Peshawar or Bust

Four years back, while I was living in Tarbela Dam, a friend of mine asked me to accompany him to have his computer upgraded. I said, “Fine, let’s hit the road to Peshawar tomorrow.” He said, “Oh, no, I am not allowed to go to Peshawar. Between me and you, even my dad is afraid to go there.” (Peshawar is the city that gave shelter to nearly three million Afghan refugees after the Soviet war; it lies in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan). I belong to a Pathan family from NWFP and my friend was from Okara, Punjab. Despite the cultural differences between NWFP and Punjab, there was a complete change in lifestyles; we lived in the same colony in my province, and the place was a developed town with educated people. When it comes to shopping, however, Pathans prefer Peshawar while the Punjabis prefer Rawalpindi. Both cities were equal distances from our town, but Rawalpindi was a modern city of Punjab, and Punjabis think Peshawar, the capital city of my province, is very rural and backward. Anyway, he had his computer upgraded from some vendor in Rawalpindi. Later that year, I shifted to Peshawar for educational purposes while my friend took admission in a renowned engineering institution of our country.

What he said to me four years back is still something that is stuck in my mind, words that reflected not only his own views about the city or the Pukhtoon culture, but the views of the entire Punjabi community. I am sure they are not much aware of the situation in Peshawar now, whereas I can tell a lot about the city, having spent three good years of my life here.

It’s getting modernized and civilized, educated on a massive and advanced scale. Women are getting educated as men are. This, however, is the only sneak peek of what I wanted my friend to know. The culture is rich and preserved, yet innovative; yes, and I think I am just a single example of that culture that others think is backward.

I study business in a renowned school of Peshawar, and I live in modern hostels, at least modern in the Pakistani point of view — furnished rooms, TV, newspapers, a high-speed broadband facility (not too common in my country), games facilities, and a beautiful campus being built that will soon be completed using state-of-the-art engineering techniques and design features.

I have a good company of friends around me who are from well-educated families and know how to speak well, dress well, and act well. We hang out on the weekends hunting for good food and usually landing in Pizza Hut, KFC, or Italian or local continental food inns, as well as the traditional tikkas and barbecue restaurants where I see many families, couples, and gangs roaming around. We occasionally have parties and functions, and they are modern yet reserved. My friends smoke, but none of us is a victim of drinking. We listen to good music, be it Western or Eastern (not to mention the underground bands of Peshawar, of which Sajid and Zeeshan happen to be my favorite who sing English). I am fond of good movies and TV series, and I have a huge collection of movies in my computer’s hard drive. I can sing and I recently started taking guitar lessons, which happens to be part of a course offered in my university. I have access to news and information of all types. I have a good knowledge of Internet and computers, and I often spend my leisure time in Orkut and Facebook while online. I don’t have a private car of my own; no one in my hostel does except a few, but then it’s all about the affordability and time — we don’t have time to look after a car and as far as conveyance is concerned, that’s what friends are for. I can shop for any product I want, and I can get anything repaired in the city....

The thing is all about the perception and trust. I trust my city and community, which they don’t, although I feel comfortable even when I am in Punjab. I don’t know why I feel so weird saying all this. I still think I am missing many things that even the most modern people can learn from us, but, well, I just want my word to be heard and to freely say, “Yes, I live in Peshawar, though not the one you’ve heard about.”

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