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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 November 2006, 16:28 GMT
Eyebrows raised over return to Pakistan
Masud Alam of the BBC's Urdu service in London is returning to live in Pakistan after 15 years away from home. He'll be giving updates on his progress from Islamabad. But first, what did fellow Pakistanis make of his decision?


So the day came when I started telling folks in Pakistan that I was moving back. With family. Possibly for good.

Masud Alam
Masud's family and friends were surprised to hear the news

The general response was a bewildered, and for me somewhat unsettling, "why?".

The only exception is a mate from school who cheered the news, praised the wisdom and timing of my decision, suggested a reunion of the long lost friends... then stopped abruptly and asked: "But you can go back to UK when you want to, no?"

My announcement also attracted unsolicited advice and sarcasm of a typical Pakistani variety.

"You may be getting bored with the provisions of the First World, but are you really prepared for the squalor of the Third World?"

If it's going to be this way, may God turn it to your benefit
Masud's mother

"At your age it's alright to be romantic about your birth place but what about your kids and their future?"

"Welcome to Pakistan. Bring a sack full of pounds sterling," etc.

My own mother didn't say much but there was plenty of reading material between the lines of her short prayer: "If it's going to be this way, may God turn it to your benefit."

My favourite comment was from an incorrigible feminist friend who lives in Vancouver: "I'm not surprised to hear your wife and daughter have reservations about the move.

"The younger one obviously doesn't know Pakistan well but I'm sure she can instinctively feel the gender inequality there. Females can just sense these things where men often fail to see what's staring them in the face."

Worries

It has been 15 years since I took my first international flight out of Karachi into a world that promised freedom on earth and rainbows in the sky.

My peers all wanted to get away, and not necessarily for economic reasons.

Some did get out. But the majority couldn't, and instead learnt to live, even enjoy life in Pakistan, or they grew old faster than their years, nursing the resentment.

River Thames
It's goodbye to the River Thames in London...
I'm not sure what worries a returning long-time expatriate more: not finding anything familiar or finding things exactly as they'd been!

As for me, I find Pakistanis' continued zeal for emigration, and conversely their disapproval of an expat's decision to return, quite reassuring.

That's how I remember it from the days of my youth: We all loved our country dearly but wanted to live elsewhere.

But I must admit, at least initially it was disappointing, even hurtful, that no one I spoke to had a word of encouragement for me about going home.

Then I came up with my own explanation of why my advisers advise thus: They sincerely believe that living anywhere is better than living in Pakistan - especially for someone like me who is not rich, influential, a bully, or close relative of an army general... not even a retired one.

Shopping for posterity

Moving is regarded by many as one of the more dreadful chores. But if you do it often enough it reveals itself as an art. And that makes mine a household of artistes.

What if all the advice against my decision comes back to haunt one or all of us later and makes us want to move back?

We have moved three times in the past 10 years or so, not counting intra-city and even intra-country moves.

One recent weekend when I was spending quality time with the kids, wrapping things in bubble wrap and packing them into cardboard boxes, Son got a little ahead of himself and suggested that when we plan our next move, could we please consider Australia?

It's no credit to Australia of course; this is how eager we are to move on...

As usual, Wife got into a hyperactive state much before she was meant to. The biggest blow was when she cancelled the satellite TV subscription on Sky Sports just days into the Champions Trophy.

After Pakistan's unceremonious exit from the tournament, she felt exonerated and even boasted of having avoided the "wastage of money on watching Australia win another final".

However this time round Daughter seems to be more into the pre-move pre-teen bargain shopping frenzy than the actual moving.

She is already an accomplished opportunist. She bargains hard. When the subject of shifting to Pakistan came up, she put up fierce resistance and then gradually softened her position in exchange for:

  • A raise in her weekly allowance

  • Unlimited shopping for clothes and accessories

  • Permission to go to Panic At The Disco gig at Brixton Academy.

Son is not far behind. Usually a hermit in his outlook and spending habits, he suddenly took to collecting gadgets that he may never use, and Converse trainers which are no more than the canvas 'PT shoes' his parents wore to school, only these come in bright colours and are obscenely expensive in comparison at £35 a pair.

Parliament building, Islamabad
... and hello to the landmarks of Islamabad

I guess all four of us understand this move is different - after all Wife and I are moving back rather than ahead, and the kids face the daunting task of getting to know the extended families of both parents - but in a show of collective bravado we are treating it just like the ones we managed successfully in the past.

A sign of complacency no doubt. The spending spree is poor compensation for the slackness that has crept into our "art of moving".

We need to do some remedial work. What if all the advice against my decision comes back to haunt one or all of us later and makes us want to move back to the UK?


What did you make of Masud's move? Here are a selections of views you sent. The debate is now closed.

