These days, there’s some electricity and excitement in the air as we slowly edge our way towards elections here in Pakistan. After a choking five years, there’s a collective chant for change across the country, and we finally have the chance to choose our change-maker. Actually, let me correct that, you have a chance to choose. I won’t be voting. Not because I’m lazy or lack the power of decision. The truth is I can’t vote…here.
See, I’m an American. Wait! Before you rise to clap and belt out the Star Spangled Banner in my honor, let me finish that thought.
I’m also a Pakistani. Wait! Before you pull out a gun and tell me I have the right to remain silent, please just let me finish.
What I really am is confused. Very confused.
It’s enough that I’ve never been sure what order those superlatives should be stated in. American-Pakistani, Pakistani-American? Frankly, both are a mouthful of awkward. But it’s seriously too much to bear that it actually matters.
Blame bogus Bush-isms (yeah, thanks for the “with us or against us” blabber, Dubya!) or put it on Pakistani politicians planting the seeds of prejudice, the point is, you either act like an American or play the part of a Pakistani. Trying to intertwine the two can leave you bordering on insanity and in some cases, can even be illegal (shout out to the dual-nationals holding public office in Pakistan!).
The thing is, I’m neither and I’m both.
As an adolescent, before being exposed to existentialism or extremism, I would play this game where I would stand in front of the mirror, staring at myself seriously, wondering who I was. It was exciting and kind of creepy knowing that if I looked long and hard enough, I’d lose myself in the question, ultimately unable to recognize my own reflection.
Back then, the inquiry was absolutely innocent and extremely entertaining.
But back then, 9/11 hadn’t ravaged our collective rationality and twenty years on, the same question has the potential to make me queasy.
Well, my guess is it must have something to do with the fact that I’ve only made peace with the parts of me that would be obvious to an idiot; I’m moody, mini-sized, married, and a mother. And that leaves a load of ambiguity at large; again, Pakistani-American, American-Pakistani?
Honestly, sometimes the battle between where I was born and where I belong can be bitter, but I politely refuse to be pigeon-holed.
See, I was born in Lahore, Pakistan, but I spent a significant chunk of my formative years, first in Long Island, New York and then Orange County and Berkeley in California. And now, I’m back in Lahore again.
But regardless of where I reside, I’m quite clear on the fact that I don’t fit into the post-9/11 American ideals of power, profit and pre-emptive strikes. I also don’t buy into post-partition Pakistani power-plays that incite bigotry, turning the country into a bloody battleground.
On the flipside, I love 4th of July fireworks, freedom and french fries, just as much as I love Basant, bhangra and biryani. Chaat and cheeseburgers are both childhood friends. And in my book, baraf pani and basketball are equally entertaining.
All I can say is embracing the glories of globalization is exciting. I’m a mutt, a mongrel, a mixed breed…and it’s marvelous!
Even if I put my passport aside for a second, I’ve always been acutely aware that there are two sides to who I am; the manic and the melancholic, the boisterous and the bored, and most curiously, the confident and the confused. But hey, who doesn’t have a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde thing going on, right?
If I had to be completely honest, I think I know what my problem is, and like most other psychological problems, it crawls all the way back to childhood.
I went to pre-school in New York. And on my very first day at Alden Terrace, the essence of being an American was explained. It was, simply put, a “pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Admittedly, to an energetic group of kids, these words were just rhetoric, like a favorite nursery rhyme; a fun little ramble to recite.
In retrospect, it’s incredibly eloquent, simply because it makes the aura of American-ism crystal-clear.
Funny thing is, back then my parents had managed to paint a pretty poignant picture of Pakistan too, placed firmly atop the foundations of family, faith, and fiery fervor. And for the five of us, that little list made being Pakistani feel familiar, despite living in a foreign country.
I guess, in essence, identity is ingrained when you find things you can relate to, culturally, spiritually, intellectually. When the familiarity begins to fall flat, it can leave you feeling like you’re fumbling in the dark.
And these days, that’s exactly what I’m doing, sometimes literally (Gripe with the Government #4573).
In the past 15 years, Pakistan has changed dramatically, but I wonder if we’ve really progressed?
I could earmark the expansion of cell-phone services, cable television, and coffee houses as cultural catalysts, indicating excellence. But I can’t forget the less fortunate who freeze every winter, without gas or electricity to fend off the chill, while the well-to-do warm up in the homes of other wealthy friends. I understand inequalities are inescapable, but this kind of disparity is disgusting.
