Thoughts on Leaving Pakistan

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Published in the The Friday Times Blog, October 10th 2013

The last time I put thoughts to paper was a year and a half ago, when Z and I moved back to Pakistan from the U.S. It happened very suddenly, under very sad circumstances, and there we were – thrust into a disorienting new life, filling roles we had never anticipated, never wanted, inhabiting, once again, the cloistered, uninspiring world of Lahore’s privileged class.

Much elapsed during the past 18 months in Lahore – much to rejoice and remember. Engagements, bridal showers, weddings. Baby showers, and babies! Farewell parties and welcome-back parties, birthday parties and Pictionary parties.

PTI fever, elections, and Pakistan’s first peaceful political transition. Cliff-diving in Khanpur under a shower of shooting stars, dancing arm-and-arm with Kalash women as spring blossomed in the Hindukush,  tracking brown bears and chasing golden marmots in the unearthly plains of Deosai.

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Exploring Deosai Plains with Adventure Travel Pakistan (ATP)

I rediscovered my love of history, of abandoned old places that teemed with a thousand stories and ghosts and memories, thanks to a research job at LUMS. I spent many days wandering the cool corridors of  Lahore Museum, many hours contemplating the uncanny beauty of the Fasting Siddhartha, whom I had the privilege of photographing up-close. I stood beneath the most prodigious tree in the world in Harappa. I got down on my knees with a shovel and brush during a student archaeological excavation in Taxila, personally recovering the 2, 000-year old terracotta bowl of a Gandhara Buddhist monk.

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The prodigious banyan tree of Harappa, over 500 years old

But, there was also dissatisfaction. Frustration. Restlessness. When we were not travelling, we were in Lahore. And Lahore was, well, warm. Convenient. Static. Living there again was like a replay of our childhood; like watching a favourite old movie on repeat. After a while it got monotonous,  somewhat annoying, and a little disappointing.

In Lahore, I could see what the trajectory of my life would be, the next 10 years down. It was all planned out, neatly copied from upper-class society’s handbook, with but minor divergences here and there.

It wasn’t a bad plan. In fact, it was a perfectly good, even cushy plan, one that would have made a lot of people quite happy.

Not me.

There were other things, too, about Lahore, and about Pakistan, things that had bothered me growing up but now seemed magnified to alarming proportions – the incomprehensible extremes of wealth and want, the insurmountable divisiveness of class, and, most worrying of all, the overwhelming  self-righteousness and religiosity.

You could not escape it. Everywhere, from TV talk shows to political rallies, drawing rooms to doctors’ clinics, there was a national fixation with religion. Everybody, it seemed, was desperate to convince others – and themselves – of their absolute piety, their A+ scorecard-of-duties-towards-God, their superficial Muslim-ness. Instead of the genuine, unselfconscious goodness that shines through truly spiritual people, in Pakistanis I just saw fear. Religion for them wasn’t about peace, and love, and knowledge. Religion was base.  Religion was social security. Religion was a tool of power.

I wanted to say to these superficial Muslims, to all Pakistanis: Just look at the state of our country. Do you really believe that religion has helped us? Has it at any level, be it individual, societal or state, improved the country? Has it alleviated poverty,  reduced rape and murder, mitigated corruption?

Have we as a nation achieved anything positive, anything progressive, in the suffocating garb of “religion”?

No. On the contrary, we, as a nation, have become more intolerant, more oppressive, more barbaric, as our outward religious zeal reaches new heights.

And we still do not realize it. The Matric-fail maulvi at the local mosque still preaches that a woman wearing jeans in public is jahannumi, Hell-bound , the TV reporter interviewing an old peasant who has lost his home in a flood wants to know if he kept his Ramzaan fasts, and that educated, apparently “modern” aunty you met at a family dinner launches into a sermon that the reason Pakistan is beset with crises is because we don’t pray enough.

That was the most terrifying thing I found about Lahore, and about Pakistan. It had become a place where no other framework for discussion about the future of the country, about anything at all, was possible. We were mired in religion. We were stuck. We were deeply and hopelessly stuck.

As for the people who thought differently, the elite and “enlightened” class that I belonged to, they responded to the onslaught by retreating further and further into their elite Matrix – a sequestered, protected world where they met up with friends over Mocha Cappuccinos at trendy New York-style cafes, where they shopped for designer Italian handbags in centrally air-conditioned shopping malls, where their children spoke English with American accents and dressed up for Halloween, where alcohol flowed at raucous dance parties behind the gates of a sprawling farmhouse.

It was a parallel universe, where we all lived free, modern lives, like citizens of a free, modern country, utterly disconnected from the “other” Pakistan, the bigger Pakistan, and for all intents and purposes, the “real” Pakistan. Yet perhaps it was our only survival, the only way to keep sane and creative and happy for those of us who chose to live in our native country.

But I could not reconcile myself with it. I found it schizophrenic. Perhaps living abroad had changed me too much. I could not find balance, I could not find peace in Lahore.

So when Z applied to and got selected for a European Union PhD scholarship based in Madrid, Spain, I was thrilled – and a little relieved. Was I looking for an escape? Maybe. Was that the only solution? I don’t know.

When we left Lahore, on that eerie twilight flight in August, our lives packed into just one suitcase and backpack each, it was bittersweet. I was sad to say goodbye to loved ones, to friends and family whom I had spent such wonderful moments with in the past year and a half. I would miss being a part of their lives. And I would miss the incomparable natural beauty of Pakistan – beauty and heritage that is disappearing day by day due to neglect and ignorance.

