… or how my presentation about Lahore was hijacked by questions about how people acted and felt towards me in Pakistan
I should have really written this at the beginning of July after my four day Post-colonialism seminar on The Reluctant Fundamentalist at uni. But then I got carried away on facebook as it is so much easier to write short snippets on which you get instant feedback, than writing a longer article without knowing how it will be received and without being able to set misunderstandings straight right away.
However, it’s never to late to share my experience with my class fellows, average German students of Anglophone Literature and culture, who know relatively little about Pakistan but often get to hear in the news how Pakistanis despise the US or ‘the West’ in general. As I was re-reading ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ just before the seminar
– the first time I had basically gulped it down – I realised that the others wouldn’t be be able to imagine the setting in Lahore as strongly as I had been, having travelled there only half a year earlier. Thus, I started to mark all parts in the text that featured Lahore and then looked through my holiday snaps in order to provide the real images to go with the fictional text. A slightly painstaking but enjoyable task, that I hadn’t quite finished, when it occurred to me that it’s usually the people that make a place. Thus, I spent the next five hours conducting an interview with the sheikh of Gulberg. Hehe, a real Lahori in the 64th generation to go with the book.
But as I sleep walked into class the next morning, I discovered that technology had let me down a bit as the interview sounded very broken and was barely comprehensible. The pictures and videos went well, but people were more interested in how I had been treated as ‘a Westerner’. Since prejudice is the theme of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, it was actually a fitting question. But also one that I enjoyed answering, as my tired brain didn’t have to think much.
I had never felt so welcome anywhere ever in my life before. People were friendly and very hospitable to me. Wherever I went, everyone greeted me with a smile on their face. I was fed the best food and even given gifts by some people. One day, when my friend and I were staying at her uncle’s place in Okara, he took us to meet some friends of his. They couldn’t speak English but they gave me a scarf. I was treated like a celebrity. As I was beaming with the joy of my memories, I could see in the surprised faces of my class fellows that they couldn’t quite believe that I was talking about Pakistan. After all, I didn’t have German written on my forehead. People could have just as well thought that I was American and thrown rotten eggs at me. But no, they were just so happy that someone had braced the danger to come and see their beautiful country. Especially Lahore had once teemed with tourists. And it is a real shame that they are staying away. I just couldn’t believe my luck at the things that I was seeing, where I would have normally had to fight for space against hordes of other tourists. I wrote into many a guest book, feeling like an ambassador or such.
Only my friends were mean and put me on the first night through the torture of shoe shopping. It’s my worst nightmare on a a normal day, but with jet lag and preceding dress shopping, I was soon at the end of my wits when all pairs that I liked ended up being to small. Yet, when I had finally found one that was okay in width, the shop people adapted the length and then gave me tourist discount. What a contrast to the tourist premium that one normally gets charged on holidays abroad.