Dear Fellow Pakistanis,
I am a Pathan, aka Pashtun, or Pakhtoon. You might know me as Khan Saab, a title invented to refer to the likes of me. It feels like a tag really, but I wouldn’t doubt your intentions. Through my experiences, while growing up in this beautiful country, I have observed that I (read all of us) carry a certain identity that is not only misleading but also not a very pleasant one. I would like that to change and the sooner the better. Therefore, allow me to put forward my perspective and I’ll leave the rest to the imagination of you good people.
Let’s start with the title Khan Saab. Khan Saab has become synonymous with a person who dresses up in a certain way, has a thick accent, and consumes Naswar. You would want me to take the title at face value and believe me I want to. But the wry smile and the mischievous twinkle in your eyes gives it a whole other meaning. Instead, it comes across as if you already have an opinion about me and expect me to behave like an imbecile.
In movies and dramas, I am portrayed mostly as a source of comic relief. The character depicting me is always a goofy fellow who speaks broken Urdu with a typical accent and is angry without any apparent reason. The writers, for decades now, have been under the impression that my dream job is either that of a watchman or a truck driver. Contrary to popular belief though, I speak perfect Urdu despite my accent. If you pay attention, you’ll find me excelling in other walks of life too. I may wear my heart on my sleeve but that doesn’t necessarily mean I jump at other’s throats.
Then there is my rather confusing profiling. Generally, I am branded as a bold and courageous man whose bravery has stood the test of time. But, when needed, I am presented as a violent gun-wielding lunatic. In any case, my fetish for weapons is established as an ancestral tradition. However, it was the geopolitical importance of my homeland that attracted invaders. My ancestors took to arms to defend themselves and their fatherland. You will be pleasantly surprised to know that I mostly spend my leisure time playing Rabab, singing along my friends, or playing cricket in the most limited of spaces. My fatherland was a war zone for more than a decade, yet I managed to educate myself. Not an ordinary feat! Wouldn’t you agree?
Naswar has become synonymous with Pathan. My longing for Naswar is no secret. Just yesterday, a fellow Pathan friend was telling me the tragic story of him being caught in a remote place without Naswar for 24 hours. However, Naswar is just one of the many smokeless dried tobacco products used in Central, East, South, and South-East Asia. These include Khaini, Loose-leaf, Khiwam, Dhora, and many others. My point is that consuming tobacco in different forms is prevalent in other cultures as well and is too trivial to refer to me.
To sum it up, I believe I am being stereotyped, and it is about time that changes. Come visit me, see for yourself how hospitable I am and that being generous and helpful is a part of thousands of years code of conduct that I live by. I am as contemporary and fun-loving as you are. As the saying goes; sometimes, all we need is a new perspective.
About the Author: Muhammad Yasir Ali is an independent researcher and public administration scholar, specializing in social policy studies. He can be reached at [email protected]