Alive and Well in Pakistan: A Human Journey in a Dangerous Time
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“Wonderful. What an incredible journey, a model of travel writing. So worldly yet personal. Given our current involvement in the region, it should be read by everyone.”
- Edwidge Danticat
One question Pakistanis never fail to ask me is, “Why did you first go to Pakistan?” It’s a very understandable question, and it’s one I’ve never been able to answer adequately. Why Pakistan? Why did I go there in the first place, and why do I keep going back? I often respond by quoting John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” But hovering implicit behind the question is the history and atmosphere of mutual suspicion between Pakistan and the United States: Why would you come here? Why are you really here?
The truth is that I really am an unaffiliated private citizen who first went to Pakistan in 1995 out of personal curiosity, eagerness to learn, and a search for adventure. My reason now for continuing to return is more considered: I feel a responsibility to continue writing and talking about the Pakistan that I know. The Pakistan I know is very far from perfect, but nor is it the Pakistan that you see on TV.
The best short answer to the “Why Pakistan?” question is that it has taken me two full-length books, so far, to begin to answer it. Alive and Well in Pakistan was my first attempt. I’ve learned a great deal about the world and human beings from Pakistan and Pakistanis, and much of what I’ve learned is between the covers of this book. (After I finished it there was more still to learn, though – and more things kept happening that needed to be narrated – which is why I wrote Overtaken By Events: A Pakistan Road Trip.)
Americans and the American media and publishing establishment tend to consider Pakistan worth writing about only when it’s framed in the context of U.S. foreign policy. To me this myopic habit of mind is personified in the New York literary agent who asked me, when I told him I had published a book on Pakistan: “What’s your argument?” I was so nonplussed by the question that I could scarcely blurt out the answer. The answer is that I’m not making an argument; I’m telling a story. If I have an argument, it’s implicit. My books are first-person travel narratives, not only because that’s the kind of book I’m able and willing to write, but also because that’s the kind of book that rarely gets written about Pakistan in particular, and one I feel that country needs and deserves. The Daily Telegraph’s reviewer was both kind and correct when he wrote that “the author’s real journey is a search for common humanity.”
If you want to get to know the Pakistan that I know, read Alive and Well in Pakistan. It covers the first decade of my acquaintance with that country, between the years 1994 and 2004, and includes chapters about my visits to the Indian-occupied Kashmir Valley in 1994 and 1995 as well as the semester I spent teaching journalism at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore in 2003-04.
- Ethan Casey, June 2011
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