A perfectly genuine act

25th November 2020

Nearly 10 years ago, I was encouraged by my firm, and particularly by SMB Partner Simon Goldberg, to “zip up my boots and connect with my roots…”.

One of the main problems was my timing: the War on Terror was escalating, and Time Magazine had featured an article naming Pakistan as the most dangerous place in the world. There were also other practical and logistical issues. I was constantly being stopped and searched whenever I travelled internationally, and I was even denied a visa to India because my parents were from Pakistan but in fact, when they were born Pakistan did not exist so they were Indians! Despite all of this, I knew in my soul that I needed to go and dive into the Indus Valley, the world’s first large civilisation, in an area of modern-day Pakistan.

I wrote the article below to document my own journey with rediscovering the country of my heritage. Now, 10 years on, I reflect on not only my personal journey, but also my firm’s journey with diversity. One of our core strengths is teaming together people from different backgrounds and sharing our individually earned knowledge and expertise. It is fundamental to explaining why our team of lawyers is so strong, and how it is a contributing factor to our ability to advocate for our clients in such a variety of ways.

It is very interesting now to read back on my own experiences, and to reflect on the support that SMB gave me to be in touch with that part of myself. It shows a genuine value for diversity in the legal sector that I think is rare to see.

Original article – originally published in  The Daily Jang (the oldest newspaper of Pakistan) and on Artangel’s blog (Arts organisation in London)

I am taking a sabbatical this year and going to Pakistan…oh dear I am actually going to Pakistan this year, a country that I have only visited once in my life on a family holiday when I was a four year old, and I am now planning to return some thirty years later: alone without my family.

Why am I returning, and returning alone? Despite considerable in-depth soul searching for the answer, I am still left without a clear answer but I know I want to see and experience the land that emerged post partition on my own terms. I guess growing up I have always been slightly embarrassed by Pakistan, a country that my father chose to leave as he believed it offered him no real opportunity: “a country full of feudal lords whose sole purpose is to preserve their power base.…only a total revolution will save Pakistan” he would often tell me.  A country that my mother left to follow her husband. They both arrived in London in the early swinging 60s and made this their new home.

Unlike my British Pakistani friends, we as a family did not take our annual holidays in Pakistan. In fact, the idea of an annual family holiday? What a frivolous luxury that would have been! I recall the one family trip to Pakistan when I was four. I know now that raising a family of five daughters was an all-consuming concern for my parents and something had to give. An annual jolly was one of many casualties.

Raised us well they certainly did: my parents pushed all of the Akram girls to love learning and adventure; we have each been brought up with a questioning mind; a thirst for knowledge; and a strong sense of fair play and justice. I guess it is no surprise that two of the Akram girls are lawyers. I am a media lawyer and so is my younger sister.

But why go to Pakistan? Is it not the most dangerous country in the world? Why do you (a woman) wish to visit a country that does not respect women? These are a few of the many questions I am constantly asked.

Does nothing happen unless it is reported in the press? I have family that live in Pakistan and they do not fit the narrow image that is often painted of them.  This conflict between the image and my Pakistani reality has forced me to try and get to know the real Pakistan, but not from my parents or from the London based Pakistani community who left Pakistan over 30 years ago (90% of whom come from one part of Pakistan  – Mirpur).

I have now started to create a network of Pakistan-based friends from all over the country and I am slowly learning of a Pakistan that is seldom reflected in our media. It is a country rich in history, culture and music. It is also a country which has an emerging media where women are not invisible but occupy a visible presence. Yes, it is a deeply complicated country.

Pakistan is a country of over 160 million people: where are they to go if it is indeed the most dangerous country in the world? Most Pakistanis cannot reconcile the image that has been painted of them by others.

I do have a bond/link with Pakistan, which I have not sufficiently engaged with.  However, by concentrating on one part of myself I have ignored another part. I believe there is mutuality between the two; even though these two parts are explicitly opposites, they are in fact implicitly one. I guess that Pakistan is my shadow which I wish to integrate with and without my shadow, there can’t be substance. I am truly excited to connect with her once again.

Do I really need to explain any further why I wish to experience Pakistan for myself?  Surely, the sound of rain needs no translation…