Yet, I knew that I had to go. I knew that staying in Lahore – “settling for” Lahore – buying joras from Khaadi, attending tea parties, managing servants, the odd freelancing or part-time job at LUMS, was not going to make me happy. And we could not depend on the love of family and friends to sustain us forever. At the end of the day, everybody had their own lives to lead, their own paths to carve,  their own hearts to follow.

And that is how we ended up in Madrid.

Sitting here in our apartment, a cozy, parquet-floored 1-bedroom affair, I can hear the babble of excited young voices below the window, a medley of idioms and accents; the clink of glasses and clatter of dishes from neighbouring restaurants; the smoky strumming of a flamenco guitar, the wheezy chorus of an accordion; the cries of Nigerian hawkers and Bengali street-peddlers, and the low hum of the occasional taxi cab, rolling along the cobbled streets of this lively old pedestrian barrio of the Spanish capital.

A new city, new adventures, new memories. 

Street of Old Madrid
Street of Old Madrid
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69 thoughts on “Thoughts on Leaving Pakistan

    F said:
    October 4, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    Last time, I read your article I was in Pakistan desperately waiting for my Student Visa. It’s been a year now in Canada. I am fulfilling my dreams and my passion without any restriction. The best thing is freedom of speech and freedom of thoughts. But part of me is still in Pakistan. I imagine how much fun it will be going back and enjoying a comfy life. At the same time, I know once I go back, everything will be different. Sermons from the Mullahs will drive me crazy. Corruption and political mafias will make me think about a bloody revolution. Most of all, reluctance of common people for change will make me escape again. I think there isn’t any permanent solution to this dilemma.

    Kabhi kisiko mukkamal jahan nahi milta…Kahin zameen nahi to kahin aasman nahi milta

    zarina azmat khan said:
    October 4, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    beautiful article, Manal. How very true. And in this changing process of our beloved Pakistan, values have changed too. So terribly, terribly sad. I hope you are our dearest Zarrar do well In your new work place. God bless and keep you happy.

    Zuhaib said:
    October 5, 2013 at 2:20 am

    Your article summed up the situation we are facing here in Pakistan but is it escape only solution we all have?

    Zuhaib said:
    October 5, 2013 at 2:31 am

    Between all the best for your life ahead. I always love your writing :)

    Annie said:
    October 5, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Perfectly put :)

    Rabia said:
    October 5, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    So very true but sad at the same time……is escaping the only solution now !

    Triz said:
    October 5, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    As a person with similar background who moved back to Lahore the sentiment of the article resonates with me. To be precise, it’s claustrophobic. However, a part of me thinks on the following line: If you move from village to city then it’s hard to go back to village. I know ppl will talk about village peace etc but they don’t go to live there (atleast not while they are young). It’s just for talk. To all those who say they love village I’ll say put your money where your mouth is.
    Similarly, if you have lived in west then it’s difficult to live in Pakistan. It’s a multitude of things and it’s not just he mullahs (though they make you really angry). Most people who lived in west in 70s or 80s didn’t come back to settle in Pakistan.

    We are not the same person after our exposure to west. Their openness, frankness, tolerance, equity (we are more racist & bigots then western world & have a class based society) & free spirits etc are not just present in our society and we yearn for those (atleast I do). Irony is that while we are living in Pakistan we try to be open, tolerant & classless but mostly we are not. We enjoy our maids & servants. If one of our child talked about marrying a servant, poor person or a Christian (specially the ones who are called Chooras) even the enlightened ones like us won’t stomach that intermingling of classes.

    Our thoughtful writing can espouse to higher standards but our actions don’t. We aren’t the ones with strength to change society or even ourself; we just want to live in a stress free environment where there is no internal conflict and we can just enjoy our life.

    p.s: By we, I mostly meant me.

    Manal Aly Khan said:
    October 5, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    I loved reading your post – so true and something I can relate to perfectly having gone through a similar transition recently. Your article frames such emotions perfectly..

    Wali said:
    October 5, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    Manal I love your style, and your thoughts! Looking forward to reading about your adventures in Madrid!

    Farhan said:
    October 6, 2013 at 2:49 am

    I agreed with most of the article but at the same time do not agree with the selfishness portrayed by the writer towards HER own choices.

    Aala Rahman said:
    October 6, 2013 at 3:51 am

    enjoyed reading it. i pretty much agree to all of what you’ve mentioned and how you perceive the elite class of Pakistan. There is absolutely no doubt that society is in two minds, but did you ever discovered why were they all like that? Did you ever bothered why your family or friends were acting weird or have grown into that state of mind? Probably Not…

    Oh BTW i think people you spent your time with in Lahore were pretty stupid, you should’ve lived in Karachi. Despite being 6th dangerous city in the world, it got its own amazing vibe and class of people. Most Lahories are paindos (Not to be literal) according to general paki… Lahore is the city where everyone follows everyone. They is no originality in ideas of the people of Lahore. But Lahore support and help replicate the ideas, and provide space to emulate. This is why you should’ve lived in Karachi that would have left you with atleast good memories and words about your trip.

    Though this is very sad and unfortunate for all of us to realise, that the real elite and educated Pakistani class now lives outside Pakistan.

    I could sense the frustration in your words…

      Misbah said:
      October 11, 2013 at 6:48 am

      I am a born Karachiite who has been living in Lahore for the past 14 years. I hate going to Karachi now since, amongst other things, i don’t have any friends there and can’t carry my cell phone in public places. Every city has its ups and downs and its not the city itself that creates these situations but the people. If you want to see change in your city, let alone the entire country, change yourself. Such racist attitude will get you no where and will only make you a part of the crowd thats sodomizing this country with their religion and ignorant beliefs. There are good people in Lahore as well as in Karachi. Making hasty generalisations about people is a thing of the past. We are all humans and each human is unique and has the capacity to be an entirely different entity. So broaden your perspective on people and refrain from making such remarks. Also, this article has nothing to do with Lahori’s or Karachiites. It goes beyond that.

