Posted in Socio-Cultural


Sometimes, its hard to believe that these Afghans ruled India for a while.

As the Pathan picture gets into controversy, I would like to blog of what I know of Pathans. They are of Af-Pak origin and I have exposure to them in Middle east. Right from the airport you cannot miss them and they are tailormade for some semi skilled professions where they have made their mark. Our locality in gulf is mostly Pathan dominated although the labourers were moved to Labour city with all facilities for them at one spot as the city grew and the world cup preparations were on. I saw a few buildings torn down that were very old and were leased to big pathan groups and obviously the men have moved over to labour city. Otherwise, whichever part of the country you are in, you can find the pathans crouching and huddled together in groups in the traffic islands between busy junctions! Wherever I go for walking, again they would be there as gangs, sharing a common bread. I live in a housing colony where 95% of households are Indian. In fact that’s the reason I wanted to live here. You can opt to live in mixed community but there is the comfort factor. My previous flat was in a largely arab dominated apartment complex where I sincerely could not tolerate the beef smell that would ooze into my home from all directions. See, most people who talk about secularism just cannot understand a vegetarian’s delicate senses. Its not about hate for beef at all. Its that we cannot even stand the smell. I don’t find fault with others’ food habits. Its just my level of tolerance or intolerance that’s all. Moreover, you can be friendly with other nationalities to a certain extent. There are filippinos and arabs among others who are very nice to befriend. But beyond a point, that intimacy that we Indians share can be had only with those from India or with those of Indian origin. I am saying this because, I have instant rapport with Sri lankans, Nepalis even Bhutanese, Bangladeshi and Pakistanis. That kind of closeness I find only with people of the INdian subcontinent.

As for pathans, we find them very handy because they live among us in this locality. I could call them for any plumbing, electrical work or tank cleaning. I wanted Ikea for my kitchen here but when I was in India, my hubby cleverly booked our counters and cabinets from a pathan at throwaway price. Actually the quality is better even if the aesthetics are sacrificed! But my kitchen fittings have been serving me good for over seven years now whereas all the expensive posh Ikea ones that my friends got had to be replaced. There is an exclusive pathan shopping complex near where I live where you can find anything to everything such as nut and bolt and curtain rods to curtains, clothes, winter jackets, boots, fabrics, leather ware etc., etc. And yes even furniture and plumbing, electrical appliances. Rates are okay, and in fact much cheaper. So most of us settle for the pathan stuff as this is not our real home. We are living in rented place. Mine is a 25 year old flat but it is in ship shape except for some minor complaints. Our painting works get done by the pathans. The dry cleaning shops here are run by them. There are a few exceptions though: barber shops have been taken over by Bangladeshis and nobody can beat Indians when it comes to groceries and provisions. There are some restaurants run by pathans and obviously we can’t eat at them. However even the pathans visit our Kerala bhais restaurants to sample Indian food. My street would be flooded by the pathans haphazardly parking their trucks. Yes, mostly they are truck drivers. Or they drive trailers. Before world cup, my area was spruced up. Here nobody questions them. Their lifestyle is part of the community fabric. I miss them now and wonder wherever they went! Now the look of my street is kind of European! The roads are clearly marked and any wayward parking is ruled out. Mysteriously the pathans have disappeared. One reason could be that the free zones left for parking their trailers etc., have been converted into parks and parking bays for the world cup. They have since been closed to easy access. Without parking, the pathans cannot exist. So may be they have moved to wherever they have parking facilities. Some even sleep in their trailers.

The well doing pathans ( khans) are all mostly Indian! But I understand that the labour class pathans are also very rich – some of them, not all. They may be shabbily dressed but they earn handsome from subcontracts. They are in employment of major multinational oil and gas and civil construction and electrical and mechanical companies. They do tough job and get paid very well. I once saw such a pathan hold a family wedding in a star hotel where I went for a speech club program. They seemed out of place but they were real dressed well. Obviously a rich pathan!

But I would always wonder aloud, how simple their life is. They probably own not more than 2 or 3 sets of shalwar kameez. They eat from common thali their bread and biriyani. Beef is very cheap here so they have plenty of it. Their place of worship is everywhere. Their entertainment is gossiping in groups, as I said, huddled together in traffic islands! They go to public parks to access free wi fi to call back home. Their cost of living is way too low. Living conditions not that bad. I believe, most of them don’t even repatriate money to their native countries. They go home once an year to their families, get their wives pregnant and come back happily to resume their life in middle east. By the time their sons may turn 18, you can find them join their fathers. Family business! You need people of all kind to carry on with normal life. so many, many invisible links in the chain that make our life livable. Pathans to me are one such a main connection to comfortable life in middle east even if they are hidden from public view. If you drive down the desert, you can see the old bedouin settlements leased by pathans. Out of nowhere these camps crop up. Their job in the great arabian desert is to rear the camels and tend to other works in the area. Highway drivers to some 99% are the pathans. Nobody can handle trucks and trailers like them! In India, its the Singhs (Punjabis).

