Thursday, October 05, 2006

Son of the soil

Last week, I called up an old friend who is studying at London School of Economics(LSE). I was talking to him after a gap of four months. We talked on a wide range of topics including but not limited to academic standards in UK, their comparison with Pakistani universities, all the remaining friends enjoying marital bliss or newfound parenthood while we are still bachelors, spending ramadan in a foreign country, political turmoil, baluchistan, waziristan, taliban, in the line of fire etc. After a while, we ran out of topics to be discussed over long distance call. I asked him "So what are you doing nowadays?" He replied, "I have bought a ticket for going to Pakistan on Eid and am counting the days". I laughed at the fact that he is feeling homesick. He struck back, "You weren't much different when you were at London Business School. You had a ticket in your hand. More than graduation, you were looking forward to going home and flew back the very next day after graduation". He was right.

I have spent more than half of my life abroad mainly in Middle East and Europe. And I have met a lot of people who share the same feeling i.e., once you buy the airplane ticket for the flight home, time slows down. You start counting the days when you can fly out of the place. It does not matter how settled you are in a foreign country or even if you have a nationality. Your neighbour and colleagues are at a loss to comprehend why you are in high spirits all the time. But an imminent trip back home can have such an effect on you. I am afraid to generalize as it invites a lot of criticism but I am sure Pakistanis in North America would also feel the same way.

When abroad I can't help comparing the facilities and comforts available over there to the lack of them back in Pakistan. When parents, siblings or friends try to convince us to move back home, we usually argue against it by focusing on absence of democracy, lack of civic culture, non availibility of amenities, high levels of noise and air pollution, dreadful traffic jams, pathetic public transport, loadshedding and blackouts in summers, and floodlike situation during monsoon rains etc. But as soon as the ticket is in hand all is forgotten; I look forward to spending time with family and friends rather I can't wait to be among them.

Afterwards I called Manu, younger brother of a friend, who is in London for his professional exams. His last exam is on 20th October and will end around 12 noon. I asked him what are his plans after that. He said that he is flying out to Lahore from Manchester the same day. I inquired why from Manchester. He said because the flight from London is next day and he does not want to wait another day. Right after the exam he will take a train journey to Manchester and take the PIA flight out to Lahore. I had to convince him to wait one day as he will be running on a tight schedule and a slight delay in exam or train timings would mean a missed flight. Its not that he is not happy in London. According to him, living in London is the best thing that has happened to him. However, once the departure date has been decided and ticket is in hand, its hard to wait any longer.

It really has been a very long time since I travelled on PIA as I mainly travel on European or Gulf airlines. But when I was a kid, my father always preferred PIA for flights to and from Pakistan. Not because the ticket was cheap or service was excellent but because he felt it was his patriotic duty to do his part for increasing Pakistan's GDP. And whenever I boarded a PIA plane, on entering the cabin there was always a faint scent (would an adult describe it as a smell or an odour, I am not sure) which was nostalgic and made me feel like that I was already in Pakistan. For me it really was to quote a PIA slogan "Watan say pehlay, watan ki khushboo". I dont know how to translate it into English but I know how I felt: PIA was a piece of Pakistan, standing in it made you feel standing on Pakistani soil.

I would misquote someone here, "You can take us out of Pakistan but you can't take Pakistan out of us".

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