Swat Swag: The institution of Lala

A Pakhtun’s painful introduction to life on campus in Islamabad 
Nov 05, 2018
Anyone who has grown up in a Pashtun family will tell you that you need a Lala in your life. Lala is the go-to guy. Lala gets it when no one else does. Lala is the person you go to when you need to get [four letter word for crap] figured out. Lala is usually that one cousin, out of your 45 or so cousins (my people make a lot of babies, and why not, our babies are cute), who may or may not be the most senior in age but is still the guy who gets it. Lala has all the answers. Lala is the person who you go to when you are in trouble and you need to hide your skin before your Plaar or Neeqa (father or grandfather) finds out and hacks you to pieces. Lala is the guy you go to when the village bullies bully you. Lala is the guy you go to when a Bacha-baaz (pedophile) makes your life miserable. This is a Lala story. I am surrounded by four intimidating girls. This is February but I find myself sweating like a […]. I am nervous as [hell] because I am being ragged, on my first day in university in iZl0o [email protected] [email protected]—also my first day ever in the capital. These are 4 A’ Level burger-mummy-daddy ‘Yo waddup’ girls. Strong and confident. You know, the kind who scare Gormint College Paindu and small-town working-class types like me with their superior City and Beaconhouse education and the self-confidence that an affluent upper or middle class upbringing brings. I hadn’t gone to a co-ed in Peshawar so this is all new to me. I went to Peshawar university for a couple of months but that place is like a big segregated madrassa. “Kidher se aye ho, Khan?” goes the tall girl who is leading the pack. Where have you come from, Khan. I have been told to keep my eyes down but I look up to reply. “Gandi aankhen neechi karo, GADHAY!” yells the second loud girl at me. Lower your filthy gaze, you jackass! So I look down and mumble, “Woh jee. Me…woh.” Er… uhm, actually. “Ooncha bolo,” screams the third hijabi. Speak up! “Me…ji…Baji…woh…me…Peshawar.” Ah, er… ‘sister’, I come from Peshawar. All of them except for the quiet one at the back start yelling. “Kya kaha! BAJI? Umar dekhi he apni. Janglee. Hum bajiyan lagtee hain tumhari?” What did you say? Sister? Have you seen how old you are? Animal. Do we look like your sisters? “Sorry. Ji…” I’m from Peshawar. Wehshi. Kisi jangal se aaye hun. Degenerate. I’ve come from the wild. I am not used to wearing jeans but the ones my mother had bought me for the big day at the capital now feel too tight. I can feel the sweat crawling down my back through my underwear [and lower]. “Naswar kidher he tumhari?” Where is your naswar (chew tobacco). “I do not do naswar, baji.” “BAKWAS MAT KARO! PHIR BAJI KAHA! SHAKAL DEKHO ZARA APNI.” Shut your face. What’s with the sister again? Have you taken a look at yourself? The yelling and screaming continues. “Acha. Yeh batao. Who is your favorite actor?” My favorite actor is Al Pacino but I am so nervous that I forget who my favorite actor is. One of those Mission Impossible movies has just come out. So I go, Tom Cruise. I don’t even like him. But I’m not thinking straight. “ARAY WAH WAH WAH. Standard dekho Khan ka. Shakal dekhi hai apnee. Badaam bechtay ho Faizabad adde mai. Baatain dekho zara.” Oh look at that! Look at Khan’s standards. Have you seen yourself? You sell dry fruit at the Faizabad bus stop but look at how you talk. The tall one adds, “Tom Cruise nahi. Tumhain pata hai tum kya ho? YOU ARE TAAM KHAROOS! BOLO. Chalo bol ke dikhao! TAAM KHA-ROOS.’” Not Tom Cruise. You know who you are? You are Taam Kharoos. Say it. Show us how you say it. Taam Kha-roos. So I say it: “Tom Cruise.” Not Cruise. Say Kharoos. Say Taam Kharoos. People are watching, enjoying the spectacle, but lucky for me none of the guys who would later become my good mates at the university are around to witness. So the nickname TAAM KHAROOS never caught on. This went on for some 40 to 50 minutes, and I only remember these bits from it. It only stopped after the fourth quiet girl at the back intervened and told her bully friends to let the poor boy go. I grew up in a village and in Peshawar and had never been within 20 meters of girls who were not my cousins, who you are supposed to say salaam to and then leave the house as per Pashtun protocol. The truth is, for us men brought up in a conservative patriarchal society, strong vocal women are frightening, because they can speak up and have a mind of their own. That is perhaps the underlying reason why so many men hate on women like Asma Jahangir and Malala because they speak up. As the ragging stops, I wipe sweat from my forehead and walk over to a senior who all of us (some 10 Pashtun boys, who had secured admission that year to Quaid-e-Azam University on a quota) would call Lala. There are about a dozen of us from diverse lands: Peshawar, Khyber, Waziristan, Bannu, Zhob, Quetta. But to him, we are all his younger tror-zwee (maternal cousins) and to us he is our Lala. So, I have this daa-dee-rasara-sa-goota-okraa-lala look that says why would you do that to me? Those girls were Lala’s gang, and I was his offering, a fresh murgha (hen) from Peshawar. I asked Lala why he would stab me in the back like that. He was supposed to show me my new university, not throw me to the wolves like that on my first day. But Lala could not keep the grin off his face. He laughed, put his arm around my shoulders and said: “Da exposure de Khan. Da mazay dee pa Islamabad ki. Raza che chai oosko sareeya.” This is exposure, Khan. Let us go have tea. These are the kind of things you only get in Islamabad. Swat Swag is based in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and tweets as @NaPoha_ on “daptar, Pakhto, Tareekh, Karkhano” among other things  




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