My convocation is in a few days. The time when they give us our degrees for all the pain and suffering we subjected ourselves to for 6 years. I will not be going, even though my fiancé (and class fellow) has repeatedly asked me to come. When I left Peshawar after the last viva more than a year ago now, I turned my back on the place for good. It would be nice to meet some people again, but there really isn’t anyone whom I’d be looking forward to seeing again. Why is it that after 6 years of living in a place, I have no real friends to call my own in Peshawar. Does it say something about me? Or the place that is Peshawar? A part of me is bitter and angry that I seemed to have spent so many years in that place riddled with self-loathing and - yeah, let’s just say it – in hate for the entire city. I hated the mentality of the people there, who seemed light-years behind the rest of the world. The biggest enemy the pathans have are themselves, not Some Great Big Evil Western Devil, but the devil in themselves. I am reading “The Crisis of Islam” by Bernard Lewis these days and along with the many interesting things he has to say, he points out something that struck a chord. He talks about the influence western imperialism had in the 19th century over the countries it conquered:
“The contrasts can be seen very clearly by comparing the countries that suffered under the imperial yoke, like Egypt and Algeria, with those that never lost their independence, like Arabia and Afghanistan. In Saudi Arabia universities were late and few. At present, for an estimated population of 21 million, there are eight universities – one more than the seven institutions of higher education established by the Palestinians since the Israeli occupation of the territories in 1967. Slavery was not abolished by law in Saudi Arabia until 1962, and the subjugation of women remains in full effect.”
Peshawar, which borders Afghanistan, has also evolved from the fortune or misfortune of not having been influenced by the more positive aspects of Western “imperialism”. To this day, Punjab, the province that had the heaviest British presence prior to independence is the most culturally and economically advanced part of the country. It’s certainly an interesting thesis: to suppose that Western imperialism of the last century had some positive imprint on the lands that it ruled.
In the last couple of months, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a group of friends from AKU, 3 of whom live here in Islamabad (Uzer, Shakir and Hussain). The other two are fellow bloggers Usman and Moiz. They are a very close knit group and meeting them made me realize what I had missed out on in Peshawar. I thought Peshawar was an extremely insular and backward place. Hussain and I would argue when he was still here in Islamabad over which city was the asshole of Pakistan. He insisted it was Karachi, while I said it was definitely Peshawar. While physically, the two places might look the same, Hussain and his friends had each other, and a world-class university that brought the best minds in Pakistan together under one roof. The year that I joined my college, there was an enormous and violent fight between the Jamaat-i-islami students and the outgoing final year students over the right of the latter to celebrate their passing out by playing music in the college and dancing (after the classes were over of course). In the ensuing battle, several people were sent to hospital, some with serious injuries and gun-toting jamati-i-islami students fired indiscriminately, although miraculously, no one was hit. The worst of it was that after the dust settled, the principle of the college was thought to be involved in organizing the mess, siding with the jamaat in order to teach the outgoing final year students “a lesson.”
These things just don’t happen in a civilized place. The exam system was horribly flawed, there was widespread corruption in the administration, professors more interested in flirting with the girls than teaching, unethical practices by the doctors, and a student population who had never talked to a member of the opposite sex until they entered the college.
I don’t mean to say of course that all this is the case because the NWFP of Pakistan was not as soundly colonized by the British as the rest of Pakistan. Of course not - but it’s just interesting how the above passage in the book leapt out at me. I was born in Saudi Arabia and lived there till I was 17. Then I lived in Islamabad for 2 years before going to Peshawar for another 6 years. It’s strange how I seem to have lived in those two parts of the Muslim world which are the most retrogressive in the world (barring some war-striven countries in Africa). I never fit in in Peshawar, and I would never want to live as an adult in Saudi Arabia (growing up there was great though).
A friend of mine who has lived in the US for the last 10 years, having been born and raised in Jeddah like me, told me once that he “was a westerner” before he arrived there. I know what he means and in a sense I think I am one too. I used to think I want to come back after my residency and work in Pakistan, to “serve my country” so to speak. Now I don’t know. I don’t know where I belong. Having spent my teens in one country, my 20s in another country, and making plans to spend at least 6 years of my 30s in a third country, I don’t know where I belong. I don’t want to spend another 6 years like I did in Peshawar, not fitting in, not making close friends, not being comfortable with where I live. I guess the convocation and my total lack of interest in it unleashed a big can of worms. Sorry for the rant folks.