Alive and Well in Pakistan

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 In 2003, Ethan Casey, a freelance American Journalist, gets the chance to live in Pakistan through an invitation to teach for a semester in the newly formed Beaconhouse National University in Lahore. His earlier visits to the country were in the second half of the 1990s when he spent most of his time in Kashmir. First quarter of the book is dedicated to Kashmir and stories of individuals struggling to live through the turmoil which has gripped the valley for decades. It is living in Kashmir and the attempts to understand the conflict that makes him visit Pakistan.

Cover for 'Alive and Well in Pakistan' by Ethan Casey

Cover for 'Alive and Well in Pakistan' by Ethan Casey

 

The book is a story of his time spent in the country: living in Kashmir, interactions with the students at BNU, mingling with the elite of Lahore, tennis at Lahore Gymkhana and visits to other parts of the country courtesy the hospitality and support of ordinary Pakistanis. The book is in fact a collection of blog-like narratives of his encounters to show the world that he is ‘alive and well in Pakistan’. The notes he takes with his pen and notebook in all encounters with Pakistan shapeup this book. One striking quality of the book is the lack of drama – there is no attempt to sensationalise Pakistan or dramatise the life in Pakistan. It is such a simple narrative of how a foreigner lives in Pakistan for half a year and the people he meets, what they talk about and how they see each other. This is an attempt at humanising Pakistan by letting Pakistanis speak for themselves – and that is presented as it is, without attempt to be judgemental, analytical or opinionated. 

Through his encounters with ordinary Pakistanis, Ethan finds out that they are very conscious of education for their kids, deteriorating living standards, ills of the society like drug addiction and crime rates, religion and sports. He also shows that ordinary people are proud of the country’s achievements and do realise that the country is going through tough times but they are very good humoured about the foibles and don’t give up the struggle for life and future.

The book should only be treated as a slice of life in Pakistan and not a study to understand the culture, society or people in detail – it’s not an anthropological study or a book of history. More than two thirds of the book is story of his time spent in Kashmir and Lahore – and so, the lack of narratives from Pakistan’s multicultural and trade capital, Karachi; same is the case for rural life in Pakistan or the stories from down South, there aren’t much in the book. It’s a good starting point for those interested in understanding life in Pakistan but want to have a holistic view of it, before getting into details with books which analytically and critically study the society, the country and its people. It can also serve the purpose for those who want to have a flavour of storytelling and a non-fiction, non-academic touch of life in Pakistan written on a travel-book style.

 

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