    Shaharyar Khan said:
    October 6, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    Good article, great expressions but totally disagree with your thoughts. My whole childhood was spent in Europe, Luxembourg for 14 years, and I came back to Pakistan in 1992. Was very hard for me to adapt but you know what kept me going, Pakistan the country itself, Lahore the city itself, extended families, cousins, friends! I agree with all you have said, rather it’s sad the way our maulvis think and try to brainwash others in the name of religion but if you feel so sad to come back and couldn’t adjust to this society where you were born and bred, tell me what is that you find so appealing there abroad, seeing white faces, clean streets, expensive shopping, great beaches, security, you could wear whatever you desire, what is it? You are all hypocrites, all you can do is crib like a little coward and complain like a spoiled brat, and not do anything about it, if you feel so sad about the country that you felt a part of back in the day, then do something about it, you have everything here that Spain may have, you people make me vommit!! Law and order is as bad as in the states, I lived in Indiana for 2 years and man I’ve seen more Crap, poverty, and racism than in my own country, I can still walk in my city at night alone, but hell I couldn’t walk alone in the streets of Indianapolis, what you are you talking about. You are all fake, and wannabees! People like you don’t deserve your own country, you 2nd class citizen, stay put and don’t come back.

      John Carapiet said:
      October 20, 2013 at 5:38 pm

      You and your ideas, Shaharyar, reflect the typical head in the sand ostriches of our country that have taken our land to an intellectual rubbish heap. Your ivory towers are coccoons of injustice, corruption, double standards, elitism and ‘look the other way’ cowardice. Your ignorance of life’s true values is epitomised in your ignorant generalisaton, ‘ you are all fake and wannabees’.

      You are one Pakistani who will never grow towards the country’s destiny as envisioned by the Qaid. You are mired in the dung that clings to every shameful thread of what Pakistan has become. You survive on the coat tails of the rottenness that pervades every fibre of Pakistani society, paying your bribes, telling your lies, stabbing your backs and decrying the west with the venom only Pakistani sour grapes can generate.

      But then what would you know and feel about such matters, my friend. You were the true wannabe abroad and your thriving return to the toilet bowl our once beautiful country has now become, proved that conclusively. At 75 years of age, I have seen our decline gather pace, sped on downhill by unenlightened thinking like your own.

      Every fibre of my being remains proudly Pakistani. I have lived in this Australian paradise for 25 years.
      And my gratitude to this just, gentle and most welcoming of countries is outdone only by the shame of what the world has been forced to think of my own beloved homeland. So my advice to you is look around you…carefully…before you next say, glibly,…I’m allright, Jack.

      The lady’s article strikes home at every level. Her voice is one I have been proud to hear, amongst all the jingoistic, irrational nonsense that is regularly pumped out from our homeland. Please do not venture to criticise the truth she places before us. We are terminally ill….. and it is cancer.

      Make no mistake….Like you and I, she is as much victim as she is surgeon.

      John Carapiet
      Adelaide

      20 Oct 13

        Shakir said:
        October 21, 2013 at 12:23 pm

        Well said John

    Omair Shakil said:
    October 6, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    We’re all entitled to living our lives for whatever and whoever we want, but I’ve always felt that as one of the handful of people to have had the opportunities that I’ve had I just cannot leave everyone else stranded. Those kids who don’t go to school or don’t have a bed to sleep didn’t do anything to deserve that just like I didn’t do anything to deserve an expensive education and a life of excess. I owe it to whoever created me and gave me everything that I have to bring some balance in the world. Maybe the whole point of me having what I have was so that I could pass on some of the benefits to those who never had the right cards to begin with. Or I can love selfishly like I deserve all this and that I don’t have to share.

      Khan said:
      October 6, 2013 at 7:04 pm

      Why would any paki girl want to go back to Pakistan after getting a taste of western “freedom”.. I have noticed more and more brown girls making use of the multiculturalism the west has to offer, if you know what I mean. Blame it on the shisha.

    Murtaza Hussain said:
    October 6, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    Wonderful post Manal. Very eloquent.

    -Murtaza

    Shakir said:
    October 7, 2013 at 9:06 am

    Very well written and hitting the nail right on it’s head.

    Farha M said:
    October 7, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Well Said, but escape is not the answer to any problem, is it? If everyone runs away and keeps leaving Pakistan to the Metric fail Maulvi, where does it leave the rest of the Pakistanis? Looking for opportunities is good.Why not try to change little things within ourselves and in out surroundings to make Pakistan a better place and be more vigilant towards our own country by creating a peaceful homeland. We as Pakistanis need to work toward change and start thinking outside the box!!

    Sumayya (@PukkaPaki) said:
    October 7, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    wonderful writing though some sentiments don’t mirror mine, I do see your side of things – and I do love you photos too, would love to collaborate with you if possible and feature some Pakistan shot on my blog (all food related)

    Anjum Hameed said:
    October 7, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    Very true, that bit about religiosity..what I disagree with is WHY we don’t spark out against this religiosity, this fake “holiness’, instead of thinking that running away is the only answer..upper middle class, rich, elite, whatever, unless we speak out against this rubbish openly, running away will not solve the problem..if we are afraid we will get killed for speaking out, then surely we have failed all those around us..if the message of this fake religiosity cannot be taken immediately to the masses, at least broadcast it to those one socialises with..start somewhere..

