History Lesson – Part One

Specially for Ali at alienorajt, a great blogger who was the first person to take an interest in my blog and has been leaving encouraging comments on my posts since then. This one’s for you Ali!

Pakistan has never been deemed as ‘unimportant’ in all of its history. Right now, it’s known all over the world for our infamous ‘collaboration’ with terrorists, our nukes, and our unreliable government. Back then, it was known as the crossroads between Central, Southern and Western Asia. It might seem like a narrow piece of unimportant land, but in truth, it has been the gateway of many conquerors.

Pakistani land has seen the footsteps of every major dynasty you can name. Starting from the Soanians who settled in this area some 600,000 years ago, to the Mughals whose reign ended in the 1800s.  Alexander, Timur, Mohammad-bin-Qasim, Genghis Khan, Raja Dahir, Chandragupta Maurya, Mahmud, Ghori, Bahlul and later, Ibrahim, Lodhi and finally Babar, have all used this general area as their campsite and gateway to the regions of India, China, Afghanistan and Iran.

Our relatively tiny country, borders all these nations on all its sides, and to top it all off, we also have a warm-water port from the Arabian Sea. Hence this area was the landing spot of millions of soldiers and armies of the Greeks, Turks, Arabs, Persians, Sikhs and finally, the British.

And that, is how Pakistani culture and castes were initiated! We have pieces of all kinds of DNA in us. And most of this cultural diversity was born when these invading forces stopped on our land. When the moved on, of course some people stayed behind, or more specifically, their offspring stayed behind. Soldiers and the exotic dark-haired dark-eyed women of our region. Need I say more?

Let’s look at a few of the main castes in Pakistan, and discuss their origins.

Pathans:

The correct term being Pashtun, Pathans are the ethnic group originally settled in Afghanistan. They seeped in to Pakistan over the centuries, mainly when the Pashtun invader Lodhi set his sights on our land, bringing in a batallion of the Pathans with him. The origin of the Pathans is very obscure, its like they were just there in Afghanistan one day! Many claim that they are basically of Persian origin, as the Pashto language has a great resemblance to the Persian language. A better term to use would be that the Pathans are Aryans, the original people of Persia (Persia means ‘land of the Aryans’).

I don’t think many Pashtun people will agree with this, but Hitler’s term Aryan also suits the Pathans a little! Typical Afghanis have blond hair, easily sun-streaked, light rosy complexions and blue or green eyes. The men are usually tall and are known for their hot-headedness and aggressiveness. Some historians have claimed that the Pashtuns have not only got Nordic and Germanic features; strong jaws, light eyes, fair hair, but are actually descendents of such when they came as Persian war slaves to these regions.

And that is how confusing the origins of the Pashtun are!

A typical Pashtun child – photo taken from the blog Past Mists.

Here is what I personally know of the Pathans:

  • They’re all pretty and handsome to the extreme.
  • They support each other no matter what. The Pathan network is one of the strongest in Pakistan. If you’re a Pathan and a shopkeeper is Pathan as well, you might as well get the things for free!
  • They never say no to guests, and are excellent hosts.
  • There are two types of Pathans in Pakistan, the “goray” (fair) Pathan and the “kalay” (tan maybe?) Pathan.
  • Goray Pathans have a slight hygiene issue, dirty cars, messy homes. No offense meant to anyone, but it’s a very common observation! My best friend, H, is Pathan, she never even properly washes her face, but her fair, spotless skin is the envy of many. Genetics at its best… The “kalay” Pathan usually belong to some ethnic tribe that’s minority. Or they aren’t actually Pathan at all and just use the name Khan as their great-great-grandfather was a real one!
  • They always speak in their own language, Pashto, until it’s absolutely necessary to speak in Urdu or English! Even then, they use a lot of Pashto words. I have added many swear words and common items’ name in my vocabulary thanks to H!
  • They rarely marry out of the Pashtun people. The linguistic and cultural difference is much between Pathans and the other Pakistani races, so girls are reluctant to marry a Pashto-speaking man, since she will be at a disadvantage when she has to settle with him and his family.
  • They marry off girls early. Boys too for that matter. Usually, girls at about eighteen and boys at twenty-two.
  • Pakhtuns have usually very large families. Minimum five children. And I knew a Pashto couple who now have thirteen children!
  • They are known for their hot-headedness. There are jokes in Pakistan, about Bandook Khan (bandook means gun in Urdu) and how he takes out his gun first and thinks later! Cultural stereotyping, but can we really stop it?
  • They name their kids anything. Seriously. The trend is changing with education and awareness, but still in the tribal areas you’ll find Gulab (rose) Khan, Sher (lion) Khan, Muskaan (smile) Khan, Bahadur (brave) Khan. These are the ones in Urdu. In Pashto, they name their children on Pashto words for gems, flowers, colors, plants, birds etc. I have a friend named Mizghan, which means eyelashes in Persian and Pashto!
  • They are very traditional, and rarely do anything that is different from their usual culture. Pashtun culture is a very vast topic to discuss here, maybe Wikipedia can help!

