Khouj: Pakistani cultural night 2018

The 6th of October was greeted with a wide smile and enormous excitement, for so many people had been looking forward to what was coming that night. The day was a crisp 44 ° Fahrenheit, a brisk, cool wind, accompanied by colorful falling autumn leaves in varying shades of red, orange and green, escorting the audience to Atwood Memorial Center at St. Cloud State University, where the Pakistani Cultural event took place. The rapidly moving, chaotic and invigorating weather outside was reflected in the Pakistan Student Association and the volunteers in their whirlwind-like activity as they prepared for the night to begin.

As soon as you enter, you see the ballroom decorated in the national colors of Pakistan (green and white) with the flag hung in various places. The tables were decorated with a wide green cloth and strewn with silver crescents and stars, the symbols of the flag. The stage was adorned and enhanced with colorful balloons, streamers and huge golden helium-filled balloons spelling out the theme of the night: ‘KHOUJ’, which is an Urdu (the national language of Pakistan) word meaning ‘discover’ or ‘explore’. The lighting was set low, and the hushed conversation coupled with the beautiful traditional music playing in the background creating a sensual, lulling ambiance.

Dr. Wanda Overland, who also acts as an advisor to the organization, revealed how impressed, proud and grateful she was of the Pakistan Student Association in their dedication to bringing diversity to the campus, educating others about the culture and the handwork they’d put into the night,

“I am very, very excited; my office happens to be located in Atwood, so I get to see them [the Pakistan Student Association] practice and get ready. So, I know you’re in for a great event. And certainly, as you walked into the ballroom tonight you saw the wonderful decorations that they’ve already provided. So, I know that they have thought of every aspect of the event and I am certain you will be treated to some wonderful food. They have a wonderful program [put together]. So, I really wanted to say a special thank you to the Pakistan Student Association just for their [enthusiasm in] showcasing their culture and enriching the community and their overall leadership at St. Cloud State.”

After Dr. Wanda finished giving her engrossing speech, she handed the stage over to the Vice President of the Pakistan Student Association, Aemah Iqbal, for a short speech, who began by thanking Dr. Wanda for being present as well as for her kind words, and then went on to say,

“On behalf of PSA we would really like for you to enjoy this fantastic display of culture that we have brought up on Pakistan Night 2018, Khouj: Discover. I hope you guys enjoy the night…”

She then adds jokingly, with a slight laugh in her voice, “…and the food, because we all know that, that’s what we’re all here for.”

This left the audience not only eager for the performances but also the food.

With the introductions out of the way and mood lightened by the last remark delivered courtesy of the Vice President, the festivities began without further ado.

The Pakistan Student Association delivered their cultural night in a unique way; presenting the entire cultural experience as a skit, where two female foreign students from St. Cloud State visit two of their friends in Pakistan, Hamza and a Pakistani young woman.

The play opens with the young women ‘landing’ in Karachi, Sindh, and their guides picking them up and showing them around Karachi, lovingly named the City of the Sea, for it is the only city that houses a thriving port in Pakistan.

They inform the visitors, and thereby the audience, about the size of the city (which is roughly 1500 miles) and the population (about 17 million), and how it is the largest metropolitan city as well as the provincial (or ‘state’) capital of Sindh and is, therefore, also known as the City of Light. They also talked about the people of the city’s fascination with truck art. Truck art is a popular form of regional decoration featuring elaborate floral patterns and calligraphy.

Truck Art commonly found in Karachi, Pakistan. (source: Via Bing)

However, before going into detail, the audience was shown a brief overview video highlighting the fact of Pakistan itself.

Pakistan, meaning the ‘Land of the Pure’, is a sort of acronym for neighboring homelands and thus represents unity; these areas include Punjab, KPK (previously known as Afghania), Kashmir, Sindh, and Balochistan.

The video included valuable pieces of knowledge, such as the fact that Pakistan’s economy is largely agriculture-based and is one of the world’s leading suppliers of fruits, grains, the fact that Pakistan’s irrigation system is the largest continues one in the world, textiles, cotton, surgical instruments and sports goods; how it is predicted that Pakistan will bloom in the upcoming years.

Along with this information, the video mesmerized the audience with breathtaking landscapes of mountains, including K2, the second largest mountain in the world, rich lush valleys, fields and meadows as well as clear, bright rivers and lakes that dot the country, along with a plethora of plateaus, hills and deserts, and a salt range.