    FT Khan said:
    October 7, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    It’s not running away, or an escape. Not every individual born in a country has to devote his/her life to fixing its ridiculous political problems. Some people actually pursue their dreams and become great at what they were meant to do. Dedicating their lives to their true calling whether that be writing, art, music, engineering, architecture, law or science. They are great people who lead their fields and change history. And then there is the average disgruntled person, who is mediocre in his own field, always talking, always complaining about the big sacrifice of staying back. Really? Get over it. Every other jackass has an opinion on how the country should be run. Become a politician and do it. Let others be what they want to be and actually achieve something.

    S.H. said:
    October 8, 2013 at 1:28 am

    Pakistan has a beautiful heritage and it makes us all hold our head high. From the beauty of the towering mountain ranges to rich historical sites like Taxilla, we have so much to be proud of; something that you have highlighted in your article. But dear Manal, there’s one thing that you need to understand. Islam itself is not blame worthy; religion is NOT the reason why we are stuck today. Yes, it’s true that the majority of the population here give a lot of importance to religion, and so it automatically follows that political and religious figures have exploited religious sentiments to serve their imperialistic and self-righteous views.

    Tell me yourself. Is religion responsible for the corruption that we see in every institution. Is religion responsible for the failing system of governance. Is religion responsible for poverty, hunger and disease. Or does the blame go to our own myopic and self-obsessed attitude.

    Pakistan is beautiful. However, we have misused religion to the extent that people feel suffocated and run away from Pakistan. The problem exists, and escape is not the solution.

    The question is: what can we do to fix it and make Pakistan a peaceful haven for everyone?

      Akthar said:
      October 8, 2013 at 3:10 am

      yes, definitely. Religion is the only reason for all these problems. You can keep saying “this” is not religion, but it is religion for someone. There are a hundred versions of religion and it is the difference that are causing all these problems.

    ANALI said:
    October 8, 2013 at 1:53 am

    Well written…but a bit too carried away with the barrage of criticism ….. running away, running your country down and the people, is not the way out. You are very much part of the set up. YOur ancestors are from here. By living abroad things havent made you any less of a Pakistani. It is people like you, who could infuse some sense in the people around. We all feel the pain of what the country has come to, but it is still our country.
    Having said the above, do look around, the whole world is aflame with various or similar issues!!! It seems to be “with it” to criticise and run down!!

    Saba said:
    October 8, 2013 at 2:58 am

    I think it is all about values. You seem to have imbibed western values to such an extent that you are not comfortable with eastern values. Just like the city folks here are not comfortable with the rural culture and always go back to live in the cities. Maybe it was the extended family system which encroached on your privacy, who know, but Pakistan has more to offer that any other country I know off. Running away is not the answer. Staying, and putting your house in order is.

    Izhar-e-raye said:
    October 8, 2013 at 3:18 am

    Interesting blogpost. I think I have experienced that. I just spent 5 months abroad and came back to realized how suffocated are we. It took me quite a while to get back to the ‘supposed’ normal. The only difference I felt in your approach was that I am a very middle class girl and so the things were a little different for me compared to the privileged class you come from. Though I had chanced of being a part of that ‘small, self- engrossed’ circle I preferred not to. The reason being, I dont mean any offense, but, this circle is to one extent very fake. They have fake sense of joy that is derived from lavish shopping, pointless partying, aimless display of wealth etc. Like you said, it doesnt suffice. It reverts you.

    Naheed Rafi said:
    October 8, 2013 at 5:28 am

    Beautifully written Minu!! Eloquent as always!

    bilal said:
    October 8, 2013 at 7:17 am

    another complex individual who regrets being born in pakistan,for being part of a muslim tradition and from an elite but undeserving class.self proclaimed anakyst of a country who she hasnt even ever studied the complete history of.what a waste.

      Jilal said:
      October 8, 2013 at 3:03 pm

      What an asshole. Learn to spell and try to think your thoughts through before vocalizing some incoherent rubbish.

    Ali Ashraf said:
    October 8, 2013 at 7:44 am

    Native Pakistan. Aptly put. Beautiful, majestic, welcoming and completely different and real from the Pakistan we are made to see hear and experience in our urban set up. Confused, frustrated and self destructive. I wish we could open up to the beauty of this country and its simple uncorrupted people with their warmth ever so inspiring. I have had an opportunity to travel around the country to areas that have been demonized and ridiculed openly but in reality they are just innocent and lonely. A bad virus is eating it up.

    jungleejanwar said:
    October 8, 2013 at 10:23 am

    just fyi (not being catty)

    The correct phrase is ‘ for all intent and purposes’ not “for all intensive purposes,”

      manalkhan responded:
      October 8, 2013 at 11:11 am

      haha, thanks!

    manalkhan responded:
    October 8, 2013 at 11:08 am

    thank you all for your comments, positive and negative! i’m glad this post triggered a discussion. everybody is entitled to their own opinion and to make their own decisions about how and where to live. that’s something we should respect and not judge each other for.

