So after almost 3 years I am back in Pakistan. A friend in U.S. asked me how is Pakistan different? Sigh… What to say… How to explain… The country itself and then my place within it… How to explain it to an American mind… (she is Korean – but you get the point).
My father worked a nominal job in Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) – so when I was younger I got to travel the world standby for free. That perk has ended and rightly so… I bought my ticket this time around and chose the so called national carrier. I wanted the money to end up in national coffers. That was a mistake. PIA’s story is much like the country itself. What used to be one of the finest airlines in the world looted and plundered for decades. It is still going… and so is the country. The flight staff was shockingly unprofessional, flight entertainment system did not work (even if it did I think it was archaic enough to be useless), seat cushions were like cardboard – adding further to the pain, PIA cancelled the flight from Lahore to Karachi and all Karachi bound passengers had to spend the night in Lahore. PIA had planned to send me to a hotel where (the word goes) its better to spend the night at the airport rather than going there. Anyhow, through the intervention of my father and his colleague, my stay was arranged in PC Lahore. At first, it was not a hotel – more like a military fortress. My ride had to pass four security checkpoints (no exaggeration) to get inside. I think the Zimbabwe cricket team was staying there and therefore the added security (This is the first time a foreign cricket team has come to play in Pakistan since the attempted terrorist attack on the Srilankan cricket team). The contradictions in Pakistani society were immediately clear inside the gates of PC Lahore. Lined up were high class vehicles – nothing less than BMWs, Mercs, Audis… Men/Women elegantly dressed filled the walkways – it seemed several weddings were taking place – In a matter of seconds my mind isolated these people and removed them – and my heart just sank with what I saw… the chauffeurs waiting on their bosses sweating profusely (it was extremely hot), the driver who brought me from the Airport was old… could barely walk properly or handle weight. I had to ensure he did not carry any of the heavy luggage I had with me… then there were the handlers/waiters/security staff at the hotel looking on at the marvel that our society in Pakistan is. I could not help noticing the footwear these people were wearing… all torn and worn out. Visitors at the hotel moved past all this absolutely ignorant, rejoicing in their privileged status. Hats off to what this country has achieved. I am a huge supporter of capitalism supported by equal application of law and equal access to opportunity. But in Pakistan, capitalism is corrupted (just like everything else). It is feudalistic in nature, based on power and special access. Same applies to the so called democracy practiced in this country. I feel a deep sense of injustice in the way things are done. I don’t know – maybe its just me. A friend did actually tell me that you are too good to people, you need to be harsher.
Anyhow, I spent the night there and was off to the airport at 5:30 am. I do regret missing breakfast. I have no doubt it would have been mighty good. The breakfast at Marcopolo dining hall was to begin at 6. Surprisingly, morning PIA flight took off on time from Lahore. I reached home in Karachi, in one piece, all thanks to God.
So, what is there to love in this country besides the common people? It is clearly the cuisine. I never liked food in the U.S. One – Everything is too expensive. Two – My options are very limited as I only eat halal, especially in Salt Lake City. But my God… If anyone knows food… It has got to be Pakistanis. Truly world class. From the halwa poori on the road side, to the nahari, to the various international cuisines available… Even KFC is so finger licking good. The Karachi burger machine is on the rise too – it is bound to put burgers in America to shame. Food is just too good which gives me all the reason to be here 🙂