Anyways, after stumbling my way through the process of Pakistani-ism, here’s what I’ve realized; college was a celebration of diversity, where differences weren’t disruptive and dissent was deemed a natural part of discourse. My gang was as colorful as a kaleidoscope, criss-crossing all sorts of cultural lines and though the colors of our skin might’ve been different, we were still as close as clams.
In Pakistan, though, a melting-pot of mindsets has left my country devastated with deep divides.
How can it not when everything from religious denomination, ethnicity, social status, and even political affiliation trump national identity, neatly setting you apart from the hordes, or at best, holding them an arms-length away .
I’m a Muslim. I’m a Lahori. I’m financially fortunate. I’m pretty much apolitical. I think my back-story starts somewhere in Bukhara. And after dozens of other dull descriptors, somewhere along the line, I list as Pakistani too. Almost as an afterthought. Kind of makes it tough to be patriotic, no?
Sometimes, I’m convinced I was born in a country where confusion is a part of our culture. We speak Urdu, our national anthem is primarily in Persian, our most sacred texts are orated in Arabic, and speaking some English is the equivalent of being educated. Correct me if I’m wrong, but, in this case, even the most multi-cultural mind could easily get lost in translation.
I know, I know; save the speech about how I should “leave” if I hate Pakistan so much.
But that’s the thing; putting all the pieces together, Pakistan is my home, my country, my history, my culture. It’s where I belong. And it makes absolutely livid that the Lahore I used to love and the legacy I want to pass on to my children is fast fading.
Honestly, it’s frightening.
I don’t enjoy watching our people being coerced into the kind of collective conformity that curtails everything that’s super-cool about our culture.
We were once known for our hospitality. Now we’re better known as hypocritical haters. Visitors were wowed by how wonderfully warm and welcoming we were. Today, we’re waging wars on whim. We danced and sang and celebrated. Now, we know death, sectarianism, and corruption. We laughed loud and we lived large. We’re now being leeched of our lives. Most importantly, our faith kept our feet firmly planted on the ground. Today, it’s like we’ve fallen from grace and aren’t far from losing our religion.
It’s heart-wrenching to sit helpless, watching it all happen.
Mary H. Waldrip wrote, "It's important that people should know what you stand for. It's equally important that they should know what you won't stand for.” So if my jeans and my jokes imply that I’m an American that’s a-okay. But if terrorism is replacing tolerance, I want to redefine my role as a Pakistani.
Inside, I know my identity remains a motley mix so it’s no wonder that bigotry bothers me or that hypocrisy is so high on my hate-list. I don’t have the patience to hold up an act or hate. It’s draining and demeaning and believe it or not, being a cultural combo has kept things in perspective.
At the end of the day, all I can say is, we’re more than war. We’re more than hate. We’re more than this, Pakistan. And if anyone has the persistence and power to pull through, it’s you. Props to my parent for an unshakable foundation; I’ll always be proud I’m Pakistani, and I pray with all my heart that one day we’ll all stand united beneath our flag, “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Now, can someone please grab a guitar, play Pak Sar Zameen and make me giddy with goose-bumps!
This week, Amina Shah of American food blog, Zabiha Bites, asked to feature one of Hunger & Haw Hai’s recipes on her site. I was flattered and excited. To Amina, thank you, thank you, thank you, because I'm absolutely thrilled!
I’m setting up a super simple burger bar this week because regardless of which side of the Atlantic you’re on, we can all agree on the awesomeness of a big, juicy burger.
The only secret to building a burger bar is this; presentation! Take the time to make it look mouth-watering. It’s fairly simple because all you have to do is bust out a basic, bare-bones burger and arrange all your fresh ingredients on the side as optional toppings. That way, it’s no problem dealing with the “no onions, no tomatoes,” types and that’s really quite the crowd-pleaser.
I like my burgers fairly simple; soft, lightly toasted bun, moist meat, crisp lettuce and onions, a juicy slice or two of tomatoes and of course, secret sauce. But the beauty of this burger bar is that you select what sides to serve. If sautéed onions are your thing, go for it. Can’t chow down without cheese? Serve up some slices. Let your taste-buds take the lead.
This week, I’ve adapted Mark Bittman’s Favorite Burger. I’m a huge fan of beef, but in Pakistan, beef can have an unpleasant after-taste so I use minced mutton instead. If you happen to be living state-side, skip the substitute and bring on the beef!
Until next time, think hard, think deep, and choose to be you.
The Super Simple Burger Bar *(makes approx. 12 mini-burgers)
Adapted from How to Cook Everything: My Favorite Burger, by Mark Bittman
*If you're experiencing trouble with the recipe link, click here.
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