Don’t judge a book by its cover,” is a general truth man has difficulty coming to terms with. In the modern world, the volume of culture, heritage, and history is bound by a cover embellished by the ‘apt’ hand of the media; and so, in its norm of playing the long bow, it becomes difficult to extract truth from the intricately knotted threads of overstatement, which is why at times one remains under an impression different from one that is but real.
Pakistan is one volume that has always been open to interpretation. Be it diplomats or tourists, foreigners in general, are often intimidated by the image painted of Pakistan on the global canvas. Just how much, I came to know courtesy my recent attendance at the Orange Festival at the Zaildar House, Taxila, specifically hosted annually to make visitors more acquainted to the customs of Pakistan. With a speech by the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee to set things in motion, segments of horse dancing and our traditional music, a display of Gandhara relics and an exquisite desi banquet, it was quite a success.
I had the honor of conversing with a few attendees of diverse nationalities and finding out how their perceptions about Pakistan have changed over their stay here.
The first was Ms. Azusa, who hails from Japan and has been living in Pakistan for five months. She was very affable and we soon settled into a comfortable conversation. When I fumbled over the pronunciation of her name, she laughingly told me she went by Areesha as well.
What was your perception of Pakistan before coming here?
It was negative, I’m afraid. I heard that there is a lot of terrorism.
And how do you find Pakistan now?
The security is stable, contrary to what I heard. The people are very kind and open. Islamabad, where I live, is a beautiful place and I love taking my kids out to the parks in the evenings. It’s very peaceful here.
How do you find Pakistani cuisine?
The food is very spicy here! But I really like eating samosas; they’re very tasty. I miss eating sushi though. I’ve heard of sushi places in Islamabad, but I have yet to try them.
Ms. Azusa then added that she wished Pakistanis were more familiar with her Japanese culture. I also learned that she loved traditional Pakistani dresses, and was taking classes for Urdu at the Islamic University. “Mujhe aap se mil ke khushi hui,” she said laughingly in her lilting Japanese accent.
Next, I approached the friendly wife of a Palestinian diplomat, Ms. Shireen, who has been living in Pakistan for four years.
What was your reaction when you first heard you were to stay here in Pakistan?
(laughs) I’ll be honest, I wasn’t that excited because of the incidents of terrorism we had heard of, in Pakistan.
And is your experience different from what you heard?
I found upon coming here that the people are very kind, very peaceful (contrary to what the media portrays).
What is something Pakistan has in common with your country?
I think that the people here are as comforting as my family back in Palestine, and now it feels almost like home. And, religion, of course. I really like it here.
What is something you really like about Pakistan?
I’m really fond of the dresses and shawls that you have. They’re very pretty.
Is there something you believe should change in Pakistan?
Yes, I think Pakistan needs some more development in certain areas. Particularly the media should be used to portray what this country is really about.
I then approached a diplomat from the Czech Republic, Ms. Jarosalva Bobkova.
How long have you been in Pakistan?
It’s been a year-and-a-half now, but I have visited Pakistan before as well.
What is the best thing about this country?
I think the diversity. There are so many people of so many different backgrounds with different cultures and ideals and customs. It’s all very intriguing.
How did you find the people of Pakistan?
They’re very kind and welcoming, and they accept you readily.
Is there something you would like to say to the readers of Hilal for Her?
Yes, I think that no success can be achieved without the participation of women, and they should not hold themselves back or be held back. It’s only a matter of belief in one’s abilities.
I thanked her, got her business card, and then moved on to the backyard for lunch. The star of the banquet was the delicious barbeque piled on our plates directly from the grill. On the whole, the food was delightful and starred all traditional Pakistani dishes in their full palatability.
After lunch I sought out Ms. Ikue Mori, a researcher from Japan, who was kind enough to stop for a chat despite being ready to leave.
How long have you lived in Pakistan?
I have lived in Pakistan for about ten months.
What was your perception about Pakistan before moving here?
I was, like most foreigners, wary of coming to Pakistan because of the terrorist incidents I had heard about. I researched a bit about the country and I have to say I wasn’t reassured that much.
How do you find Pakistan now?
I believe it isn’t the country the media paints it to be. I am so confident in its security that now I am calling my family to visit me.
How do you find Pakistani people?
The people are very compassionate, but at times I am made a bit uncomfortable when they ask private questions like my age and my marital status, and when I tell them I am single and have no kids they are always shocked. But overall they are very kind, I must say.
How do you like Pakistani cuisine?
I think it’s very spicy, but I love chicken handi and biryani, they’re delicious!
The festival wrapped up for me on that note, but what these findings depict is how, in this day and age, media holds the power to portray a subject in a light of its choosing. In this case, it has let Pakistan’s diversity be overshadowed by differences, its culture by constraints, its past by presumptions. In an era of propaganda warfare, we have yet to learn the art of painting a positive picture. Pakistan has a rich tapestry strengthened by the richest of threads, the most diverse of hues — our unity lies in our acceptance, and our pride in our experiences. Yet what we witness is that the drawbacks we have faced and overcome in our seventy one years have been highlighted over all else to the extent where they are all that is left. So the fact remains that if the cover is dubious, the book may as well be so, and the only hand at fault is the one that adorns the cover.HH
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