Had a chance to visit Pakistan last year, here’s what stood out to me.
1. Busy being wailay
Waila (adj). The state of doing nothing.
A substantial number of people are just… wailay. And this wasn’t an observation, it was a self-proscribed state of many people about their current pastime. As if doing nothing is not a null value, there’s something there, this invisible, un-observable state of being ‘waila’.
It wasn’t about being jobless either. Plenty of people I met, had a source of income. Some had real estate investments, some others were importing cars. Everyone either had a source of income, or they didn’t need any. The surprising thing was that it was almost a badge of pride for some, as if staying waila took them to an upper level of being.
It’s a mental state, a void people seem to enter. The void must remain empty, and one must remain waila to stay inside. All hell please break loose outside.
2. Assumption machines
I was talking to a shop owner in Rawalpindi, whose location was a busy road with lots of dust and noise coming through all day. He had an open shopfront, with some shop-wares hanging outside the shop. ‘Why don’t you put up a glass door here?’ I asked him. He laughed, looking at me as if I am only pretending to be a Pakistani. Humans of Pakistan hesitate to enter shops with glass doors, he told me. They assume the shop is pricey, not intended for them, may be they are not welcome. Glass doors are a signalling object, with wide reception among Pakistanis.
After this convo, I started noticing. We, the Pakistani humans, are assumption machines. We make assumptions based on how someone’s dressed, how they talk, even things about their beliefs and values. Never ask, just assume.
This method of making assumptions is then put to great use by a vast majority of us. Would you like to turn away a beggar? The most straight-forward way is to raise your hand as if you’re receiving praise from the poor soul. It’s an old, traditional signal, emanating from the feudal relationships we’ve forged in our villages. A straight, raised hand is sort of a magic signal, communicating that the lord has indicated an end of the conversation. This signal is well understood in our beggar community.
Assumptions extend to politics, relationships and more, but you can … just assume.
3. All available space will be taken
Space, among 225 million people is surely scarce. But there’s a certain sense of entitlement when it comes to empty space. It’s an empty road…. let’s park right in the middle of it. There’s five feet of space outside a shop… let’s set up a khoka right there. Same goes for personal space, there would be none left, if you didn’t stop the other person from entering it.
Try leaving some space between your car and the car in front of you. It will be momentarily taken by another car squeezing right in between the two of you. Looking at a product in the grocery aisle? The attendant wouldn’t leave much space in between you and themselves, no matter how hard you try.
The other side of this is emotional space. There’s none offered, and emotional space is something that is created when you offer it to someone. ‘How are you feeling, now that your family is dead in this car accident’…, a news reporter would ask a little child, only to get a blank stare back. In moments of grief, uncertainty, anxiety and embarrassment, some space is needed in terms of time, distance, or just feelings and responses. This space is at a premium in the Land of the Pure, my friends.
Pakistan is growing, but mindsets are not.