What is a Pakistani man?

Imaduddin Ahmed’s week | The Friday Times

Another Independence Day and we’re still here! Yes, we lost our more democratic half and there’s a bit of turmoil here and there, but we’re here and we can say “Up Yours India!” and that’s what counts, right?

Well, besides being here, what do we Pakistanis have to show for ourselves? Two things that spring to mind are a few sporting achievements (a confidence booster for Pakistani male virility) and the “Muslim” nuclear bomb coupled with a few missiles – which means we’re good at erecting phallic tools that cause massive explosions (testimony to the fact that we’re not afraid of showing India how large our our collective dunda is).

One wonders what the state might have accomplished had our army-worshipping “culture” not been so preoccupied by male sexual insecurities. But it sheds a sympathetic light on our predilection for imprisoning “our” women within four walls. Men are also victims of their own chauvinism.

While we’re on the topic, let me issue a warning to you, women new to Pakistan: imprison yourselves on our nation’s Independence Day! Oh, and by the way, welcome.

Don’t be tempted by the lure of free open-air concerts; don’t be charmed by the thousands of young exuberant men performing wheelies on their motorbikes. No, your foolhardy courage won’t prove me wrong and change people’s thinking in a night. (Unless you collectively organise with other women to “take back the night.” I’d also urge my male readers to stay in. Read on and see why.

This is advice that I wish had been dispensed last year to myself, my Turkish girlfriend, Bade, and our Kenyan friend, Jenn. So does Michelle, whose job as TFT features editor I now have. One Pakistan Independence Day was what it took to send her, with her Harvard degree, packing back to the States.

I was excited to participate in my first Independence Day festivities – more to celebrate what can be than what has been . I’d bought Pakistani jhandas to accessorise my car and friends with; our flag, after all, isn’t bad as far as flags go: it has symbols of hope and optimism and a white stripe to remind us that we’re meant to celebrate (what’s left of) our pluralistic mix.

So it was that Jenn, Bade and I started our night of the 14th on that note – celebrating Lahore’s lesser known diversity in an African bar in downtown Lahore. After liquidating a few of the bar’s assets in the company of medical and engineering students, as well as businessmen from Kenya, Chad, Tanzania and Nigeria, we made our way to Race Course Park, keen as I was to show off Pakistan’s hyped up pop-music industry (which I had to mention was doing better than India’s).

Once we arrived, Bade, in her enthusiastic mood to share in the national jubilation, took my Pakistani jhanda, threw it over her shoulders, took hold of Jenn’s hand and ran towards the performer’s stage, cutting through the audience at a rapid pace. I walked behind, gleaming with pride that my girlfriend had the confidence to run through a crowd of Pakistani men. What follows is Bade’s recount in an email she wrote to her friends the following day:

“Though Jenn preferred to watch the concert from the back, I pulled her into the crowd till we ended up in a circle of men. She said, “They are going to touch us,” and just then I felt hands all over my body. A man was trying to snatch my bag while another was pulling my kameez under the Pakistan flag covering my shoulders. I fell on the ground with some men on me. Imad hit one of the men, only then did the onlookers take any action: to restrain the two men from harming each other! We started to walk back with a crowd of hundreds of men following us. They all had stupid smiles on their faces. Jenn tried to explain what had happened to the policemen sitting next to the gate of Race Course Park. They had the same stupid smiles on their faces until Imad told them whose grandson he was [and they then they escorted us back to our transportation, warding off the crowd of following men.]

“I spent the night looking at my half torn kameez and crying. . . The next day I was feeling calmer. I told the story to some Pakistani friends. They advised me not to go to public concerts ever again and not to go out alone, especially at night. They told me stories of other women facing harassment every day. I thought I would find humanity and spirituality in Pak-istan, but here I am in this “Muslim” society where attacking two women in the middle of hundreds of people is considered normal and unpreventable. I refuse to understand the logic that imprisons women indoors, just because men have uncontrollable animal instincts.”

A day that I had so hoped would be one in which I could share my national pride with foreign friends turned out to be the night in which I most loathed my nation.

The journey back home was filled with Jenn’s unhelpful venting. She endlessly criticised “Pakistani men” as she cited example after example of men on the street propositioning her or masturbating when she was alone on public transportation. However, she apologised for me, explaining that since I had been raised in Britain I was educated, and that her African friends were surprised that I was a Pakistani man because I was “gentle” and “respectful”. Rather than rebut her condescending statements, I half-welcomed being disassociated from the label “Pakistani man.”

When I later visited my girlfriend in her native Istanbul, a shopkeeper advised her to be careful of Pakistani men, having had a bad experience with his sister’s husband.

We have a bad rep, chaps.

In 59 years not only have we forsaken human development for more macho and irrelevant ambitions, we’re nurtured the most beastly tendencies to women. Women leave our country in disgust.

I’m going to join our women indoors this 14th August and rethink masculinity and what it can mean to be a Pakistani man. You’re welcome to join us, chaps.

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