    i’d just like to say to shahryar khan and bilal that i did not appreciate your rude and ill-informed comments. shahryar, you may feel “safe” walking on the streets in Lahore in the middle of the night, but have you ever considered how it would be for a woman? the truth is that pakistan, like some other south asian/middle eastern countries, is an intensely patriarchal, male-dominated society where women of every class are oppressed, from the poorest to the richest, in many different ways. that is something you will never understand. i’d also suggest you read an earlier post of mine: https://manalkhan.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/the-freedom-to-be/

    bilal, i’d like to ask you, what do you know of Pakistani history, of Muslim tradition? did you ever study Ibn Sina or Ibn Rushd or al-Ghazali at school? did you ever study Muslim astronomy or medicine? did you ever read Emperor Babur’s amazing memoirs or study Emperor Akbar’s progressive politics?
    did you ever even study any regional language? no. because in Pakistani schools we are not taught to value our own history and heritage. everything interesting and valuable that i know about Pakistani history i have learnt on my own.
    maybe you should take a look at this website i’m working on:
    http://discoveringpakistan.wordpress.com/

    a more general comment:

    though i don’t consider myself an immigrant, because i always mean to return to pakistan, i don’t understand why people in pakistan are so critical and disparaging of immigration. my ancestors migrated to pakistan from india, and migrated to india from other parts of asia before that. migration has always been an essential part of the world’s history and development, that’s how cultures and ideas spread and new cultures and ideas were born. that’s how urdu was born, that’s how pakistan was born. so i view all of this – countries, borders, languages, nationhood – as very fluid things, very changeable things, and not something to be obstinately attached to. your attachment to family is one thing – but attachment to a “state” that did not even exist 50 years ago or 100 years ago, is in my opinion superficial. there are deeper attachments that.

    during my time in the U.S. and Spain, i have met many south asian immigrants, from pakistan, india, bangladesh – taxi drivers, shopkeepers, restaurant owners, doctors, businessmen. they are people who in their home countries had nothing, no money, no job, no future. but here, in the demonized West, they worked hard and made a life for themselves and their children. they are happy and secure here. they have a future here. sure, there was some racism, some discrimination, but it is nothing compared to what they faced back home. can we blame people like them for moving away? can we blame anybody for following opportunities, for wanting to improve themselves?

    my extra two cents :)

    i wrote about similar themes in earlier posts:

    https://manalkhan.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/the-3rd-world-burden/
    https://manalkhan.wordpress.com/2010/05/04/identity/

      Shaharyar Khan said:
      October 11, 2013 at 10:56 am

      Madam, to start off, I did not intend to be rude and I do apologise for my harsh tone. I am a patriot and can get very emotional when it comes to Pakistan. Let’s get one thing clear, a woman will always view herself as a victim in a male dominating society be it queens, Brooklyn, shanghai, Bangkok or even in Lahore. Oppression comes in various forms, but during the last decade or so we have seen a drastic change, we are a slowing growing nation but we are reaching there, may take a while but hope keeps me going. Running away is absolutely not an answer to the problems. Just to share an analogy, if my kid’s progress is slow in class, do I spank him or give him a little more attention or just take him out of school and wait for a miracle to happen? With regard to people who leave this country who have no future here but make a life abroad, I support them because they have struggled all their lives though I also support those who had a future here and are privileged at the same time leave the country to carve out their own destiny yet they sitting abroad criticise their homeland sitting 1000 miles away and then stating “I am relieved”. This is unfair!

    faisal saeed said:
    October 8, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    nothing wrong with being an opportunist nor seeking greener pastures else where for self improvement or any other reason, but if the literate and well-exposed individuals abandon Pakistan then it is a worrying sign for every one… When a person with little clout or future leaves Pakistan for better opportunities then it is truly an improvement in his/her status but when a privileged one leaves then its a huge loss, its an intellectual brain drain and that is the most damaging thing for our beloved country. In a wired global economy knowledge and ideas are now being shared faster and more efficiently than ever before in the history of mankind and physical migration has to some extent become redundant. A knowledge worker or some one creative enough can be as valuable or productive as some one on wall street. Pakistan has some of the best communication infrastructures in Asia and one we need to capitalize on.
    Manal I quite enjoyed your views and the comments. Its challenging situations that shape our character and your physical presence in one part of the world is irrelevant in this globalised regime. best of luck with your endeavours but keep Pakistan close to your heart.

      manalkhan responded:
      October 8, 2013 at 5:18 pm

      thank you faisal, point taken :)

    Zuhaib said:
    October 8, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    @ Manal! *phew* thanks for much needed feedback of yours. One word, keep writing n sharing :)

    Usman said:
    October 9, 2013 at 2:35 am

    Sorry not very appealing ! While in Lahore you choose the life style that was offered to you. Lahore/ Pakistan Provided its citizens, especially the elite and the educated one an opportunity to live a purposeful life. Perhaps you will not get this opportunity any where else.

    X.K. said:
    October 9, 2013 at 2:48 am

    Nicely written! And some of the comments here are really ridiculous so dont mind them. If you come from a small village and move to Lahore, its as if to say go back and settle in your village: Its not necessarily true you can improve the situation just by being there.. you might get more ideas, better finances, more collaboration and mobilize better resources there by being in Lahore and may have more opportunity to help your village by being in a major city. The villager might think you should move back, but he may not have the same vision you have. In any case, boundaries are man-made creations.. there is nothing real, good or pious about nationalism per se and the jingoistic tendencies of the common man is just a last resort to vent his hopeless frustrations.

    mohsenali said:
    October 9, 2013 at 6:13 am

    Hi,
    Just read your blog, thanks for putting voice to the thoughts that it’s not just easy life and money that people leave Pakistan for; it’s missing opportunities that make it harder living in Pakistan.

    Although I don’t agree with your analysis, that is rise in show of religious attitude is basis of ugliness in our society; your blog has voiced the concerns I have been having (yes the religious fixation in our society, both who think it is only solution and who think it is only problem, is hindering it’s growth).

