Celebrating Pakistaniat

Toronto’s Gerrard Street was ablaze with a cacophony of familiar sights and sounds. Was this really Canada? It was hard to tell. This was the second time I had joined the joyous melee of chaand raat on foreign soil. The boisterous scene was enjoyable, but anyone present in the vicinity could be forgiven for thinking that Eid was purely a Pakistani event, not quite open to the rest of the Muslim world.

The streets leading up to the city’s India Bazaar were choked and one had to park a fair distance from the hub to walk over. The south side attracted most of the families with its garment stores and hastily made henna tattoo outlets. It was impossible to drown out the noise even as you walked towards the uplifting aroma only desi restaurants can emanate. Meetha paan in hand, I set about observing the kind of crowd I was prone to avoiding back home in Pakistan.

The scene outside Lahore Tikka House pretty much summed things up. There was an impromptu bhangra party spilling on to the already clogged streets. Streetcars and their mystified occupants were stranded as the music got louder and party got wilder. A Hummer passed by for the umpteenth time, its occupants hanging precariously from its windows, prompting a bystander to declare it was a rental. Other cars were similarly decked in shaving foam ‘Eid Mubaraks’, but what really caught my attention were the number of Pakistani flags that were being brandished to mark the religious occasion.

The euphoria subsided only momentarily as skirmishes took place as only they can in good, old-fashioned, Punjabi-expletive-inspired phaddas. Yet even they failed to dissuade the throng of humanity from its celebratory frame of mind. Most women were decked in desi attire and most seemed to have heeded my incessant calls to boycott dresses in that horrible dark blue tinge. A solitary desi in a miniskirt looked completely out of place and seemed to get as many disapproving stares from aunties who have made Canada their home as she would have received approving stares had she been in Lahore’s Liberty Market. The only thing lacking were motorcycle and cyclewallahs and their daredevil stunts. Alas, Honda CD70 doesn’t exactly have a market in this part of the world.

It was interesting to note that the few Bengalis who happened to venture in the area confessed to feeling that Eid had become a Pakistani celebration. This made me wonder along two lines: why have expats added a patriotic tinge to what is a religious event, and what exactly does it mean to be Pakistani?

How many of us really do participate in public celebrations in the home country? I’ll be the first to admit I would avoid Independence Day and chaand raat on the streets and not merely from a fear of traffic jams. There are too many people who think like me who also avoid these street events so much so that I recently came across people having issues with the public celebrating Pakistan’s win over India. Really? For a people without food and electricity, even the slightest celebration is a Godsend and yet some of us complain. Ladies and gents, let’s get this straight: celebrations of the kind that I witnessed on Gerrard Street are the true essence of our nation. It is our inherent Pakistaniat.

Even in the supposedly sophisticated diaspora, our public celebrates in much the same way as it does at home. There is no shame in that, no shame in associating yourself with how our people celebrate. To reject it would be to reject our Pakistaniat. I, for one, have grown to appreciate the multitudes of people and their celebratory zeal. Sure, there are plenty of show-offs and attention-seekers, but showing off what you have – even if it’s just a rental – is part of the Pakistani dream. We are a people who love to flaunt our wealth (even when we don’t have it). But let’s not disenfranchise ourselves merely because we feel the nouveau riche and middle classes aren’t classy enough.

As for the tendency of turning Eid into a patriotic event, I ask, why not? It does bind us together and it does remind us of home. Just like back home, there are generally two or more Eids here. We are prone to wearing shalwar kameez, feasting on sawaiyyan, applying decorative henna, collecting and distributing Eidi, calling loved ones back home, and even engaging in the post-Eid-namaz, three-touch hugs. What could be more Pakistani than that? Eid does in fact play a significant role in shaping the identity of our expats, both young and old, religious and otherwise. So inherent is the patriotism in Eid that I am aware of a Christian of Pakistani origin who frequents Eid prayers just to bond with his people and recreate that homely feel.

Stereotyping and mocking such celebratory displays has become a pastime for some of us. It’s about time we embraced our people instead of alienating them. Sure, we feel secure in our little elitist bubbles sitting atop our classy credentials. But by doing so we reaffirm our disconnect with our own. Acceptance is the first step to deliverance; perhaps we can do away with our prejudice and celebrate with wanton abandon the simple pleasures that keep most of our people happy.

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