“Pakistan? That country is a region of terrorism. You won’t come back. Rethink your decision to visit”
Switch over to any media platform and you would come across the perception of Pakistan being racked in sorrow. We are identified for a bizarre air of misery encapsulating our hearts. This nation is seen and recognized as something it never was in the first place.
On contrary, visit Pakistan and you will confront an outburst of kindness and hospitality. Travel up the North and you will encounter strangers ready to welcome you with bread, honey and deep respect. Your heart will be so full of warmth that you actually will not return back as the person you arrived, but you will come back with a bigger heart and an eternal affiliation for the land.
“Mud roads, traffic and smelly streets”.
The mere statement is almost paradoxical because when I think about it, I conjure up the picture of unwinding curves of KKH. My mind sketches the magnificent image of the Makran highway lined along the Arabian sea coastline. I see the iridescent lakes peppered with technicolor boats and raging rivers. The “dirt” speaking for the chakka that Bablu bats in the streets of Lahore or the half baked roads of Gaggu Mandi. We are not characterized by the “smelly streets” but the spring lillies that paint the canvas of our spirits every year.
“It is a radical nation with an extremist population and bigoted mindset!”
Such labels make me reminisce my own personal experience regarding the “radicalism”.
“Namkeen chai, soda wala peeo. Sara nazla urr jai ga beti!”. Baba Gul Khan wrapped in a balti shawal with a balgossi nating neatly placed on his head handed me the traditional salted tea when he saw me practicing the cough marathon. His daughter Abha (meaning glow) sat next to me with her pashmina loosely draped around her. I could spot the glacial valley mirrored in her blue eyes as she casted a curious look at my fancy charm bracelet. “Khoobsurat”, she delicately commented while running her frail fingers along the charms. As if she had finally dug out the conclusion to a story in her mind, she stood excitedly and walked out the door.
After waiting a moment or two, I decided to to make my way out the dhabba I had found a sanctuary in, when Abha’s voice caught my attention “seikha shokh!” ( Sit down!). Her cheeks flushed a natural pink, she walked to me and opened her fist to a hand woven red bracelet. “Red!”, she said as her finger moved back and forth between my traditional fraq and the maroon accessory neatly tucked in her fist. Baba Gul Khan and Abha’s humble encounter carved an everlasting imprint on my heart. I returned with kindliness and a token of love from the valley I fell fond of.
“Prepare to get sick and poisoned in Pakistan”.
In an era where the perception of Pakistan is tarnished to such an extent, it is almost comical stating the real life scenarios of “contamination”. Walking along the old Gawalmandi tasting “fiqay ki lassi” , or having dinner at food street against the backdrop of the splendidly lit Badshahi mosque, it is ironic how every single visitor has relished these moments of supposed “poisoning”.
We are a nation that takes pride in our food heritage, be it the Peshawari shenwari or Balkot’s chappli kebab. Above all, we believe in the kind of hospitality where our guest does not return home without tasting our karak chai and garam pakoray. Despite all, isn’t it a pity how a country that exudes such warmth and exuberance is perceived perilous?
It shatters my heart seeing Pakistan being perceived to be mired in terrorism and gloom. It is a shame how the abundance of love this country and it’s people possess is often overshadowed by it’s plagued portrait. This nation has always returned its “mehman” care and geniality a thousand times over with a handful of life changing chapters. This nation is more than the labels and it is time we start seeing it for what it really is.