Some things are so deeply ingrained in you that you do not become aware of them until you are faced with some kind of frame of reference. I always knew how deeply unequal Pakistan was – in a country where class is as apparent and omnipresent as rickety rickshaws alongside shiny new Mercedeses, you’d have to be deeply, deeply sheltered not to see that. But inequality also lies in the seemingly innocuous, the “take-for-granteds” of middle class and upwards society (and the fringe pretenders, the for better or for worse aspirants) and the language they use to describe those socially beneath them.
It makes me wince, thinking back on how often I have used that word casually, callously. It wasn’t even aimed at a specific person most of the time: paindoo was a way of life, a conscious decision to be backwards, uneducated, illiterate, jaahil. Backwater villagers along the motorway, speaking thet Punjabi, with parandas in their hair and their dupattas tied at their hips and carrying water vessels on their heads. Or, worse, the paindoo log who had always had communities alongside the upper middle class – preexistent localities which were there long before Pakistan’s military elite gentrified the outskirts of their cities.
As if we, with our salaries and seasonally changing carpets, have a stake more concrete than their galling, preternatural claim to the city.
Paindoo. Said with a tongue resting briefly on the roof of your mouth, lazily lashing the bare, too-brown backs.
The colonizers never truly left. They were kind enough to teach us their ways so that we would continue the job of categorizing brown bodies – bodies as brown as yours, Fair & Lovely notwithstanding – for them.
If I sound bitter, it’s because I’m angry at myself for playing into classism-inherent. What right did I have to look down at the pedestrians from my Honda Civic ’95, when my parents have grounded me with stories of buying diapers with scrounged-up rupee coins?
It’s hard not to be a hypocrite sometimes. Good people, well-meaning people are hypocrites all the time. Moral absolutism is a farce. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to decolonize our minds; it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be mindful of how we see our own countrymen. They are not props to your elitism; they are not fun themes to be used at graduation parties or fancy-dress shows. They are living breathing members of a dynamic society that we have ignorantly eschewed over and over again, that we neglect, that we employ as “the help.” They are the foundation of hundreds of thousands of lower-middle and upwards households in this country, the ones on whose knees your children bounce. Ayahs and bajis and uncles.
The next time you haw-haye over the countrymen you suddenly care about being exploited in the UAE, think about the countrymen you never cared about in your community that you belittled and othered.
Paindoo. How many of them are killed, are martyred when extremist factions target low-income neighbourhoods and transportation most commonly used by those you would lump together under the category of “Can’t Even Afford A Mehran?”
Have some respect.