We are a Nation with Rich Heritage and Unique Identity
In school, one of the core lessons I was taught alongside the history of Pakistan was about our cultural diversity. When I think about it, I can still recall my sixth grade History teacher teaching a lesson on Pakistan’s history. There was a lot to learn from the textbooks, but it was her storytelling that sparked an inner curiosity in all of us to know more. For us sixth graders, she explained the events very well and simplified the core reasons for Pakistan’s creation into three broad reasons. Before sharing those, she talked about our name — Pakistan — and let us in on a piece of information that the textbooks missed to cover in an interesting manner: she said, and I quote from my memory, “I must tell you that the reason Pakistan is called Pakistan is not only because it’s a land where purity abounds, but Pakistan is also an acronym to embrace and represent its five regions as they existed at the time of its founding: Punjab, Kashmir, Sindh, Tribal Areas, and Northwest Territories and Balochistan.”
She ended that particular class with an assignment for us to research one of the towns of our choice and bring it to class the next day. But before concluding the session, she also left us with the information we had been curious to know all this time; that day, I learned that Pakistan was created to give Muslims and other religious minorities in the sub-continent an equal representation under a just democracy.
I remember going home and wondering what an amazing name for our country; at the time, I couldn’t think of any other country’s name which encapsulated its nationalism like that. It was a learning curve in my life and since then, I understood Pakistan for not only being my home but a state of richness and diversity. Not to miss that the summer of that year I finally convinced my family for a family vacation and we decided to tour through Punjab and the then Northwest Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).
Hailing from Karachi, I had the experience of meeting and befriending Muhajirs, Balochis, Barelvis, and Sindhis. If your family is like mine or like that of people in my circle, you can relate to having grown among people from culturally diverse backgrounds: be it with the staff and teachers in your academic journey, residents in your neighborhood, or friends and others acquaintances you have made along the way. My first encounter with Balochis was through the house staff that worked in our home; we grew up with them as family and shared jokes and many moments of laughter and chatter about how different we were yet so similar — brought together by the same nationality. Their traditional attire was magnificent for me: beaded and decorated with mirror and thread work. It wowed me and I even have a picture of my younger self wearing a similar attire that my Ammi got made for me.
My first friend in school was a Hyderabadi, and later I realized that some Hyderabadis also go by the label of Muhajir or Urdu Speaking. It was at my friend’s cousin’s wedding that I saw their traditional attire of khadda dupatta – a sari-like wedding ensemble for the bride with churidar pajama, kurta, and a 6-yard dupatta wrapped around in a very unique way. It was mesmerizing to watch the bride walk in escorted by her family and friends, and the wedding rituals that followed. I was also lucky to experience Hindu and Sikh wedding ceremonies, a Church wedding, and then a Parsi birthday celebration.
Fast forward to life today and having experienced many more diverse ethnicities, religious and cultural rituals, languages, varying ways of living, I am confident in pronouncing Pakistan a culturally diverse and rich country. Even though Pakistan is broadly categorized into six ethnic groups, I believe that to not be a true representation of the multiverse that exists within our territory. If I could capture my experiences into a sentence, I would say that Pakistan has an abundance of experiences to offer for those willing to go the mile and this is truly where the beauty of the country lies.
In a recent discussion on a renowned local travel group for traveling enthusiasts, someone shared pictures and videos of their latest visit to Kalash Valley in the district of Chitral. Kalasha live in a communal setting in the valley and follow a particular strain of ancient Hinduism. I have been to the place myself, lived, and ate with them. Their lifestyle is uncommon and alluring. I’ve seldom seen or experienced customs as rich as theirs. They are confident in their sense of belonging, and welcoming towards visitors and loving of their guests. In their culture, death is celebrated just as birth is. They are intrinsic believers of souls reuniting with the creator and rather than mourning over it, they celebrate it with a feast by sharing food and music.
In the discussion on the aforementioned group, many people poured in their opinions and wrote about other unusual rituals they have come across during their travels in Pakistan. My takeaway? Everywhere you go in Pakistan, you will transcend into a new colour, a new atmosphere, and you will become part of it because of the openness, hospitality and warmth shown to you.
Having been to over 300 places in Pakistan and conversing in over 30 languages, what has and still holds value for me is the openness with which each ethnic group welcomes you into their home and their life. My faith in our hospitality is not limited to when someone invites me over for a daawat, or when my host takes me for dinner to try their locality’s specialty, but also when the balloon guy on a wheelchair in F11 Markaz offers me a free balloon with my purchase saying, ‘Baji this is for you from me’, or when there’s not enough change and the rikshaw driver said, ‘It’s alright, beta’.
Our differences make us unique, they bring us together to celebrate our cultural and historical heritage.
In Pakistan, we may be Pathans, Memons, Hyderabadis, or belong to any other ethnic group, but outside of Pakistan, we are Pakistanis. When I am traveling abroad and someone tells me why they love Pakistanis, in almost every story, it is because of the memories they made with a previous Pakistani visitor who still keeps in touch and inquires about their wellbeing.
There’s no hiding the fact that our country has been struggling to solidify its social and economic wellbeing, but which country is not? Our music is loud, soft, cheerful, and soulful. We are vibrant, dedicated, and live in a picturesque land with the Arabian Sea on one side and magnificent mountain ranges on the other. Our people speak over 70 languages with dialects that date back centuries. Our cultural landscape is thriving more than ever and our youth is making strides in all fields and gaining international recognition. We’re a nation having not only one of the world’s most strategic geographical locations but the people who make Pakistan truly personify what Pakistan is and the vision with which it was built.
As I conclude this, I have our beloved Quaid’s words echoing my ears and its spirit running through my veins; now more than ever, we’re proud of and take ownership of why Pakistan was made and we each stand up for its people, their beliefs and rights, and we are each shaping Pakistan in our own capacity into the country it was truly meant to be. Our differences make us unique, they bring us together to celebrate our cultural and historical heritage. We are Pakistani and our heritage makes us rich, exclusive and unique. HH
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