That’s it for today, tomorrow I’ll write about the other main caste in Pakistan, the Chaudhary cast!

Before we begin discussing it, let me tell you that I myself am an Arain (a-raa-een, a sub-caste of the Chaudharies present in the Punjab) Chaudhary from both sides of my family. My father isn’t really a believer in labelling oneself, and he has ingrained that notion in all of our minds’.

It is true that your ethnicity and origin reflects in your appearance and your mindset, but that doesn’t necesserily mean that you have to elevate yourself or think other castes are inferior to yours. We will never be able to fully eradicate the caste system, but taking steps on an individual level may make all our lives’ easier. For instance, my paternal grandfather’s name started with Chaudhary, and he was commonly known around town as ‘Chaudhary Sahab’ (sahab roughly translates to Sir or Master). Then, my paternal uncle has Chaudhary at the end of his name, so do his children. I and my siblings, on the other hand, have plain old Akram (my father’s name) at the end of ours. And my father has never linked it to his known.

When we were children, we  were always told that when someone asks you your caste, simply say that we don’t believe in the caste system. Although the Arain Chaudharies are considered as the most prestigious caste of the Punjab (the largest province of Pakistan), I have never wanted to link it, or an other caste, to my name and my individuality.

I am simply a Pakistani, nothing more.

(To be continued; history, origin, and common characteristics of the Chaudharies)

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8 thoughts on “History Lesson – Part One

  1. alienorajt says:

    Wow! This is fascinating, Raiha: I knew almost none of that. Thank you so much for mentioning me in dispatches – and for writing such an articulate and interesting piece. I look forward to the next one! Ali

    • No problem Ali! It’s just the way of the world that people always focus on the negative aspects of an individual or a nation, when in truth beneath every antagonism a treasure awaits for those who care to look for it!

      The next piece will be more personal for me, and even more fascinating for you. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing all that we us. 🙂 I am really interested in History and your piece has really helped me gain a lot. It is beautifully written. Thank You once again 🙂

  3. jamal94 says:

    What bullshit is this? Pashtuns are NOT persian and persia does not mean land of aryans. Persia is a very broad term and refereed to the achmednian empire which united all the iranic people like kurds azeris and pashtuns but in no way were they ever considered persian. Pashto is eastern iranian while farsi is south iranian. Completely different!

    Oh and the land of the aryans is believed to be in Afghanistan not iran! Again, Pashtuns are not persian, we have our own language and culture.

    • Mr. Jamal it seems that you haven’t understood the context I was talking in. I’m not a history expert and neither, it seems, are you! I did NOT say the Pashtuns are Persian! The origins are blurry as I have said in this article. And like you said Persia covered an expanse of land under which Afghanistan was!

      As for language, you cannot deny that they both incorporate some of the other! Urdu contains Turkish, Persian and a melee of other languages. I fail to understand why you’re being so defensive.

      Persia broke up. Did you not Google that part? Iran and Afghanistan USED to be part of it! I never claimed that Afghanis are Persian. Read my article again and refrain from being condescending and rude.

      I understand that you were just trying to display your knowledge but you just twisted what I’ve written and boasted that you know better than me. Even if you do, this BULLSHIT cannot be falsified, because it is a compilation from books by history EXPERTS.

      The Pashtun culture is diverse and unique and in no way I said anything different.

      Thank you for taking out the time to leave this lovely comment and sharing your knowledge with me.

    • Also, I specifically say that ‘some claim Pathans are Aryans’. Do you understand the meaning of ‘some claim’? It means that a few historians are of the opinion that Pathans were originally the Aryans. Why don’t you argue with those historians first and then I will redo this article?

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