It means you wake up warm on cold winter mornings, and whine about how cold the bathroom tiles feel beneath your feet. It means your cook probably makes you breakfast, while you strategically shower at the time when you know hot water will be available. It means you dress to impress, whether that means twirling a scarf around your turtleneck, or flicking on some eyeliner. It means you probably own a pair of loafers. It means you spend your mornings in the office trying to wake yourself up, your days running around trying to complete your projects, your evenings breathing in relief through your cigarette, and your nights in bed with Downton Abbey, or Game of Thrones, or Star Plus dramas.
It means you vaguely discuss politics – broad terms, quick generalizations, general acceptance of failure – while you calculate sales figures, or browse Khaadi online. It means you are quick to joke about how Pakistan is a failure, and have no real concrete idea of how to fix it. It means you know you are privileged – everyone’s been telling you that your whole life. It means you are kind to those who aren’t whenever they knock at your car window at a red light. It means you love traditional clothing and food, speak of them fondly, but always as “traditional”.
It means that you live with your parents, usually even if you’re married, and don’t pay rent. It means that you worry about how you didn’t buy any new clothes this season. It means you crib about rishta auntie culture, but you probably had an arranged marriage. It means you’re ambitious about something – you need to make something of yourself, otherwise what’s the point of you being so privileged, so educated, so well-groomed? It means maybe you went abroad to study and are now back in your home country, wishing you could have just stayed in London. If you’re lucky, it means when someone compliments you on your clothing you can reference some loving aunt from abroad who sends you Zara, or H&M, or Forever 21.
For many of us, it means we have a father or an uncle in the army, and someone or the other in the police, customs, foreign ministry. It means, of course they would never be corrupt, but they can help you out if you’re in some kind of big fix. It means we make promises that we don’t keep and then joke our way around them. It means we have “first world problems” that we joke about openly. It means the girls are always worried about gaining weight and the guys are always worried about their egos. It means we enjoy things like book launches, art exhibitions, qawwali nights and hand embroidery. It means we plan weddings months in advance, and often shy away from vibrant colors, favoring pale pinks, whites, reds for an “elegant look”.
It means we hesitate to take chances. It means we use words like dynamic and innovation. It means we casually reference the work trip to Thailand, and the summer our parents took us to Europe. It means we are upset over Shia killings, and attacks on schools, and donate money to cancer research, and participate in candlelight vigils, and talk of freedom of right and freedom of expression and freedom of belief and just a lot about freedom – all the time. And then we say, ‘but our culture…’, ‘but our religion…’, ‘but our families…’. It means we are fond of the disclaimer. Fond of not feeling too much, not saying too much, not meaning too much – or rather, not saying, feeling or meaning the wrong thing. It means sometimes we stand up for our values, but mostly, we’ve got other things to do. It means we’re not heartless, we’ve just got a lot on our plates.
It means we probably would leave the country if we could, but we’d probably come back in 10-15 years. It means we say we know “hardship” but we don’t know hunger. It means we are grateful, but we have probably never begged. It means we know of faith, but we struggle to feel it. It means we yearn with all our hearts for our country to get back on its feet, but we also yearn for 3G internet services. It means we spend money to go watch movies in cinemas and eat nachos, but nothing makes us happier than a bowl of well-cooked biryani in our dining rooms.
It means we have two sitting rooms – one for the guests and one for ourselves. It means we have multiple sets of china – some for the guests and some for ourselves. It means we have servants – staff, if you will – to wash our cars and cook our food and clean our houses, sometimes even to raise our children. It means we are kind to these servants, but get upset if they disrespect us.
It means we have egos. It means we are Pakistani. It means we are young. It means we are flawed and perfect in our own ways. It means we can evolve, we will evolve, we have evolved. It means we are you, you are us, we will always be the same and yet different. It means nothing, and it means everything. We are different, and we are the same. We are a colorful mosaic of insecurities and talent.
It means we are human.
[This post was written after a conversation with a Kazakh friend of mine, where we decided to write and tell each other what daily life was like in our respective countries, sharing things that aren’t traditionally on the news or in books.]