Years of learning ahead and years of learning behind and, in the
middle, stands an immigrant with an uncertain future ready to chase new social fictions
By Saeed Ur Rehman
Once a year, Copenhagen hosts a dance party called Distortion, starting the first Saturday of June and ending after 3 to 4 nights of hard revelry. The event has 80,000 to 100,000 people participating almost every night.
This is the worst time to arrive in Copenhagen if you don’t have a hotel room booked because all the hotels in the city are full. And this is the time I chose to arrive without knowing anything about the city. Just like that.
A 6:30 pm PIA landing at CPH and a train to the Copenhagen H (the city’s central railway station) and there I was standing on the curb with every commercial residence fully occupied for the next four nights.
The panic was not even seeping in at the prospect of spending a night in the open. A sudden strategic alliance developed with a Sikh couple who were talking to every taxi driver for tips on finding a place to stay. This made us a perfect trio for being taken for a ride. The drivers, mostly desi men, were keen to suggest other towns and discouraged, even lied, about the last trains leaving to other towns.
The Sikh couple decided to move back to the airport and wait for a flight back to India, where the man had a very good job. The couple had been to the police as well. The police do not help you find accommodation. It is not their job. There is a department that helps legal residents with accommodation but they put you in a queue and you have to wait for 8 months. To be in the queue, you need to be a registered resident. And, to be a registered resident, you need to have an address where you can receive your mail. Have a good night!
Almost out of habit or to free myself from the panic attacks, I got hooked on the bait of a Kharian-wala taxi driver. Off to Roskilde, we drove looking for a posh business suite in a four-star hotel. Half of my monthly Pakistani university pay, on HEC’s tenure track, for one night’s stay. No other option. Better than freezing to oblivion. Brutally minimalistic design surrounds me.
The window shows a blue lake and green fields and red gabled roofs of silent houses. The silence is eerie and all life is now a private affair. A respite for my ears after years of rickshaw and pressure horn assaults in Lahore. But, there is an unsettling question: is it worth it? After years of wishing to be left alone and to have some silence, the silence is unsettling.
The news on the latest model of a flatscreen TV set does not make any sense either. The words belong to a different system of signification. Years of learning ahead and years of learning behind and, in the middle, stands an immigrant with an uncertain future ready to chase new social fictions. A world to be surrendered and another ready to be yours if you have the guts. If you can recover from your previous attempts at building a life, it is all yours. Learn to say “godnat” instead of “goodnight” and “tak,” with a heavily-aspirated ‘t’, instead of “thank you.”
At the buffet breakfast, East Asian tourists are filling their flasks with gratis coffee for saving some money during the day. By some perverted logic, human beings are aligned to what they are used to: the Mandarin-speaking in one group, the Nihongo-speaking in another, the Dansk-speaking in yet another. Language and skin colours are as arbitrary as the borders of the modern nation-state but you can keep your cultural theories to yourself. There is no one resembling you this morning. Those who are familiar with your language and habits will come later. They will be either anthropologists or labourers. You wanted to see equality. Here it is. How about this group of Pakistanis selling mobile SIMs on a roadside stall? All of them have magisterial degrees in computer sciences and accountancy from Scandinavian countries. Get ready for restructuring your hierarchies. They earn more than the basic legal salary of an army general back home. They are good taxpayers and both sides, the state and the citizen, are likely to respect their side of the social contract. They can see how the taxes are used to improve overall wellbeing of the collective.
Just the upholding of this basic political promise is enough for them. It shows how societies become lucky by overcoming chance.
But this lucky collective appears to not be very welcoming to those who look different. Here, the uppermost layer of the skin works in the same way as caste, religion, and money work in Pakistan. Ultra-light skin and blonde hair, no melanin, is the right type of epidermal capital here.
You don’t need to worry about yourself: Nordic Europeans even exclude the Greeks and Spaniards.
The idea of Europe may be a good idea but one Scandinavian country, Norway, to assert its Nordic exclusiveness, has stayed out of the European Union. There is some solace for the South Asian immigrant in this thought. Even being Nordic is defined in a non-inclusive manner. Greenlanders are called Northern Danes but they are not considered Nordic enough. A Green Card holder is not allowed to live in Greenland. And in that often-overlooked legal sanction, you can find solace for yourself.
Immigrants are going to be the human capital of Europe and they are being asked to live and work in Denmark. So that their taxes contribute to the collective welfare in Denmark and not in Greenland, a colonised territory. You have come from another type of collective. You are going to clutch at all sources of solace for a long time now.
(Top) Central Station; (above) Roskilde.
Published in The News on Sunday
dated June 30, 2013