By AYESHA BABAR
Recently I conducted a social experiment: at a friend’s birthday do in London, I decided to (a bit randomly) ask my friends what was the first thing that came to mind when I said Pakistan. In my heart, I sort of knew the answers I would get – extremism, oppression, poverty – at least that is what I heard most often when I had first asked this question to some colleagues some years before.
The answers this time around surprised me. The first one to speak was a friend, Sam, who exclaimed that the first word that popped in his mind, was ‘misunderstood’. I couldn’t resist a smile!
‘Misunderstood?’, I wanted to confirm.
‘Yes, misunderstood’ he reiterated. ‘If you had asked me this question a few years ago my answer would have been very different. I too, like most others who have grown up in the Western world, would have said words, none of which would have been positive.’
I was even more delighted when most of the other people in that room, echoed similar sentiments. This got me thinking. Was a paradigm shift actually taking place in terms of how people perceived Pakistan?
Marie-Anne, a German friend chipped in too. ‘Yes, we would have said some unpleasant things – but in all honesty, it would not have been our fault. The only exposure we had to Pakistan growing up was through the media. And the things we heard and saw were all mostly negative. It was always depicted as a place with rundown buildings, no respect for culture, ridden with extremism, where women were oppressed and education was sparse. It was only later when friends who were fortunate enough to visit shared a very different narrative. And as I engaged more with social media especially with pages like Humans of New York (who had reported extensively from Pakistan this summer), I realised more and more about how wrong I had been to judge a place I knew nothing about’.
International media correspondents who are based in Pakistan have also made a positive contribution to this endeavour by highlighting some oft neglected pieces of news such as the setting up of Pakistan’s first all-women boxing club in Karachi recently.
This small group was fortunate to see a different face of the country – a face that is usually veiled behind a grotesque misunderstanding. It would be silly to deny that there are many problems that plague Pakistan. But that is only one part of the picture. And a small part. There are so many other things that never reach a wider audience.
It is a diverse amalgamation of different cultures and ethnicity, where traditions are celebrated with much fanfare. Once dubbed as the ‘Switzerland of the East’ the Northern Areas are breathtakingly scenic. The cities are bustling with activity and the tradition of education has been long upheld by iconic institutions such as Government College in Lahore and the Agha Khan Medical University in Karachi. The rich colours of the clothes that the people adorn and the richer history of the different regions will leave an impression on visitors.
In the recent years, many, especially from the younger lot, have tried to portray this more positive side of the country. International media correspondents who are based in Pakistan have also made a positive contribution to this endeavour by highlighting some oft neglected pieces of news such as the setting up of Pakistan’s first all-women boxing club in Karachi recently.
While a lot of progress has been made, there are still miles to go till the message reaches everyone! If you have not been yet, here are some photos that show this different, much more beautiful side of a nation whose heart beats to the sounds of the sufi Coke Studio as easily as it does to the emerging pop rock sounds.