inquiring, I came to know that the Asian Community resides at the Pollockshields – a community with a high density of Asians (read Pakistanis). The longing to have halal meat and hear the sound of Azaan lead me to drive there.
I wanted to be ‘home’, I guess.
Sadly and to my dismay, it was nothing like home. I sensed that the forced identity of ‘Pakistani’ and ‘Muslim’ was backlashing – they would bail out given the first opportunity that comes their way.
The experience left an impact on me. Often when I speak about ‘identity’ and the meaning it holds, specific scenes from that time play in front of my eyes and I wonder what is it that we must do?
As Pakistanis, nationals or ex-pats, we must assume the role of ambassadors of our multiple identities based on nationality, religion and culture. Living more responsibly will give us clarity of mind and thought.
I walked into the first lecture of Dr. Peter McInnes, the Program Director of my degree with a pre-conceived notion that he would be biased based on racial difference. Maybe he was but I managed to develop a relation with him that the others envied. He went on to supervise my dissertation, the first to be written about Pakistan in the university’s history.
I recall clearly being hesitant for a few seconds about writing ‘Pakistan’ as my national affiliation when asked to do so on our name plates for classroom discussions. And rightly so, if I attempt at justifying myself. Twenty percent of the class size was Indian, the same figure belonged to the Far East region and the rest were Europeans with a very small number being American. Haaris and I were the only Pakistanis.
I raised my hand often to participate in discussions but I was never called as I did not have entrepreneurial examples to quote from back home. The Indians had the Tata’s to talk about and the British the Goldsmith’s. I could not have remained silent.
‘Talk about countries where businesses never work’, I told Dr. McInnes. And I got my chance.
We were asked to share what we, as individuals, represent. I chose ‘Pakistan’.
The reason was concrete. No place will own me more than she has for so many years. I belong nowhere but Pakistan.
But what is to be a Pakistani?
‘Patriotism’, the notion we identify with, is not enough. For we need to identify in ourselves an urge for tolerance, a desire for peace, a conviction to spread love, and to be Pakistani.