The video further showed major landmarks in the country, such as the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore, Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, Bala Hisar Fort and the Islamia College University in Peshawar, the Pir Ghayb (The Invisible Saint) Waterfalls and Jhal Magsi Desert Rally in Balochistan.

While in Karachi, the audience is presented with a mix of tradition and modern culture in the form of dance. The performers wore a combination of modern and traditional clothing, such as a Kurta shirt paired with jeans (men) and Kameez paired with jeans (women) and danced to modern western style music.

The visiting students were then taken on a journey into the interior, or rural, Sindh. There, they are enchanted by the contrast of completely authentic culture and dance. The clothing, music, and dance styles are kept very close to culture’s roots, with flamboyant colors, patterns, and use of silky, smooth fabrics, resembling Saris, but called the Lengha or Ghaagra Choli for women and the Dhoti for the men.

After this dazzling display, the audience is transported some 500 miles to the city of Quetta, the capital city of the neighbouring province of Balochistan. Balochistan, while not as populated as the other states, is still very significant. It is the largest province and even though is under developed, contains huge deposits of natural resources that help run the country and maintain the economy, an example being the Gwadar port, the largest deep-sea port in the world, which as of yet is under construction, but when built will open tremendous opportunities for the country.

After Balochistan, we venture into the land of the Pakhtuns, known as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa—or KPK for short, with the capital city of this province being Peshawar. This city has a rich historical background and an even richer culture. The people and their culture have a uniqueness in every aspect compared to the rest of the country. Peshawar’s recorded history dates back to at least 539 BCE, making it the oldest city in Pakistan and one of the oldest cities in the world.

From Peshawar we venture to Islamabad, the capital of the country in Punjab, and also visit Lahore, the capital of the province, in Punjab as well, located about a 7-hour drive from each other. Punjab is the second largest province by area, after Balochistan, and is the most populous province. Lahore is a cultural, historical, economic and cosmopolitan center of Pakistan where the country’s cinema industry, and much of its fashion industry, are based, and is the most industrialized and urbanized province; while Islamabad is the legal head of the ‘dinosaur shaped’ country, where all legal matters, dignitaries etc. are held or stay. Islamabad is a unique city, for it is the only city that was planned to the letter and man-made around the 1960s, and therefore has very modern architecture, with the other cities having a blend of the new and old.

The dances and performances were all beguiling, with each area’s local clothing and music being brought out and danced to. The clothing was kept either formal, in which case it was ostentatious, flashy, rich, detailed and full of vibrant colours and patterns and embroidery—such as those of Lenghas, Ghaagra Cholis, Ghararas, Lacha, long flowy frocks, Saris, gowns etc. (women) Sherwanis, Dhoti, Pagri, suits, coats, embroidered Kurtas—or causal, with simple Shalwar Kameez (both men and women), or tights, pajamas, and long shirts and gowns.

The movements of the dancers were well choreographed, very smooth, fluid and in unison. They danced to the beat, the facial expressions illustrated what was going on, and carried the story or the message of the music. The duets and large groups were especially pleasurable to watch. Each region’s dancing style and music—especially the types of instruments used, the vocal tenor and dialect were all regionally and culturally accurate and very simulating to watch and very informative. Something that surprised me was the exceptionally well-done Qawwali medley done at the end. Qawwali is a style of Muslim devotional music, that is very pleasant, melodious and tranquil.

Finally, no talk about Pakistan is complete without talking about the wondrous food of the country. You might be hard pressed to find a country that enjoys food more than the people of Pakistan. With a varity of curry dishes made with varying spices all of which I couldn’t even begin to name, and local authentic refreshments and desserts that go along with them, there is no doubt that Pakistan’s culture is extremely rich in all kinds of flavorful food, something that is reflected in the event and in the food-loving culture in general. All the food at the event, which included meat, such as the Chicken Biryani and Beef Karahi, and vegetarian options, such as Palak, respectively, was excellent. What stood out to me the most, however, was the Mango Lassi, a refreshment made from yogurt, milk and mangoes, for I don’t normally like lassis, but this was outstanding. Furthermore, being a lover of dessert, though I was let down by the fact there weren’t many options for sweets, nevertheless, the vermicelli bar offered was remarkably like the ones found in Pakistan, a feat that no doubt deserves recognition.

Overall, the Pakistan Night 2018 was a huge success, for it not only effectly combined educating people about the culture, but also did it in the best way possible: by making it entertainment, and having delicious food, good company, and great music. You can not ask for more from a cultural night, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what the PSA does next year.

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