Pathans in India are comparatively very well accomplished and doing a great job. Of course not all pathans are blue collar workers. Back in their own countries, they must be prospering in all walks of life. In middle east or anywhere, the Indian domination cannot be ruled out. Indians bulldoze every other nationality frankly with their immense talent pool. We reduce others to middle level or lowest levels of employment and that is what I always think when I see the pathans. But as I said, we need men for every job. Pathans carved their niche in middle east with their tremendous appetite for manual labour and semi skilled jobs. They are best at it and most reliable.

Generally Indian women stay careful with pathans. Not because we fear them. We in middle east have to always keep in mind that we are dealing with men who don’t get a chance to be with women for years sometimes. They don’t booze either. So to be on safe side we are weary of pathans who we engage for all kinds of work at home, that’s all.

One pathan gave me his visiting card knocking on my door telling me he lived just the opposite of our compound and that he was available 24 hrs for carpentry, plumbing, electrical works and house painting, tank cleaning etc., etc. He went door to door giving the card but I was really impressed by the interest he took in his business. The details printed in the card had so many errors still, that was a wonderful effort!

I have a soft corner for the pathans always because they work so hard and they are very contented in their simple lifestyle. My hubby jokes in my previous janam I was a pathan (before 1947) and probably a Kashmiri or Paksitani Hindu (before 1965) who got massacred at the hands of Pakis. So in my present janam I was graced with a birth in proper Hindu dominant India. But my affection for pathans is proof that I have karmic connection with them! Our Indian husbands can be impossible. My hubby would dutifully point out pathans to me wherever we drive and say, ‘look your cousins!’ I would say had I married one of them, my life could have been simplest and happiest! Very few pathans have their families with them in middle east and those who do are considered pretty wealthy. They live here for generations but they are not citizens.

The Khans of India must realize how well placed they are and in fact fortunate that they find themselves in the other side of the border. I would not like to stereotype the pathans but the truth is, the exception is a miniscule percentage. Most have no education but aren’t concerned either! Or may be their sense of righteousness is better than ours. Perhaps their lifestyle is far more peaceful. But then why are their nations so war torn.

Even last evening I went to a pathan shopping place. Almost all shops here are owned by the pathans but the Bangladeshis have been steadily taking over their spots. Except for the truck and/or trailer driving, the Bangladeshis have forayed into every single sphere of the pathan stronghold. They are much smarter, more intelligent and hardworking. Their physical strength cannot match the pathans which is why they have left out the driving of trailers I guess!

Meanwhile you cannot even find much of Indian manual labour, as Indian labour is very expensive and Indian community has moved much ahead in the ladder, with being placed in executive positions and professions. I have watched pathans salute many times Indian men with respect. Pathans do hold Indians in respect. That respect comes from the Indian’s social hierarchy. We all do our bit in my opinion and we can coexist in this world filling gaps in each other’s hemisphere.

I have heard of gossips about pathans but I can’t obviously share them here. Crimes happen everywhere. We, especially, women have to be vigilant because whatever said, we are still vulnerable.

Once long back we dined in a fine Afghan restaurant. On seeing us the pathans did not know what to do. They had a sumptuous hot bread basket and surprisingly a couple of veggie dishes. It was my son’s idea really and this eating place looked upscale. The breads were too good from the land of tandoor. For subzi I ordered a bindi stew. The men went for a lamb dish. We weren’t given plates and we were expected to tear into the bread and dip it directly in the subzi! We made a special request for plates. The staff were amused but gave us individual plates as Hindus never will share a thali. For us its abhorrent.

Brings back memories of a group of pathans in Dubai terminal waiting for their flight. They had a 20 hour transit. They were all hunched over a mammoth paper package that was thrown open. A dozen hands reached into the biriyani at the same moment! That comradeship always would impress me. But my hubby as usual came with a retort. ‘You know why they have that custom. In olden days like mogul times if the food may be poisoned, it was to ensure that everybody died the same time!’ Trust was deficient he said because, Aurangzeb killed his own brother to ascend the throne. Whatever, I was looking at the pathans sprawled in the airport floor without a care in the world, not bothered who is looking, who is not. Snoring loudly they went to sleep fitfully! I wished life was easy and uncomplicated for me!

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