Part 1: Surprises
I love to surprise new South Asian friends with a greeting in Urdu (or Hindi). Even better, responding in Urdu to a comment I was not expected to understand in the first place.
It is a strange thing for an American girl to be learning Asian languages -- especially for a girl with no Asian heritage, who has to date never traveled farther East than Rome. But the element of surprise works both ways. As I learn more about the wider world, especially the Muslim world, I am more and more amazed at how little I knew previously. How little I was taught in school. How little of Islam is present in the American consciousness.
Here's something that particularly surprises me: until a few years ago when I began taking a focused interest in South Asia, I had no idea that Pakistan was once part of India. I had never heard the name of Pakistan's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who was just as deeply involved in the independence movement as were Gandhi and Nehru (and those are figures that any American schoolchild can name). Shocking enough that I didn't know these crucial elements of world history, despite being a highly educated person who has lived her almost entire life in towns devoted primarily to higher education. Even more shocking, though, is that I am not a fluke. I have made it a regular point of conversation to ask others around me if they know who Jinnah was. And not just asking flighty teenagers or confirmed couch potatoes. I am asking college professors, people with multiple degrees, people who frequently impress me with the breadth and depth of their knowledge, sometimes even in the field of HISTORY. And yet almost NONE of these intelligent Americans has ever heard of Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
But I have heard of Jinnah now. And daily I am coming to know more of the country he founded. Many of my American friends were initially surprised (some still are) when I started to immerse myself in things Pakistani, asking if it was just a phase. A few years have passed now, and I can assure them without doubt that it is no phase.
The more I learn, the more paths of inquiry I discover. I have been blessed with a journey.
Image at top left is a digital
portrait by Pakistani artist
Imran Zaib, based on one of my own photographic self-portraits in Thari dress.