A Pakistani state of mind
Today marks four months, 16 weeks and 122 days since I moved back to Karachi from California and I know this because I’ve counted.
Despite having spent the formative years of my life in Karachi and having fond memories of my life here, it’s been a harrowing few months having to start from scratch all over again.
Sure there are the usual frustrations of coming back to a country that in the midst of a downward spiral into anarchy and chaos, but I’ve noticed something different among the people.
It may have always existed, but I wonder if something happened to the Pakistani psyche that makes almost everyone constantly hostile
In the aftermath of the Osama Bin Laden’s killing, Christopher Hitchens wrote that if Pakistan were a person, “He (and it would have to be a he) would be completely humourless, paranoid, insecure, eager to take offense, and suffering from self-righteousness, self-pity, and self-hatred.”
At the time I found Hitchens’ portrayal to be a cartoonish view of Pakistan that has gained currency in recent years and months. But at this point, I wonder if there is an element of truth to it on a more visceral level.
Just a few days into having moved here, I stood in line at a local ISP outlet waiting in line to pay my bill. But then, like a whirlwind on fire, a gentleman (and I use the term loosely) barged into the store, oblivious to queue in front of him, screaming and shouting about how his Internet service had been cut off. He berated the company associate trying to help him and refused to calm down.
I’m willing to bet the money in my pockets and all the money in the pockets of people reading this that this same person wouldn’t have had the audacity to pull that in a western country.
Two weeks ago, I had a similar experience driving down the streets of Defence as I encountered a car driving the wrong way on a one way street coming right at me. I was lucky enough to brake and swerve at the right time to avoid what would’ve been a Michael Bay-esque collision. For a few seconds he stared at me and if looks could kill, me along with my next few generations would’ve died right there.
He rolled down his window, as did I, and we had a conversation. I pointed out the fact that it was a one way street, while he countered with an impressive argument having something to do with a close family member and wondering if I wanted to “take it outside.”
These are of course anecdotal observations, but while these may be one-off instances, I could recount dozens more and I think there seems to be collective feeling of frustration and rage that resides just beneath the surface and is set off by the most arbitrary and mundane.
And let’s be clear, I’m not innocent in the matter. I seem to have fallen into the same trap. Hypocrite much? Sure. Guilty as charged.
But what is it about our mentality today that makes it so violent?
Some may venture the idea that it’s because of the sky rocketing inflation, the complete disintegration of basic services, a disdain for the ruling class which has let down its people that has metastasised into pure rage.
Those are certainly contributing factors, but I think it’s become more of an ingrained element rooted in our DNA — this concept that because it’s Pakistan, it’s just how things work and how you’re supposed to operate.
Undoubtedly I’m not the first to point this out, in fact, I’m sure all of us have made these observations time and again. And I wouldn’t be surprised to be called out as just another “white boy frustrated by power black outs”.
Nonetheless it’s a question we need to look inward to answer. What hope do we have when the supposedly educated part of our society behaves with a completely unwarranted sense of entitlement?
The writer is a reporter at Dawn.com