Good luck. It will be challenging. Dont assume that your kids cant find drugs/drinks/sex or rock in karachi. In many ways the cultural transition will be easy but the problem is that security and poorer infrastructure will keep you somewhat frustrated.However there is a lot to be said for being back in your own culture. Please be very understanding towards your daughter, dont try to make her live in 1960's karachi, let her find her own way. She may learn to love it, I did.
ash, nyc

Going out of Pakistan was justified 15 years ago but now things have changed here. Those who haven¿t seen us for last many years will still have the same image of Pakistan as at the time when they left. I am leaving Pakistan for few years to pursue my Master and this has made me think of all those things that Pakistan has given me and haven¿t asked for much in return. I thank you Pakistan for being such a wonderful country.
Babar Zafar Malik, Lahore, Pakistan

Good decision Masud.... I wish I can move back to my country...Pakistan...I miss it so much after being away for 30 years. Wish you all the best for whatever reason you have in moving back...Good Luck
Jamshed, Milton. Canada

This is a very interesting and readable article. The most interesting and notable point about the whole thing was that all Indians who commented about this article were very friendly and supportive. The only thing that is keeping Pakistan away from prosperity and becoming a developed country from a developing country is its conflicts with India. Once these misunderstandings are removed Pakistan and India can work together to bring about a revolutionary change in its masses, the same way as China did.
usman Mahmood, London

Its an Excellent Decision! For Masood I would say is that GOD BLESS U! You would face negative comments about your movement but just ignore them.Standby your decision. Pakistan today is not as it used to be 15 years ago when Masood came here. TRUST ME it is flourishig day by day and there are outstanding opportunities creating for youth.
Zaini, London (U.K)

Good Masud, I think it is a good decision. We owe a lot to Pakistan. I also wish some day to return back to Lahore where I am from. I'll get inspiration from you when I'll make that decision.
Sharjeel Ahsan, USA

Interesting article Masud. As a British Indian "returning" to India has always been an option, but it is one that is unattractive. I hope life in Pakistan will be wonderful for you and I hope your children will adjust well. My only quibble would be about the comments on this piece. What's wrong with his daughter being a fan of Panic at the Disco, sure they are a bit emo but this is a free country and she can listen to whatever she wants. As long as his children know that they are British with Pakistani roots then they will have a future. But once you start over-controlling your children, you're in for trouble.
Tom, Manchester, UK

I congratulate Mr Masud for being so brave to take this decision. In an era when brain drain is hampering the growth of our developing countries, Mr Masud seems stand alone. Though he is not. Recently, government has introduced a policy inviting technocrats and professionals to register themselve for proper placement in Pakistan, on contractual basis... A large number of Phds have also returned home recently... Masud's story is flashed by BBC which gives an impression that he is only one reversing the braindrain.
haseeb haider, Abu Dhabi, UAE

YES good decision.. I have recently been to pakistan - trust me it is not THIRD WORLD COUNTRY it is very advanced , and KARACHI is just like NEW YORK but people in SHALWAAR KAMEEZ and Brown skin lol.... Pakistan is fabulous, so much business opportunities and it is just awesome.... My dad has just built a massive house in Pakistan and i cant wait to finish my degree in two years and get out of UK. UK is full of restrictions, cameras even in toilet and that we are Muslims makes it even worse.... GOOD LUCK AND WISE DECISION
Jas, UK, Surrey

What an enjoyable (and well written) piece. As an Indian expat I completely relate to the charm of such an endeavour, but Masud did not disclose his motives. So exactly why are you moving back??
Deepak, India

COMMENTS: Hope you find a happy life - good article
Elliot, York

Masud made a right decision. There are hundreds of people I know who are planning to do the same but does not have the courage to decide the date like Masud did. 10 Reasons that Masud's decisions right is:- 1- Its time to move back because Masud's parents are getting old and time has come to be physically present for his parents not just financially. 2- Its time to move back because Masud's children are probably speaking better English than URDU. 3- Its time to move back because Masud's children are unfamiliar of their FAMILY ( uncles aunts and etc.) 4- Its time to move back because the Children are grown and should live and learn their culture. 5- Its time to move back because Masud misses his family, friends, and Pakistani Social Life. 6- Its time to move back because Money is not every thing. 7- Its time to move back because Masud can have at least a satisfaction that after he is gone his children have a higher chance of being real Pakistani by living in Pakistan. 8- Its time to move back because Masud can get a well paying job in growing Pakistani economy and can provide his family a higher Standard of Living than the one he has in foreign land. 9- Its time to move back because Masud is a Patriot and want Pakistan to succeed and be a part in Pakistan's bright future. 10- Its time to move back because there are more people in Pakistan who will love, respect and listen to him, and be a FIRST CLASS CITIZEN of Pakistan. GOOD LUCK
Azmat, PAKISTAN/ USA

I think its a great move ,only i wish i am able to do the same ,maybe in few years time your daughter would ask to go haj or umrah, instead to discotech, as bargain chip, good luck
iftikhar haq, chandler az usa

