We’re celebrating South Asian Heritage Month here at the University of Bradford. In this blog Mohammed, a physicians associate graduate and current academic lecturing in integrated medical sciences, writes about his experiences of his South Asian heritage.
With it being South Asian heritage month, I thought I’d share a few words of my experiences going to Pakistan.
Going to Pakistan is always fun! The lead up usually involves shopping for necessities such as the gifts for relatives and summer clothing. Not to mention the requests from relatives here in the UK asking us to take stuff on their behalf for their relatives, with them usually not willing to accept a polite decline as we’ve already gone beyond the 40kg threshold per suitcase that PIA (Pakistani International Airlines) allow! Then comes the embarrassment of opening the suitcases in front of everyone in the queue to remove the extra pieces of clothing to decrease the weight of the bags before asking our driver (usually one of my uncles or my fathers friend) to take them home and keep them for safe keeping until we get back! Ahh, it’s all part of the fun!
Once we arrive, it’s very similar, (for me anyway) to the scene from West is West when Sajid and his father exit the airport to an onslaught of relatives wanting to hug and kiss him. My uncles helpfully take the suitcases from us and put them into the people carrier, which by the way can hold up to 20+ people even though there’s probably about half the number of seats! If you’ve seen the film you’ll recall that Sajid hugs an elderly female thinking that she is a relative when in fact his uncle informs him that she is beggar and they find it amusing, Sajid embarrassed. Fortunately I’ve not done that but my sister has! Quite amusing at the time but we did give the lady some pounds, who in turned offered us her prayers.
The road trip to the house of residence, on this occasion my dear grandfather’s house who resides in a place called Jatlan (pronounced Jatlah), always involves a little stop for tea and some light refreshments, consisting of multiple parathas (buttery chapatties, very delicious), a number of curries including meat and lentils and some bottles of fizzy drink. Yes I did write light as our fellow family members seem to neck them down like crisps but having just had an 8 hour place ride, a cup of tea and some rusks and biscuits do me fine (along with one paratha!)
The journey going to Jatlan is amazing. Small geography lesson – Jatlan is situated in Azad Kashmir, some may say the Pakistani administrated Kashmir. It is in the district (county if you like) of Mirpur. As you approach Azad Kashmir, you drive over a bridge underneath the Jhelum river. You turn right at the end of the bridge and drive alongside the river. Very scenic. Behind you is the famous Mangla Dam, which supplies the majority of the electricity to mainland Pakistan. On the way you pass a place called Khari Shareef, which is a shrine of the famous sufi poet Muhammad Mian Baksh, whom they called the Rumi of the East. It is a further 20 minutes from there until you reach Jatlan.
Once we arrive at the house we are greeted by more relatives. It’s a wonderful moment. Many relatives I will not have seen in a number of years and all seemed very pleased to see me and commenting on how I’ve grown since the last time I came. Sometimes there may have been a bereavement or two between the visits so amongst the tears of joy at meeting one another again, there usually follows tears of sadness and condolences being paid for the loss of loved ones. It’s slightly different if you’re going for a wedding, where the party tends to start as soon as the entourage from England arrive.
Neighbours tend to enter the house and greet us too. It’s quite a strong community bond where I live in Pakistan. Jatlan is a village but has increased in size in the past few years with a lot investment in the bazaar, with multi story plazas appearing in the last few years. It also has a newly built hospital. If you were to drive on past Jatlan, you’d reach the city of Mirpur which is the capital of Azad Kashmir.
It takes a few days to get acclimatised to village life. Thankfully the infrastructure has improved tremendously – electricity and gas are available, albeit with the occasional power cut, usually occurring when I’m the one bathing and as it’s an electrical boiler, it ends up being a cool bath shall we say! But refreshing as it’s usually quite hot anyway! Many homes have a back-up generator which someone puts on if the electric fails. English style toilets are also the norm in many houses.
The next few days are spent resting, meeting family members, going to relative’s houses, a bit of shopping in the bazaar and the occasional trip to Mirpur. One of my aunties lives in Lahore which is in the region of Punjab, about a 6 hour drive away, so we tend to go there and stay for a few days. Lahore is beautiful. There’s many places to visit, including the Badshah masjid and the Minaar’e Pakistan (tower of Pakistan). There are a lot of historic forts once used by the Mughal emperors which many people visit. Lahore also has one of the largest bazaars too, with ample market vendors selling everything from loose materials and ready-made clothing to household items and Islamic gifts. Lahore and the region of Punjab itself is also known for its food! A large portion of the bazaar is dedicated for all sorts of food stuffs including a variety of curries, daals, rice dishes, grilled food and savoury and sweet stuff. One of my favourites are goal gapay which are crispy circular shaped snacks filled with chickpeas, onions, potatoes and a mixture of different sauces.
After spending a bit of time in Lahore, we then travel back to Jatlan and make our final preparations to return back to England. I often use this period as a reflection and find myself refining my Pakistani thermostat so to speak. It’s a blessing being from two different cultures, growing up learning Punjabi and Urdu along with English, familiarising myself with the different customs the two cultures possess, being able to have a wardrobe containing salwar kameez along with my H&M shirts and chinos, listening to R&B with a little bit of bhangra and more recently as I’ve got older Qawaal, which is what some may call sufi music which involves the invoking of love for God.
I’m aware many of my fellow peers often feel as though they are not quite sure where they belong, yes we may have been born and bred here in the UK but our mother land is our home in Pakistan. However, as long as we reflect upon what we are blessed with, regardless of which culture were are from, the heart can find contentment.