One of my favorite websites, Pakistaniat (where I had the honor of being an editor during its initial years), posted this wonderful poem. It is recited in Urdu and I wish I could translate it here. Maybe I will when I get a little more time. The author of the post aptly calls it “Ek Zalim Nazm“, meaning “One Cruel Poem“. It is intended for the immigrant Pakistani population, questioning their judgment in leaving their country behind to search for better opportunities, but more importantly for not returning back as they promised when they left the country. This comes at an interesting time for Pakistani immigrants in the US who are observing the tragic flood situation in Pakistan but finding themselves unable to do enough to help the people there.
I am one of those immigrants. I left my home country 15 years ago in search of a better education, and hopefully an opportunity to make something of myself before I returned to my country. I had no idea that 15 years later, I would still be in my host country, in fact a country that I now call home and am a proud citizen of. What happened to promises I made to myself and to my family – as non-verbal as they may have been – to return to my country to make it a better place not just for myself but for all others that I know, love, and care for. I won’t use this space to spell out the many reasons why I haven’t gone back to live in Pakistan – many of them have to do with my personal and professional circumstances. But yes, it is a promise that I did renege on, at least for the time being, and certainly not one I can be proud of.
My country of origin and my birthplace can probably use me for more good than the country that has been so gracious to make me its own. Over the past 15 years I have tried to not just keep my ties alive, but have also tried to contribute in small little ways. I continue to search for opportunities to be involved, to be a part of the change that a new generation of Pakistanis are trying to bring about despite absolutely horrendous hurdles before them. I have tried to be a part of non-profit organizations, written policy white papers, worked with the government in its reform efforts, volunteered time to the founding of a research institution, donated money, and advised/guided students and others….but there really is so much more I could potentially do if I was there in person.
Last night I had dinner with a friend who left an extremely lucrative Wall Street career to go back to Pakistan. In preparation for his return he completed a part-time law degree (despite a hectic investment banking job), and upon returning founded a 3-partner law firm to focus on constitutional and civil law in Pakistan. In a brief 2 year period he has fought constitutional cases on behalf of the provincial government against the federal government to uphold democratic institutions, brought a very senior ranking bureaucratic official to justice for taking law in his own hands, helped find release of countless poor villagers who could not pay for lawyers to fight their cases, and has filed lawsuits on behalf of many villagers who were being bullied by the local landlords. He told me passionately that when he worked days and nights on M&A transactions for his Fortune 100 client, the only motivation was his bonus at the end of the year – so how could he even try to compare that silly reward to what he gets now: gratification that is sincere and obviously goes beyond his income – a poor woman’s tears when his son is freed from jail, a young man’s joy when he gets his land back, and an appreciation from everyone around that he is helping building the country one court case at a time. He is back in the US for 1 year to do his LLM. He is not interested in coursework that most others in his class would follow to get lucrative careers in the US – but he wants to study the history of jurisprudence, theory of law, civil rights, and democracy so he can go back and build his practice stronger. His court cases continue and his associates continue to represent his clients.
My intention was not to be melodramatic about my losses and his wins. But to highlight (a) the responsibility that all of us Americans, but especially immigrants, have towards people who are in need of our skills and our resources, and the value we can bring by just adjusting our schedules slightly to commit a little more time towards helping build our native countries, and (b) the great work that a young, committed, brave generation is doing in Pakistan. I am motivated to do even more going forward, to make more of my resources available. That, I believe, is also a very American thing to do.
Now, for the poem: