Book Review: Views of A Pakistani American
Dawn, December 20, 2007
We have been hearing much about the problems Pakistani settlers in the US are faced with because of religious and racial prejudices unleashed in consequence of 9/11. But a Pakistani writer settled there had a different story to tell. Americans, he says, have a temperament of their own. This does not encourage them to create trouble on the basis of religious differences.
The writer I have quoted is Abulhasan Naghmi, who while in Lahore was associated with Radio Pakistan and acted as Bhai Jan in Lahore Station’s popular children’s programme ‘Honehar’. Being a poet, he had also written Qitat on a daily basis for Imroze. In 1972 he relocated to the US and joined Voice of America there. Now we have from him a book Battis baras Amrika mein, where he has narrated his 32 years as lived in that land.
Naghmi’s service with Voice of America did not last long. But for that he does not blame his American bosses. Instead he holds his Pakistani colleagues responsible. After being relieved from his job in Voice of America he had to struggle hard and for long do odd jobs to get settled in that distant land. It was during those years that he came in contact with a variety of people, local as well as Pakistani settlers, and learnt much from his experiences with them.
For a brief period he had worked as an insurance agent. That occupation in particular brought him in contact with different people including a number of fellow countrymen settled there, who soon recognised him with reference to his role as Bhai Jan at the Lahore station. They welcomed him pleasantly and helped him to the extent they could. But he was not always lucky enough to meet gentle souls ready to be helpful.
Then, with a letter of introduction from a friend he met a businessman, who was running a restaurant. But as he reached there he discovered that it was more of a bar than a restaurant and the man was engaged in serving drinks to his customers. However, he spared a few moments to listen to Naghmi’s plea for purchasing an insurance policy. The man listened to him and apologised saying ‘Islam does not permit us to have life insurance.’
Naghmi was polite enough if perhaps not courageous enough to ask him: ‘Does Islam permit the business you are engaged in?’
He further tells us that many Muslim settlers in America regard life insurance as unIslamic, as that, according to their perception, it is a kind of gambling. But they have no objection to health insurance. Their Islamic sense does not find anything un-Islamic in it.
Naghmi tells us about Pakistanis’ craze for the Green Card. He made a call to a friend in Pakistan and communicated to him the sad news of his sister’s divorce. He was expecting that his friend would feel shocked and would express his sorrow at the tragic happening. But he reacted in a very different way, ‘What about her Green Card. Will she lose it?’
‘No, she will not be deprived of it,’ he said with a sigh of relief. ‘Thank God.’ In fact he was hoping that being in possession of a Green Card her sister will be able to manage for his migration to America.
Marrying an American girl for the sake of a Green Card and divorcing after this purpose is served is, according to him, a common practice on the part of Pakistanis. As for Americans, he found them courteous, accommodating and helpful. His personal experience in relation to his neighbours, his landlords, his employers and his colleagues has helped him to have an understanding of the American people. And this understanding has helped him to make a distinction between the behaviour of individuals and that of the government. He says that a nation’s behaviour should be judged by the behaviour of its individuals and not by their government.
Naghmi has vehemently contradicted those fellow countrymen, who complain that Americans are no more the kind of people they were prior to 9/11, and that anti-Muslim feelings have speedily grown among them after that event. He is emphatic in saying that it is not so. He argues that the American people have a temperament, which bars them from thinking in sectarian terms. No change, he says, has occurred after 9/11 in this collective temperament.
However, he grants that some vicious people are always there in every society. He in this respect has referred to the media’s campaign against Muslims and also against Islam. But, he adds, there have been those who were seen speaking on the same channels in defence of Muslims and Islam has in particular been targeted in a number of European countries. Naghmi has tried to show that the wearing of Hijab created no problems in America. He has cited a few examples from his own family. He tells us that it was only after 9/11 that some girls from his family started wearing Hijab. Seeing a daughter-in-law, Sadia, with Hijab on her head he asked her, ‘Sadia, you so often go out and visit public places. Has your hijab ever created any problem for you?’
‘Not at all, Khaloo Jan’ she replied, ‘Instead, non-Muslim Americans seeing me in hijab are rather more courteous to me.’
Such examples have led him to believe that even after 9/11 Americans in general have been true to their collective temperament. And he hopes that they in future too will remain true to this admirable trait.