    I do believe our society does not provide the environment of freedom and I fear our new generation will miss this opportunity of new adventures once they return back after studies. Sometime I think, monotonic life we all complain about is just because we have so many predetermined obligations to fulfill it leaves us no breathing space for something new.
    And freedom we feel outside Pakistan is because we break away from old social norms and are stranger to the new ones.

    In all I agree with you and anyone’s right to move to any part of the world they want to, one should not feel ashamed of taking opportunities and making best use of the life one has.
    One holds no obligation to anyone, but use of logic “coming to city from village and not returning to village” by some commentators fells more like justification to suppress guilt.
    Same is when someone says I can do better for Pakistan from outside than inside. I owe a lot to teachers who returned from US and taught us, I have met many who stayed outside Pakistan thinking they can be of more benefit to Pakistan. I am sorry to say, no they cannot be more beneficial to Pakistan from outside, but they don’t need to feel guilty. They don’t owe anything to Pakistan or to anyone, they do owe to humanity. And that obligation, if one feels could be fulfilled from outside Pakistan they should avail the opportunity.

    I wish you and Z all the success and hope that my return might be more satisfying experience.
    Good luck with your new adventures :)

    regards
    Mohsen Ali

    Moazzam Husain said:
    October 9, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Thank you sharing your experiences. A delightful read and I’m sure resonates with many people.

    Ardeshir Minwalla said:
    October 10, 2013 at 12:29 am

    Hi Manal,
    That old plum , “what a small world” fell out of the tree not once, but twice today.

    I was sent “Thoughts…..” today, by a cousin in Pakistan. I read it and my immediate reaction was, ‘yes, somebody gets it, and what I thought I had been expounding to all and sundry has finally been voiced with absolute conciseness and clarity’. ( Not to mention, admirable bravery and a willingness to take on the inevitable misguided comments/thoughts that will and are coming your way).

    My second reaction was ‘Damn!!! I wish I had written that’.

    I forwarded the link to people in Pakistan, Australia, Luxembourg, The U.S. and of course, my hometown coterie in Toronto.

    A friend, mutual it seems, Ameena, comes back with, “yah, I know that girl. Very smart, great writer, junior to me, went to the same school in Lahore.”

    Another friend, Myra, ” yah, she is great, sister of my friend”.

    I was anticipating little dressed up animatrons singing the incessantly painful song from Disney’s. ‘It,s a small world after all.’

    It is a great piece of writing and one that should be required reading for all Pakistanis and expats.

    I would love to talk to you, diga me, señorita.

    Aminwalla@sympatico.ca

    Ardeshir
    Toronto

    Shaheen said:
    October 10, 2013 at 6:22 am

    Why didn’t you go for a more involving career than a free lance or part time post at Lums? The wonderful (and awful) thing about Pakistan is that there are so many gaps in places where you could really make a difference…. …it needs courage and strength to get involved. Surely if you want your country to improve, turning your back on a place where lots needs doing doesn’t make sense.

    MJanjua said:
    October 10, 2013 at 7:29 am

    Very well written and balanced article! However, i strongly feel…escaping is NOT an option! One needs to stick on and fight…

    Junaid said:
    October 10, 2013 at 10:45 am

    Well written. I agree that hypocrisy is one of the biggest ills of Pakistani society, be it fakeness of the enlightened class or ignorance of real Islam by the maulvis. But I do not agree with the reason why you left Pakistan twice. I believe at both times you left is because you or your husband got a better educational or financial opportunity, or simply a better deal than Pakistan could offer you. Again I would think that you only moved back to Pakistan because circumstances forced you; job, family!
    Instead of laying all blame on the strengths or weaknesses of Lahori society, I suggest that you dig deep within yourself for the real reasons why you moved.

    Mehak said:
    October 10, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Since Pakistan is a 3rd world country, there is a lot that needs to be done to fix it, but when everyone keeps running away and just update their Facebook status or write articles about what an awful country it is, or how its falling apart nothing will change.
    There is an elite class in Pakistan, a middle and a lower class just like anywhere else. For some reason you make it seem like its not a good thing to be a part of the elite class. Yes people of the elite class go out for coffee or buy nice things and can talk in english with more of an American accent than those of the lower class, but what do you expect them to do? Run away and leave their country, or forget all their hard work and not do things for themselves that make them happy?
    A couple of years back, Pakistan was recognized as the country that gives the most charity according to their wealth and it was not the government helping out the less fortunate, it was the upper and middle class. So for all those who believe that the upper and middle class are not aware of the greater majority in Pakistan, that is not the case.
    Also, Pakistan is not the only country where a lot of poverty seems to exist, and it is not the only country where rape, murder and robberies take place. However, in other countries the police seems to take an action when such instances happen and the public is aware about it but in Pakistan when something happens, the media makes sure everyone gets to hear about it, but then people like you and I and everyone else in our country who owns a computer starts talking trash about our own country. Instead of taking any action at all, like protesting against the police or government or whatever, we just sit and complain online for the rest of the world to think even worse of our country that already does not have a good reputation because of the crazy fanatics that live here.
    People in Pakistan def. need to be more tolerant and open minded, but not just when it comes to religion, but also when it comes to helping this country rise from the mess its in.

