By far, what has been so starkly apparent here in Pakistan, during this visit of mine, has been the incredible disparity between the rich and the poor. Don’t get me wrong – Pakistan has always been a country anchored in class ( and caste) differentiation, but now (having come back here after 10 years) it all seems much more in your face – the rich are richer and the poor, God help them, are so desolately poor.
I’m not oblivious to my own privileged circumstances as I shop for my “bridal trousseau” at some of the finest shopping establishments this country has to offer… And as I’m here, shopping amongst the wealthy, I realized that those that are rich here are RICH. And while you have, on one hand, mothers who take their 15 year old daughters to top wedding dress designers so that they can design for them custom couture outfits for functions, you also have desperate mothers who are knocking on your car windows with their babies begging for milk to feed them.
If you drive from Anarkali to Defense you’ll see the broken roads become paved, donkey powered carts turn to SUVs, shacks and inner city dwellings turn into million dollar homes, litter turn into landscaped grass and flowers. Yet as the surroundings begin to reflect the increasing wealth of the city dwellers, still amongst them you see the poor, everywhere. You see a child who is blind being lead around by another child begging for money, and your heart sinks when you think that this injustice was most probably done to that child as part of an organized ring of crime. You see people with physical disabilities rendered helpless and begging, sometimes at the mercy of strangers to feed them depending on their capability level.
As you visit the homes of family and friends you become witness to, and benefactors of, systemic child labour. You watch girls as young as six years old serve you juice on a tray, make tea, cook rotis, do laundry…and you learn that for them, this reality in the family homes of others in the city, is far better than their alternative reality, which is in the villages of their families who cannot afford to clothe them, feed them or shelter them.
I find myself watching my 2 year old nephew, whom God has blessed with family and fortune, play with toys, learn his ABCs, navigate games on his I pad…and then I notice the maid’s 10 year old daughter, who often comes to help her mom clean my aunt’s house, longingly sit next to my nephew as his mom reads him a story in English, also wanting to hear. Wanting to learn. I see her sitting next to him in his big pile of toys, because she, too, is a child, and her heart desires to play, even if she understands that her circumstances don’t afford her the leisure time to do so. I think about how unfair it is that these two children will have acutely different destinies simply because of the circumstances in which they were born.
As an outsider looking into this society., the signals of class, in the many ways they manifest themselves (profession, language, dress, etc) is constantly at the centre of my attention and consistently weighing on my conscience.
The one solace I see is in the incredible spirit of the people of Lahore. Small joys, a laugh with a fellow rickshaw driver, appreciation of a rainfall, the beginning of spring, keep the city going. Pakistanis are a resilient people… the shame lies in the the powers that be who take advantage of their resilience on a daily basis, by not doing better for their people when they certainly could.