Monday, August 30, 2010


Answering people's polite queries about what I studied at college is something I'll probably have to deal with for the rest of my life. I'm trying to get used to all the ways I can explain and/or defend my choice when people give me the split-second blank stare when I say I studied history. South Asian history specifically. There are so many predictable ways that people respond to this I think it merits several essays, but I'll try and condense them all into one.

1) "Why didn't you study European history?"
I think it goes to my credit that I have never, ever replied to this with a lecture about post-colonial complexes or Eurocentric world views. As badly as I have wanted to, good manners prevent me from telling people that if they try very hard, they might be able to get past the idea that the only history worth studying is that of England and France. In the event that they succeed in doing this, they might even ponder whether students in Europe are ever asked "yuck, why did you choose to study your own history, you should probs learn about Latin America first". I should add that if I flip it around and say I studied how colonial policies influenced South Asia and therefore admit to having learned about British history in a slightly roundabout way, most people are relieved that that I didn't just study "Pak. Studies". Oh, Pak. Studies. I want to say more, but I'll save it for another day.

2) "Why did you waste so many years studying history? It's over. You could have become a doctor or something instead and done something more with your life."
This is not an adaptation of a likely question, these are the exact words I have had to hear from several people on different occasions. As sorry as I am that I didn't have the interest or the stomach to go to medical school, I resent the notion that I am doing nothing important with my life. I like to believe that educating idiots like above-mentioned questioner is a very important goal to have. Also, for future reference, history is not over. Just the fact that people are able to say that makes me cry a little on the inside and wonder what the world is coming to. Of course, I have a slightly better idea of what the world might come to than the askers of this question, because they are most probably too busy congratulating themselves on having picked a practical field to actually think about anything.

3) "Why do you like memorising dates?"
I don't. I haven't had to memorise a date since tenth grade, which was long before college majors came along. I have never satisfactorily answered this question though, for one that's so common. It leaves me completely baffled as to what people think History majors do. Do you really think we all sit with our little timelines and memorise a comprehensive list of when everything happened in the world, ever?? Perhaps you think my final papers for my classes read like a chapter from an almanac, in which case I completely forgive you for wondering why I studied history.

4) "Why would you study South Asian history in America? Isn't it all biased?"
No. Contrary to what you might believe about all Americans (Indians? Jews?) having a hidden agenda to teach us the "wrong" history, it's not nearly as "biased" as the nonsense you're taught in South Asia. In fact, doesn't the whole idea of bias get negated when you're studying something through a neutral third party-in this case, Mount Holyoke College, which couldn't care less what I believe Pakistan's true place in the world to be?

5) "What are you going to do with your life?"
This is probably the only response out of the entire list of Why-did-you-study-history queries that actually makes sense, and the only one I can answer. Oh, I have no idea what I'm going to do with my degree! Then again, dear Economics and Political Science and Biochemistry majors-do you?


Coming hard on the heels of what has been a terrible year for this country, the Pakistan cricket team's match-fixing allegations seem like a great cosmic joke being played on us. There is very little we can do about floods, bombs, corruption and war, but when our national sports idols decide to make complete asses of themselves on the world stage, it feels like a kick in the gut.

Although I usually argue against the concept of national embarrassment, this is an instance where it is difficult to blame either Zardari or Mother Nature for the latest reason the world has to hate Pakistanis. Because you see, sports idols represent us in more ways than the government does. We may not elect them, but they are one of the few examples of social mobility in this country. They are looked up to because they are supposed to have earned worldwide respect through sheer talent. There are very few professions left in this country which children across all social stratas believe they have a shot at, and this is one of them. Who on earth would dream of being on the Pakistan cricket team now?

Aside from the completely unethical nature of what the team has done, I think they should personally apologize to every child who feels betrayed by them. I don't care about their careers and don't know enough about the sport to wonder what repercussions this will have for it, but I do care about disappointed hopes and hurt children.

Really? I mean really? I thought the national morale couldn't possibly get any worse than it is now, but perhaps we should thank the cricket team for showing us a lower low can always come. When other countries announce that cricket matches being held for Pakistan flood relief are being canceled for fear that our team will deliberately lose, it leaves you lost for words. This was really all that was left for us to hear on the news this week. Cricket seemed to be the only time Pakistanis could be flag-waving fanatics without being either violent or insane, but it seems we've been robbed of that small pleasure as well. It may not surprise us when the government lets children die, but when our cricketers let little boys' dreams get crushed for a few thousand pounds, the sense of betrayal is disproportionately greater.