    Mehak said:
    October 10, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Also, so many women are suppressed but they dont seem to be doing anything about it. I once saw a male officer stop a female driver. She was in the car with 2 other women and a boy. Instead of politely dealing with the officer, the woman was outraged at how he had asked her to stop since she was a woman.
    And this is just the one instance, Ive seen it time after time how women become vulnerable and naive just to get their way out of situations while other women like you and I are trying to get equality.
    Honestly, I blame the government and the lack of education in our country. If everyone could get a fairly decent education, this country could be capable of so much more. And since people like us, the educated are aware of how pathetic our government is, I feel instead of pointing fingers at everyone else, we could do something instead. Instead of complaining how the education system sucks, people like us could take a day out of our schedules to go to any public school and see or help out at their schools. A lot of the lower class schools actually appreciate that.
    It all comes down to us individuals doing something for our country instead of bad mouthing it even more.

    Sher Shah Khan said:
    October 11, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Pakistan’s problems are so deeply rooted, that to pinpoint and narrow them down is a hefty task. I am a student currently living in Indiana, Indianapolis. I was born in the States, but I spent most of my life in Pakistan. When I first moved here, I drew a comparison, and noticed that ignorance, small minded-ness and a fear of progress/change were one of the biggest problems in Pakistan. These Maulvis you talked of, they are just an example of the ignorant people Pakistan is filled with. They talk on matters they have little to no understanding of, and the masses follow them, like sheep, because they lack the understanding. Same goes for the people in Pakistan. Not a moment passed that I wasn’t aware of one form of politics or the other, be it in family or my school. Petty jealousies, etcetra. It was as if people just wanted to bring you down if they saw you succeed. Take these things away, and I believe Pakistan is a nation to be proud of.

    Aftab Ahmed Khan said:
    October 11, 2013 at 10:43 am

    The main point of the blog was about finding Lahore uninspiring (because the writer used to live in the city earlier and didn’t find anything new to inspire her), and finding Madrid inspiring instead, because she went there for the first time. Perhaps she could have discovered many newer aspects of Lahore to inspire her if she had chosen to move out of her close circle. As any other living and breathing city, Lahore is evolving and nothing remains the same as before. There are new aspects to talk about its poets and writers and artists and beggars and politicians and young achievers and child laborers and economy and flora and fauna and architecture and landscape and garbage bins and…. the list goes on – things that are full of topics for inspiration right here in our beloved Lahore. A new adventure in Madrid – who wouldn’t want it? But at the expense of calling Lahore uninspiring – a little uncalled for. (We all mean well, even those who commented rudely, which they shouldn’t have).

      Kaizer said:
      October 11, 2013 at 12:33 pm

      Inspiration is not a constant. People spend their lives looking for inspiration. It comes and goes. If you read the authors other posts, there are many inspiring articles about Pakistan as well, including parts of this one. After living in Lahore for almost 20 years (it seems), I think the author has a right to judge and find the city uninspiring at some moment. I think it is brave of the author to be honest. People are too proud or scared to find faults with their own families, lives or culture. It doesn’t mean these thoughts are absolute or final. Neither do they reflect the character of the subject, but only the state of mind of the thinker/writer. Pakistan and the US have been both inspiring and uninspiring for me. Again, nothing wrong with your sentiments, as you have every right to your thoughts! Best. Kaizer

    Aftab Ahmed Khan said:
    October 11, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    I like what you said. While I still believe anyone can change their mind through research and advice from others who can help them see inspiration in corners they didn’t notice before, I do respect Manal for her honesty. With her writing skills, enlightened worldview and empathy for her people, she is someone Lahore can be proud of. She is a Lahorite (hoping she can allow me to say this, intended in the most sincere, positive way) who has inspired me!

    manalkhan responded:
    October 13, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    thank you all once again for your comments! it was really wonderful to read so many different views, and it gives me new perspective on my own opinion too. i’m sorry i can’t individually respond to all the comments, but it is definitely food for thought. i hope you continue to follow future posts :)

    Khalid Syed said:
    October 13, 2013 at 11:31 pm

    I once asked a gora friend working in Pakistan why he wouldn’t consider settling down here. He replied that Pakistanis aren’t kind to each other.

    Perhaps if we learnt to be kinder, we could develop more compassion and empathy for each other. That way most of the nastiness associated with self-centered behaviour would disappear. It would be a gentler, happier environment to live in.

    We can start by being more respectful of the writer and all of the people who commented.

    May you all be well :-)

    Frederick Nazareth said:
    October 17, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Beautifully expressed. A rare voice of reason and sanity amid the increasing cacophony of self-righteous and smug religiosity pervading this country.

    Sohail Osman Ali said:
    October 17, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    A very well written article, summed up with the words “…there were other things, too, about Lahore, and about Pakistan, things that had bothered me growing up but now seemed magnified to alarming proportions – the incomprehensible extremes of wealth and want, the insurmountable divisiveness of class, and, most worrying of all, the overwhelming self-righteousness and religiosity.” But I don’t believe leaving permanently is the answer, its part of the problem. Living in Pakistan got you to where you could be accepted for further education abroad, appreciate that. Broaden your mind, come back and play a role in changing things. You can enjoy Madrid now, but remember just 400 years ago there was the Spanish Inquisition in support of the Catholic religion whose gruesome methods make the Taliban look like a bunch of kids.Take a lead from Malala who lived in the Taliban’s Swat and did not back away from her right to get educated.