Actual immigration, to say you are no longer Pakistani but British, to me: impossible! I understand the pull to go "home". But it seems your kids are British, or at least not Pakistani. If they continue to think of themselves as "world citizens" or just expats posted in Pakistan, I bet they'll like it. Besides, you have insurance. If, God forbid, for example, your kid was roughed up by the police, you know absolutely all you have to do is yell at the press, "British Citizen Accosted". A luxury true locals don't have.
Annie, Atlanta, USA

I am quite surprised by this article. I've never been to Pakistan, but had the impression it was doing reasonably well lately -- at least the big cities like Karachi. Here in India, I have always known expatriates moving back (many people I worked with got educated abroad, worked abroad for a while, then returned here), and the trend is accelerating now; increasingly, foreigners are working here too. Life is different here, but isn't necessarily more difficult -- in fact it is probably much easier for the moderately wealthy.
Rahul, Chennai, India

COMMENTS: Maybe Masud is tired of being called "Paki" on the streets, posh BBC accent or not. Maybe he doesn't want to his daughter's life to revolve around Panic at the Disco and his son's around collecting Converse shoes. Maybe he wants to enjoy his 15 yrs of saved pounds sterling in a country that will respect and appreciate him, not brand him as a terrorist or protest about the team he supports in cricket matches. The humourous tone of the article belies the serious reasons South Asians get sick of the West and its culture (I feel the same way as a Sri Lankan in Singapore). I think Masud may have been showing his gratefulness to the BBC and nicer British people, or maybe it was just famed Pakistani courtesy to a country that must have bowled him a fair share of beamers. I think he has made the right decision. I wish him the best of luck in a nation/region that needs people like him.
Anthony Jeetendra Stephens, Singapore

Well to me it is a good news. I have been here in the US since 1973. Here your kids don't listen to you. As an immigrant from Calcutta, India( A Bihari) to then East Pakistan, We had to face real hard time there. I didn't go to grade school or high school. I helped my dad and I am proud of it in running his small business. . Here in the US, my kids don't listen to me even though I provide them with everything.It is a kind of freedom unlimited and I am saddened by it. Kids from Pakistan are more disciplined and if they are better educated,then they are a million dollar stuff.
Masood Khan, Chicago,Il USA

I really appreciate his decision of moving back to home land. There are some values which can be found but only in a society where you born and grown up. Masud's Identity is always Pakistan his homeland.
Nadeem Abbasi, Islamabad Pakistan

Good decision Masud.... I really envy people like you who even though have means to stay abroad and are making good livelihood decide to move back to Pakistan. We need more educated and learned people like you to come back to Pakistan and contribute to the betterment of the country and society. You would have initial problems, but please don't loose heart and being a journalist I think you have a much better oppurtunity of getting our society rid of corruption, nepotism and wadaira/jagirdari system.
Murtaza Askari, Atlanta USA

Dear Masud, I want to congratulate you on your brave move. You being able to convince your family was something i really appriciate. I belong to India's software bandwagon so going abroad and returning back to India is accepted over here with a lot less ayebrow's going up. Nevertheless, I understand the call of motherland. Afterall we belong to the same land(atleast 50+ years ago) I belive the hardest part will be to hold on to your decision. And would pray to god to make your mother's words come true. Good Bye and God Bless Dvijen
Dvijen, Mumbai, India

I think the move is well timed. Life in Pakistan can be very challenging and interesting if you have some extra funds. My parents moved from London to Karachi twenty years ago and they enjoyed a good simple life. The lure of better jobs brought me to London last year after living in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. But the quality of life I enjoyed back home was better in many ways then what I can afford here. Now I am counting on my days when I can afford to go back and have a comfortable life in "Islamabad".
S W Siddiqui, London, Uk

Masud will find many opportunities in Pakistani Media businesses and will be sucessful.
Anwar, USA

It's upto Masud to define his priorities and compulsions. He's not the first or the last person to do this. Pakistani economy is booming in multimedia and he may find himself fitting rather nicely in Islamabad. I would like to hear from him in a few months time about his kids adjusting in Pakistan.
Shahbaz Sikandar, Faringdon, Uk

This is so true. I am from Nepal doing a PhD in Leeds and people actually say exactly the same things whenever I mention returning home after my studies. Fortunately though, in my immediate and extended family, we have a tradition of going back to Nepal after acheiving the purpose we came overseas for. In fact, my parents and grans actually want me to return to be close to them. I grew up in a country of peace and left it in the middle of a civil war, so people just presume that when I flew out to 'greener pasteurs' I was gone for good. Almost everyone, apart from my family,including my wife seem to be against the idea of moving back. I don't particularly understand her reasons. She would get a better job with good career prospects back home without having to compromise on raising a family as my parents and grans would look after the baby during the day. However, I get the impression that she would actually prefer staying here even if it might mean giving up her career. Some thoughts for the feminists out there?
Rajiv, Uk






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