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The Spirit of Pakistan at Princeton

29 Apr
 

Preparing for the launch of kite No. 232

On the eastern seaboard of the United States, spring is finally in the air! In Pakistan we used to celebrate the arrival of spring with a festival called Basant. It was a colorful festival.  People wore bright spring colors and engaged in friendly rivalries over kite flying. We stayed up all night to fly kites and sing, dance and eat. It was a time when friends got together and people regardless of their class or status could engage in some healthy communal fun.  But then we decided to ban it. Yes we passed laws and had our government make sure that people did not celebrate this age old festival.

Some said that it was banned because it was a heathen festival with its roots in pre-Islamic or non-Islamic communities. But in no way was this festival antithetical to any of the edicts of Islam. Last I checked, God didn’t have a problem with Kite flying or celebrating the arrival of spring. Then they said, they banned it because it led to a lot of accidents. It’s true that there were accidents caused by people falling off of roofs or using metal coated string that injured others. Cars have accidents too. We haven’t banned them. We’ve worked to make them and our roads safer.  We could have done the same with Basant. So they tried to strike it out of our cultural practices but they couldn’t really strike out this beloved festival from our hearts!

On the eastern seaboard of the United States, a group of Pakistani students, joyous at the arrival of spring, nostalgic for home and still holding dear to their hearts the vibrant culture of the motherland organized Basant.  Pakistani students at Princeton have now organized Basant very successfully for 3 years. It is now becoming a standard event on campus that students eagerly look forward to.

As I walked over to the celebration in my yellowest finery and sparkliest earrings, I couldn’t help but feel a wonderful sense of pride as I saw two hundred and fifty kites flying above the Princeton sky and many more students of every color and size enjoying the wonderful display of Pakistaniat. Local vendors sold food and there were stalls for Henna tattoos.  There was food, fun and friends. It was just like being back in wonderful and vibrant Pakistan in peaceful times….except that the Pakistanis were the ones who were a minority!

And it felt wonderful to be a minority amongst the sea of foreign faces, who were intrigued, pleased and charmed by this Pakistani festival. That day more Americans not only learned about the “other side” of Pakistan but saw it in action. Culture can be a powerful tool of influence and sadly, we have never used ours to our advantage. While neighboring India has made the most of even its most trivial sites and traditions, we have been on a warpath with some of our richest and most powerful ones. We have let our history and culture fall into decay as we obsess over religiosity in its most superficial forms.  People are flocking to see the great history and culture that India possesses, but no one wants to come see what we have to offer because instead of  enriching it and marketing to the rest of the world, we want to deny it even to ourselves.

 We believe that our religion, morality and success will come crumbling down if we pay heed to these age old cultural norms. It is the banning of these identities and cultural outlets that will lead not only to social unrest but to a society devoid of soul and spirit. We forget that these are the very things that can be powerful conduits to success.  By promoting our culture not only can we harness the power of tourism but use it as a tool to build national pride and identity. Pakistanis in Princeton have done that very successfully. These young Pakistanis despite having a very heavy course load at a very academically challenging institution have made time to represent the Pakistan that they love and miss.

While this event was made possible by the hard work of many young Pakistanis at Princeton, there is one who truly stands out; Jahangir Amjad. Jahangir is a senior this year and will be graduating in June. He is a star student, majoring in computer science. Due to his exceptional academic talents, Jahangir has been recruited by Microsoft to work for them after graduation. As a student on campus, Jahangir worked four jobs. He found time to mentor younger students. He was president of the Pakistani organization on campus and worked tirelessly to organize basant each of these three years, so his friends at Princeton who would never travel to Pakistan would have a glimpse of the Pakistan that he loves and remembers. In recognition of his extraordinary contributions to campus life and in appreciation of his efforts to create greater awareness about Pakistan, Jahangir has been awarded the Spirit of Princeton award which is given to only 10 exceptional seniors.  And as he is pictured on various campus publications as a recipient of this award,  you will be able to see the spirit of Pakistan, shining through this exceptional young man.  Jahangir has helped all of Princeton see a little bit of Pakistan and he has made me very proud to be Pakistani.

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