    Kavenalaz said:
    October 17, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Malala with her young mind and purity of thought may be the bridge of reason that takes women of her generation to the next level of self awareness . In todays global world you cannot hide. It is not the country that has kept women or for that matter minorities in a state of constant confusion about their identities and place in a civilized Pakistani society, it is the attitude of those that make the rules for us all to live under, mostly informal groups – generally the well off elite class or clerics, who wield a stout stick. The religious clerics no matter what faith can always influence the un- thoughtful .We must accept that the religiously inclined have to get their instruction from some one and until they review their dogmas they will always be at the clerics command . Pakistan was founded on a religious majority- principal, so it should treat those within its religious groups and outside it in a fair and civilized manner. The western cultures have long recognized this and have evolved over many centuries and will have to continue doing so-there is NO perfection. Pakistan has to take steps in this direction – with determination and courage recognizing its foundation . Leaving Pakistan for Madrid, London, Toronto, or Los Angeles will not make a whit of difference to the cultural growth of the Pakistani society or the morals of its people. This is home grown and requires much dialogue. The author has pointed her route of escape , leaving those behind who are, by will or circumstance left to make the change.

    Farooq Dawood said:
    October 17, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    They say that it is necessary for evil to flourish when good men or women do nothing.Reading your write up it seems that you are good.There are numerous institutions in Pakistan of which we can all feel proud of and these have been formed by Pakistanis both local and oversees.Let me name a few LRBT eye hospitals,SIUT,Indus hospital,Citizen Foundation Schools,Aman Foundation,SOS village (International)and Eidhi Trust.Please carry out a research on these and you will find out that these are not run by rich people like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet but by people like you and me.

    Minhaj Arifin (@hitherenews) said:
    October 18, 2013 at 5:30 am

    Interesting and frank blog. Safety is a big issue. In the west, when we walk around safely without fear of kidnapping, or sudden violence, when we can drive for hundreds of miles without any fear, drink from clean fountains, eat an ice cream cone on the street without feeling extremely guilty, these type of small things become very valuable.

    Hasan said:
    October 18, 2013 at 8:14 am

    Great article. The ills of our society as highlighted are not uncommon in other countries; both developed &developing: corruption? Korea,Japan,India,Thailand even the US(check out Congressional records);religiosity?US Dixie gospel thumping preachers; Israel ………I would suggest that a number of our ills are due to poor work ethic and equally poor work attitude ……….paradoxically the very same Paki when abroad scores high on all work related attributes; be it academia,medicine,or manual labour………because of the work regime where rewards are output related and equally important he/she is accountable.

    Minnal Abbasi said:
    October 20, 2013 at 4:07 am

    True. I’m a Pakistani student in MA, USA and going back home during vacations has been an all-together boggling experience. Everything from the leering and unwanted eyes on you to the customer care system that is in shambles draws a stark contrast between the thought of the West and our own thought. Religion, it’s true , is blindly believed in our country as the word of these “Matric-fail” maulvis whereas I have found some of the best teachers/scholars of Islam in the US. Coming here, actually allowed and enabled me to ask difficult questions about my religion and dig until I found satisfactory answers. The West infact has done more to throw away my ignorance and solidify my religious beliefs and values than the East could ever have done.
    A citizen, to me loses his/her right to critique a government’s policies and measures when he/she is too lazy to cast a vote. Escaping, much like the lazy citizen, revokes our right to critique a place that we could have helped make better but were too intimidated, lazy or “seemingly” helpless to do.
    What is all are “intellect” good for then?

    Mazhar said:
    October 21, 2013 at 5:13 am

    Beautifully written. From the heart, and the mind. A true depiction of where we are, and where we are heading.

    sattar rind said:
    October 22, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    I read this article few days ago. But due to system I were unable to comment. I m agree with writer. We are deepest crises at the movement. Every one want to leave country- pakistan and many already left it. No one in. Real sense want to live here. Hypocricy made this country worst to live. Beside security and state protection is zero. No one cares and every one only intrested in making money illigal way.

    Nabeeha said:
    October 29, 2013 at 6:40 am

    You write beautifully. Many people can write well but few have the skill of true story telling where the reader wants to hang on to every word rather than skimming over the piece. Pleasure to read.

    Iqbal said:
    November 12, 2013 at 6:34 am

    Great article – I don’t see how religion can solve of any of the problems that we face today, poverty, illiteracy, overpopulation, environment etc. We are knocking at the wrong door.

    Mark said:
    November 15, 2013 at 5:15 am

    Manal your words strike a cord with me that resonates my very soul. I’m so happy to have met you and Z last December! I can relate on so many levels: feeling restless, helpless, desperate to change the all to obvious problems which at times seem to have such simple solutions, yet feeling helpless in the face of people’s indifference, unwillingness to grow and right wrongs. You are blessed beyond words Manal. You’ve had the freedom to come and go from where you grew up, to see the world thru different cultures, to express yourself freely. I love your words! Now that both of you are in Spain, look into “NoWhere” next summer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NoWhere_(event)
    I wish you both endless love and compassion for each other and everyone who is lucky enough to meet you!

    bq45 said:
    October 19, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    Mr. Tareen
    You may be politically incorrect but you seem to me totally ignorant of the reality, why Muslims of Hindustan needed their own homeland and why people move out of Pakistan or any other country.
    There are 200 million inhabitants in Pakistan and only 5 million live outside.
    Most of them migrate for various reasons; to study as I did, to work for a better economic standard as must do and few who leave because of political Persecution. To put all these groups in one category and conclude that Pakistan is unsafe for Muslims as your post claims is not only stupid but irresponsible.
    You are not a seeker of truth but an ill informed individual with an axe to grind.

    QB said:
    February 8, 2017 at 6:45 pm

    Great article. Has some element of self pity but also initiates a must have discussion. Having lived in the US for 14 years and now contemplating moving to Lahore seems like a daunting task to me. What’s missing in the article is the practical guidance to people like me who think about moving to Lahore. What can be done to make this transition easier? What expectations should one have and what can be done to bring out a positive change? That’s the discussion we need to have rather highlighting the reasons to leave.

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