“Do you Pakistanis really hate us Americans as much as they show on TV?”
I was bowled over by this innocent question posed to me on a recent trip to New York. There was so much I wanted to tell this man to clarify, to explain that there was no hatred; that my country was a far cry from the images shown on TV. I wanted to tell him about the music, the love, the food, the people.
But in that one moment, I was tongue-tied, not knowing how to condense the diversity of this land into a few sentences. I finally managed to mumble something, but I've often since felt guilty of not projecting abroad, my country and all the love it held, the way I should have.
Hence, the utter delight at learning that “Humans of New York” was coming to Pakistan. The moment I read this news, I jumped up and down like a three-year-old for ice-cream. I had been an avid follower of this page for the last couple of years; its stories are about real people, with circumstances that are similar to ours that we connect with.
It made me fall in love with the people of New York. I, and many others, would read these stories and feel the boundaries fading – all I saw were amazing human beings.
I also felt a wave of relief wash over me when I learned of Brandon's visit. The guilt of not being able to express myself to that man in New York slowly receded. Now* I thought, we'd have the words to truly express ourselves.
And, then we did. The stories started pouring in.
Stories of love, labour, humour, hardship all morphed into beautiful pictures and words. Deep in my heart, I felt like an apprehensive mother, one who has trained and nurtured her only child for all these years, and is finally about to present him to the world. I am sure millions of other Pakistanis felt the same.
"When I'm bored, I call up Radio Pakistan and request a song, then I start dancing. I'll even dance on a rainy day. It's my way of expressing how grateful I am. I am the happiest man in Pakistan."
“I wanted to be a singer. I loved music. I practiced all the time and worked on writing songs for myself. I loved sad songs especially. But the community put so much pressure on my mother. My father passed away when I was twelve. And everyone kept telling my mother that a girl could not be something like a singer without her father’s permission. My father wouldn’t have minded. He was always so supportive of me. But my mom was so worried about what people would think. She begged me to stop. She grew so nervous that I finally told her, ‘It's OK, Mom. I’ll stop.’ Now I just listen to music. It’s too sad for me to sing anymore.”
(Hunza Valley, Pakistan)
Whether it was the story of the simple man who said the name of his goat was “goat”, or the happiest man in Pakistan who loved to dance, each story created a ripple of joy among hundreds of thousands of readers, and continues to do so.
The responses to the posts were phenomenal. People from all over the world expressed how it had changed their perception of Pakistan.
“When I think of Pakistan, I don’t think about war and violence anymore but instead I think about nice and warm people. And of course, hot tea and apricot cake. Pakistan is kind of awesome, a lot more awesome than I thought.”
Our friends from across the border also chimed in: “I am the happiest Indian after seeing Pakistan through the eyes of HONY.”
“I admired her from afar for a while, and eventually summed up the courage to tell her my feelings. She told me that she felt the same way. This was before cell phones, so at first our meetings were limited to random interactions on the street. But then we both got mobiles and started talking on the phone. Eventually she told me that she wanted to marry me. I sent my mother to ask her family for permission, but they didn’t think I was a suitable match. They were a higher class of people. They were educated. Her father was a business owner. I tried to plead with them: ‘I’m not paralysed,’ I told them. ‘I work. Why am I not good enough?’ But I was never given an answer.”
(Hunza Valley, Pakistan)
“He’s a very respectful husband. He’s different from a lot of the men in this region. He never stops me from voicing my opinions. And if he ever notices me walking down the road, there’s always hot tea and apricot cake waiting when I arrive.”
"What's your goat's name?" "Goat."
(Hunza Valley, Pakistan)
Amongst the Pakistanis, there was pride, there was excitement, but the strongest of the emotions was gratitude.
People were at a loss of words to thank this man who had achieved infinitely more in the way of branding their country than what decades of governments and movements could achieve.
So, on behalf of all those who have been in love with his posts, I want to thank Brandon Stanton for coming out all the way to put a different face of Pakistan on global pages. You may be unaware of this, but you have done what every individual of this country has been trying to do on their own level for many years.
Today, when I see people falling in love with my country, I beam with pride and honour.
Thank you, Brandon. You are a godsend and the humans of Pakistan will always be indebted to you.