Pakistaniat and Commonsense
16 August, 2007
By Adnan Gill
They say, once a month a metamorphosis takes place which turns a man into a werewolf. In a similar metamorphosis, once a year around 14 August, the blood of Pakistani-Americans turns green and we return to the grounds of University of Southern California to celebrate the birth of Pakistan. It is a unique experience that freshens the memories of the country we grew up in. The people you meet there and their behavior could fool you into thinking that we are back in Pakistan. Just like every year, this year too the experiences of Pakistaniat were not much different either.
As soon as we got closer to the fair venue the traffic turned from bad to ugly. As if ‘Stop’ signs didn't matter and driving on both sides of road became legal, the race to enter the parking lot got so competitive that people started to ignore the traffic rules altogether. Commonsense says, obeying the traffic rules would get everyone in faster and nobody would get a traffic ticket. But then what do we know; maybe in our hearts Pakistanis like to donate money to the city officials through their traffic tickets and strive to get their insurance rates higher. Others decided to save the $10 parking fee by parking on the streets. It didn't matter whether they were parking on the yellow or the red lines. Commonsense says it's cheaper to pay the $10 parking fee than paying $60 in fines. But then what do we know; maybe Pakistanis were trying to increase the city's revenues by paying through the parking tickets.
No sooner had we entered the parking lot a raging mad Pakistani captured our attention through his yelling and cursing at a female parking worker. Apparently, he was unhappy about how much time it took him to reach the parking lot as compared to others. Maybe, all he wanted to do was to inform her that she was racially profiling him against rest of the Pakistanis, but she called the police instead. Almost immediately, Police sirens could be heard. I could swear I have never seen anyone disappearing in the darkness of night as fast as our Pakistani brother did. Commonsense says, when treated unfairly, one should sue the discriminator and become rich. But then what do we know; perhaps all he wanted to do was to educate her in the art of fairness.
We got into the parking lot, but were held up for another 10 minutes; because another Pakistani brother wanted to squeeze in his van in a space big enough for a bicycle. When he failed to get in head first, he decided to back into it. Low and behold, the space refused to widen even though he was desperately trying to reverse into it. Commonsense says, it's faster, safer, and more convenient to park 10 spaces farther than parking in a tight spot that will cause him to put dents in his and other people's cars. But then what do we know; maybe he had a shrinking-ray gun that could have shrunk other peoples cars.
Since there were no signs or anyone pointing towards the main entrance, we decided to try our luck by walking in the same direction as the others were. It turned out people had found a hole in the fence, with a red sign that read ‘do not enter’ next to it, to enter the fair. Commonsense says, the organizers must have put signs to guide the masses towards the official entrance. But then what do we know; the organizers were probably trying to increase our IQ through the process of trial and error.
A dirty little secret is, most of the Pakistani women are lured to the 14 August Fair to check out the latest fashions, and most of the men are lured to it in a pursuit of the wide variety of desi gourmets available. Therefore, like most, our first order of business was also to throng the food stalls. Organizers were kind enough to provide folks with long sheets of paper so that they could sit on the ground and feast on their favorite dishes. After devouring their food most of people simply got up and left the paper sheets in the middle of the grounds. Commonsense says it's considered common courtesy to clean up after oneself. But then what do we know; people probably thought since organizers were naive enough to arrange for the paper sheets, perhaps it was their duty to clean up after them too; or at minimum, sooner or later, the paper sheets would decompose and provide nourishment for the grass.
Everywhere one could see green balloons and Pakistani flags proudly flying in the wind. But not a single American flag was in sight. Commonsense says, it's good etiquettes and appropriate, while celebrating the birth of Pakistan, not to forget the country that is graciously hosting us; as well as the chance that it can give Pakistanis a big backlash for appearing to be unpatriotic Americans. Not long ago the Latino population in Los Angeles learned a hard lesson when they flew and waved only Mexican flags during the protests against the immigration policies of the United States. Their PR blunder only resulted in hardening of the prevailing negative impression (illegal immigrants being a burden on society) the rest of Americans had against them. But what do we know; organizers probably believed Pakistanis didn't have to prove their patriotism to the Americans, because the Pakistani President Musharraf believes he has trusting friends and allies in the White House in the shape of the President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Who cares what rest of the Americans think?
To the credit of organizers, for the entertainment purposes, they collected a host of renowned Pakistani singers. To name a few Alamgir, Ali Haider, and Najam Shiraz were there. The rising Pakistani stars were also quite impressive. Between all of them, they managed to keep young Pakistani-Americans on their feet and dancing. There is no doubt that most of the people were having a good time and enjoying the concert with their families. Unfortunately, at least one of the singers (without naming) was clearly drunk and shouldn't have come on the stage. Commonsense says when drunk, don't come on the stage, because drinking liquor is still a sin in Islam, and Muslims certainly don't believe drunks can be good role models for the impressionable children. But then what do we know; he probably believes liquor squeezes better performance out of him and Muslims prefer performance over a sin.
Just like in any other concert, a crowd of people gathered behind the stage, not accessible to the general public. Some of them were the artists; others were staff-members and organizers, while others were special guests wearing red wristbands who probably considered themselves to be superior and above the rest of the mortals. One such middle-aged guest, high and mighty, with a receding hairline, probably imagining himself to be the gift from God to women, decided to descend upon the sidelines to showoff his cigar-lighting skills. If he wasn't rude enough to block the view and to blow the smoke in the faces of handicaps and elders sitting in the wheelchairs and chairs, he invited three other friends to join him by lighting their cigarettes too. Some elderly women politely requested them to move away and to the side, which they did. But as if the cigar-smoker regretted easily succumbing to the request of ordinary elderly women, he stepped back, once again blowing vile smoke and blocked their view. When they asked him again to move, he smirked and stood his ground by widening his stance and asked another friend to join him in putting down the rebellion. To us, his rude behavior suggested he wanted to teach a lesson to ordinary elderly women for daring to interrupt his corralling of younger women. As it so happened, some of the gentlemen who were observing his rude behavior decided enough was enough, and they told them to move away and not in a so polite manner. To that the crowd cheered and applauded the intervention of the gentlemen, and our once high and mighty Don Juan had to move with his pride wounded and trampled upon. Commonsense says don't embarrass yourself needlessly. But what then do we know; he probably believed the cigar-smoke had therapeutic effects on the elderly and ill.
All in all, despite certain aberrations, it was a good expedience and a nostalgic reminder of our good old country. Children got the opportunity to experience Pakistani culture firsthand, women folk caught up with the latest fashions, and men doused fires in their bellies with Pakistani cuisines. Most of us will certainly return to the Pakistaniat and same fair grounds in the years to come. May Allah bless Pakistan!