Vaughan, Matthew. Notes from a Sacred Land: Tales of Hope from Pakistan, Print Master: Islamabad, 2017. 164 pages.
About the Author:Matthew Vaughan is a British citizen working for a Christian charity in Pakistan. He moved to Pakistan in 2011 with his family. The book presents his personal account regarding those aspects of Pakistan that have generally not been highlighted in the available literature about the country. Given the international news media coverage, the author held preconceived notions about Pakistan, which soon dispelled as he landed for work in the country. The author explains how it turned out to be an exceptional country offering unrivaled hospitality, generosity and exquisite natural locales.
The book comprises of twenty anecdotes, encompassing the experience of the author in the country. The news originating from the country usually reports violence, hostility and turbulence. The book opens with an emphasis on the general humanness and hospitality of Pakistanis, a quality that took the author by surprise.
Pakistan is a country of perplexing paradoxes. For starters, there is the obvious economic divide among the people. Some delving in riches, while others unable to make both ends meet. On one hand are those who have no access to basic education and on the other hand are swarms of people that attend literary festivals with fervor. However the most disconcerting disparity is that between the tranquil splendor of its land and the instances of cruel viciousness that the people face every now and then, that is the toughest to tolerate. Even in the case of any such unfortunate incident, Vaughan highlights the resilience and tenacity of the inhabitants of the land. After any such instance the people come out stronger and hopeful for a better future.
The culture of charity despite the low per person income in the country, is astounding. Charitable giving or ‘Zakat’ is one of the integral parts of the faith of the majority population. It leads to the collection of millions of dollars yearly by the government. Private charity giving is also very commonplace. The country is home to many charitable organizations working privately. The country and its people are much diverse, remarkable and generous than the popular sentiment held about Pakistan in the world.
Hospitality and kindness is the general outlook of the people, primarily when it comes to dealing with an outsider to the country. Vaughan discusses various acts of altruism by the general public that he experienced regularly. Such actions ranged from people declining to charge him money for the purchase of a product or service, on the grounds that the author was a guest, to deeds of random kindness by complete strangers. Being a charity worker, the author had many opportunities of visiting downtrodden households, where he was taken aback by the warm welcome and hospitality of the inhabitants despite their meager resources.
Pakistan hosts a massive number of refugees, as notes Vaughan. The country comes only second to Turkey in its eagerness to host refugees. Lebanon, Iran, Jordan; all Muslim nations, all closely follow Pakistan in this regard. Vaughan notes that the West peculiarly evades reporting such information since this display of tolerance and cordiality does not go along the Western account of Muslim fanaticism. Besides, Pakistan’s inability to address its own poverty needs to be seen in the context of the numerous refugees that have found shelter in the land.
The land is more heterogeneous and diverse than is generally believed by the world. Many faiths and cultures exist peacefully. Many formal and informal organizations and set ups are made to advance inter-faith and inter-cultural harmony. Besides, the land is blessed with exceptional geographical setting and landscape. Particularly the northern areas easily stand out as a tourist attraction that can in turn contribute to the economic growth of the country.
Positive and negative conditions co-exist in the country, as pointed out by the author. However, there are many people in the land who have taken it upon themselves to do something productive about their unfortunate condition. Master Ayub is one of such hopeful people. He has been teaching underprivileged children for the last three decades, for free.
Vaughan considers Pakistan as “one of the most unjustly maligned countries of the world.” Given the measure of chaos of Pakistan’s independence, and the British role in that scenario, the author; a British national, is confounded at receiving no resentment at the hands of the Pakistani people.
In a period of rising friction between Pakistan and the West, “Notes from a Sacred Land” restores faith in the people and society of Pakistan and humanity in general. The book is a “call for peace building” and accolade for the masses of the country.
A lecturer and lifestyle consultant by the day; an avid reader and writer by the night, I am a student of life.