Mediocrity: The Pakistani dream

Published May 20, 2015
We are complacent and we are happy about it. —Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro
We are complacent and we are happy about it. —Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro

A seth sahab gets into his Mercedes and drives off to his villa-home to his wife. They Skype-chat with their two younger children in New York; both are art majors, while their elder brother helps out his father in the factory. The seth stands by his window, looking through the glass, as he smiles on what he has built and says “Alhamdulillah”.

There. That’s it. That’s the Pakistani dream.

To rise above the day-to-day worries, to achieve just enough to fulfill the offspring’s wishes and to have a backup plan in case the dreams turn to despair; in most cases, the backup plan being a couple of inherited plots or daddy’s business.

I'm not saying that that is a substandard dream to build your life around, and certainly, no less of an achievement if you start from scratch. But if you’ve climbed up and accomplished enough to stand where you stand today, why not go beyond?

No, it is not money that I ask you to run after; that should never be the drive. What I am pointing toward is our mindset regarding growth.

Why be happy with being a big fish in a small pond? Why not scale up? Why not capture the world market and flourish way beyond second-tier home products?

The fact is, we have all just settled; settled for being mediocre without the slightest bit of discomfort in the act. Our minds, fixated for so long on survival-of-the-above-average, have become blind to milestones beyond being better than the rest.

We are complacent and we are happy about it. In fact, we brag about it; we brag about being mediocre.

It’s always about the conditions, the environment we were in, the environment we are in. It is about how much we have done, how much we have gone through – never about where we want to go or need to be. The car I drive matters, so does the school my child goes to, but no, not the dream of being the best in what I pursue. That just doesn't matter.

Glory, for us, lies in polishing the external symptoms of existence, not in the whirlwind chase of an inner fantasy which will render our lives complete.

Neither does satisfaction lie in making a difference to the lives of other people, for the underprivileged or the needy; nor in working towards creating jobs, getting my company's or country's name in the top 10 list of this year, or the next 10 years for that matter.

The conversation nearly always ends up in “Allah ka dia sab hay, bohat hay”.

Anxieties and the obsession with overcoming them is something our neighbours have risen above, and they are in no mood of slowing down till they rise to the top. The Pakistani dream, on the other hand, always has a cap and once filled, we stop, settle and brag for the rest of our lives.

You will have no trouble jotting down the names of local brands which maybe a household name for us but are unknown beyond these borders. Can you name 10 entrepreneurs that expanded their business from Pakistan and stepped into other countries and made a billion dollars? Or 10 household names that we don’t need to google to see? But we are very familiar with names like Infosys, Tata, Bajaj and Amul.

I firmly believe the people who can save Pakistan are going to be clever rich people, who have the ambition to invest time and money and start building something. It will only take one Rovio, one Zynga, one Facebook to make it and transform our mindsets.

Until that happens, the pride of the herd, the enviable lot will be the ones who got out of the country and ‘this system’ only to be proudly mediocre somewhere else; getting into a company, getting the car they couldn’t afford in Pakistani mediocrity and settling down for a gora mediocrity with a substandard 3 series.

If we were a product, our tagline would boast ‘Mediocre middle managers. Come and get yours today!’ – and perhaps, for a lower price than our neighbours.

We even teach our children to be mediocre. And, it is not because we are lazy, less talented or brainless. We are simply scared. Those who aren't now, someone else will likely get to them in the future, putting them too on the traditional path of mediocrity.

I remember how, after my father passed away, every other person’s question was why I didn’t get bharti (hired) in his bank (because that would mean a permanent job, a pension and all that jazz). Safety nets and supporting wheels is all we want for ourselves and for the people we care about. Everyone else is looked down upon.

There are outliers, yes. There always are. But, ask yourself this:

Are you dreaming big or are you settling for mediocrity?


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