Saturday, December 4, 2010


By Rabia Ahmed

Most of the time, when in Rome, it is prudent to ‘Do as the Romans do’.  Most times, that is, until you find yourself spending your life doing the silliest things;  because even though the Romans were good at making aqua ducts and roads like the A1 doesn’t mean they were all that smart every time. Like most of us.  And once you realise that, should you still follow the guy in the toga everywhere he goes, or should you hold up your hand occasionally and say ‘enough!’?

There is such a thing as not allowing yourself to be pressured. Remember the scene about the Imperius Curse in J.K Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’? Let me paraphrase that bit:

As Moody put his students under the Imperius Curse, they all did the strangest things: hopped around the room singing the national anthem, imitated animals, and performed extraordinary gymnastics.  When it was Harry’s turn, he felt a floating sensation as every thought and worry in his head was wiped away.  He heard his teacher’s voice commanding him to jump onto the desk.  He bent his knees preparing to jump, when suddenly another voice spoke in his head:

‘Why though?’ it said. ‘Stupid thing to do, really.’

And Harry felt his knees hurt as he stopped in mid jump and fell against the hard stone floor.

We always have a choice: to do what everyone else is doing, regardless whether you like it or not, or to hold back and do your own thing.

It is never easy to say ‘no’, but whether you say ‘no’ or not, your choices disturb those around you, so there is invariably an outcry against your stance. So really, you may as well do what you think is best, hadn’t you, instead of following everyone else?

 It is best to be prepared for criticism, by cultivating a skin that’s thicker than usual.  J.K Rowling had a magic charm for that as well, the ‘Impervius Charm’, which makes the charmed person impervious to any outside influence. We need this in Pakistan if we’re to say ‘no’ now and then, so we can be impervious to protest. As it is, only our politicians seem to have used it upon themselves.

Here’s a short list of some choices you may have to make living in Pakistan:

Arriving late at weddings:
In spite of it being clearly stated on a card that the Mehendi will start at 7pm sharp, no one arrives before nine, and the majority put in an appearance around ten, or later.

You may decide to go with the flow and turn up at the function around midnight, in which case you’ll be classed with the decadent at-parties-all-night lot.
Or, you may try to take your hosts at their word, and arrive on time. In which case all hell will break lose with ‘This is Pakistan! Learn to be late!’

And of course there are those who protest whatever you do.

Dressing extravagantly:
Life in Pakistan is at the stage when one has to choose between one’s daily bread and another new jora.  People however, will spend the cost of five lunches, three dinners and a lavish high tea on a new something to wear every other week.

If you decide to cut down on your meals and go with the designers, so be it. If however you chose to wear the same dress a few times running, be prepared for the comments, such as, ‘You really like this dress, don’t you?’.

Of course, there are those who protest whatever you wear!

Loans to servants:
Living in Pakistan, employing a servant or two, you take on a corporate image. You are the sleek new Visa card, or an American Express credit card, and people never leave home without you, in a figurative sense of course. Your cook wants you in his wallet, and so does your driver, your cleaning lady, gardener, newspaper wallah, and so on. There is the wedding to finance, the ‘fautgi’, or a house.

You sympathise. How, after all, can people survive in this place on the salaries they get? So you allow them to swipe you from time to time, and even to swipe from you at times while you turn a blind eye.

Which all means of course that you will be known as the worst manager of finances in the world.

On the other hand, if you become Scrooge, you will be...Scrooge.

But naturally, there are those who will protest whatever you do, and make you into a kind of Scrooge Express.

Menu at parties:
The Last Supper takes place every weekend in Lahore homes. People serve the most lavish meals, and people eat as though they will never eat again. No one really cares for anything except where the boti is. In this poor country where people are dying for want of a basic meal, it is imperative to serve a beef dish, a chicken dish and two mutton dishes at the table in addition to seven others and something with prawns.

If the menu at your party is a simple one, those who live in Lahore will be vociferous in their protest (Scrooge again).

If it is a lavish one, your guests from Karachi will be equally vocal (Show off).

And then of course there are those who protest whatever you serve.

That isn’t the end of the list by any means, but I invite you to add to it as you wish, and then when you’re done with it, to examine it carefully. Maybe then you will also say, ‘Why though?’ and make your choice: to jump like everyone else, or to stand peacefully aside, and watch everyone else jump, moo, or tap dance their way through a life that they think is their own, but is it though?!

Its all about choice, having a very thick skin, and doing what you think is best!

This article was printed in the Dawn on the 05 December 2010 with certain changes by the editor. It may be viewed at the following link:

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