The Shoania nuptials had several salubrious side effects. They served as an ingenious CBM (confidence-building measure, for those not following stories of bus rides across the Wagah border and other important peace initiatives) to bring Indians and Pakistani closer after the composite dialogue had fragmented into a bunch of sticking points. For Pakistanis, they produced a national bahu (although one who will apparently horrify our sensibilities when she dons a tennis skirt for her next, well, tennis match). And for Geo TV they offered the chance to air 30 minutes of gossip instead of addressing the country’s most pressing issues during the peak news-watching hour of 9 pm.
But yet another benefit of this love story, one that bloomed in the romantic environs of Dubai, is what it did for the market value of Pakistani men. A number of articles published here and across the border added Shoaib Malik’s ‘conquest’ to a list of those won by other shining beacons of Pakistani masculinity – Imran Khan of Jemima fame, Dr Hasnat Khan of Diana fame, Adnan Ghalib (Pakistani provenance dubious) of Britney fame, and, based entirely on gossip someone’s khala read in Stardust, Wasim Akram of Sushmita fame. According to these admiring commentators, our men are experts at cross-border relations. Apparently this is because they can break into spontaneous recitations of goose-pimple-inducing Urdu love shairi to women who don’t speak the language. Faiz Ahmad Faiz, ironically, finds no mention despite being the only one likely to be able to quote Ghalib at will to his foreign bride.
Quite aside from the fact that these pieces cast women as parcels of land one has planted the national flag on, they're also mistaken about the true natures of Pakistanis men. One writer wondered why our boys don’t have quite the same effect on us, their female compatriots. Here are a handful of hypotheses:
- Pakistani men are about as “forbidden” to us as hashish is to the good people of the Northwest Frontier Province. It might be terribly thrilling for a foreign woman raised on a steady diet of foreign journalism to meet one who is clean-shaven, wears trousers and likes his Scotch but still has a dangerous edge lent by the circumstance of his being a Muslim man from a country with worryingly nuanced views on militancy. We know better. We know this man isn’t going anywhere near New Karachi, let alone North Waziristan, any time soon, and that he is more concerned about his freedom to have a drink than about the root causes of terrorism.
- We know, as a friend put it (albeit in reference to Lahore, not Pakistani men), that “scratch and the pind comes out”. Behind the ostensible sophistication of Oxford degrees and international sports stardom lie centuries of convention that will, over time, result in subtle and not-so-subtle double standards. Before you know it he’ll be frowning about why your 17-year-old’s homework isn’t done and that lunch you had yesterday with your best male friend from Class 3.
- We know they are the sons of Pakistani mothers (with emphasis on "sons"). Any Pakistani woman with a brother, a close male friend or a pulse knows only too well what this implies. Expected girlfriend / wife duties will include mollycoddling, ego massaging, and the preparation of ammi’s gajar ka halwa (which will inevitably be inferior to the original). Despite this you may as well give up any hope of being able to replace her in his affections. And no, there isn’t enough room to comfortably seat both of you.
- We know they will go bald. Despite being hairy.
The above is, of course, subject to the usual disclaimers: it isn’t true of all Pakistani men all the time, and some of it is true of men around the world (although not, I would argue, to the same extent). It’s also true that Pakistani men come with their own set of characteristics that are endearing to us. But these are not the ones that cause foreign knickers to drop, and the apparently clamouring female hordes around the world might be well served to consult us for full disclosure before allowing themselves to be conquered.
This article first appeared in the June, 2010 issue of the Herald