Category Archives: Pakistani

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

I Am Malala“‘Who is Malala?’” the gunman demanded on that fateful day, October 9, 2012, before he shot three bullets into a bus carrying teenage girls to school. Unable to answer then, Malala answers now in her new memoir for all the world to read: “I am Malala and this is my story.”

Years before she became “the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban,” readers may be surprised to learn that Malala was already an international ambassador-in-the-making. Even if the bullet that “went through [her] left eye socket and out under [her] left shoulder” was what put her in the glaring spotlights, her determination to get an education – not only for herself, but for all girls in her village, her country, and beyond – was nurtured early: at 11, she wrote about her life under Taliban control  for BBC Urdu under an assumed name for her safety; at 12, she was featured with her father in a documentary, “Class Dismissed: The Death of Female Education,” by Adam B. Ellick and Irfan Ashraf for The New York Times website; at 14, Archbishop Desmond Tutu nominated her for KidsRights‘ 2011 International Peace Prize (which she subsequently won in 2013), and Pakistan awarded her the country’s first ever National Peace Prize. On her 16th birthday, following her hard-won recovery, she addressed the United Nations in New York; she became the youngest person to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Co-written with Christina Lamb, one of the world’s most lauded journalists, I Am Malala is a page-turning revelation. That said, for the most effective experience, choose to go audible. Malala herself reads the “Prologue,” which chronicles that fateful last day in her native Pakistan: “… I left my home for school and never returned.” The British actress, Archie Panjabi, seamlessly takes over as narrator and never falters.

That a 16-year-old’s life can fill a 300-plus page book with so much history, family saga, tragedy, joy, and inspiration, is a remarkable feat. To become such a renowned public figure so young will surely prove to be both a blessing and a challenge. “By giving me this height to reach people, [my Allah] has also given me great responsibilities,” she writes with earnest purpose. “Peace in every home, every street, every village, every country – this is my dream. Education for every boy and every girl in the world. To sit down on a chair and read my books with all my friends at school is my right. To see each and every human being with a smile of happiness is my wish.”

For all that she’s accomplished thus far, what she might/can/will do as a mature adult should include dreams achieved, rights guaranteed, and wishes fulfilled. Here’s to the next spectacular volume of multiple memoirs to come.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Audio, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Pakistani

King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Christiane Krömer

King for a DayWith the arrival of the spring festival in Lahore, Pakistan, no one is more excited than Malik who is ready for the upcoming kite-flying battles armed with Falcon. “‘How can you be king of Basant with only one kite?’” his sister teases. “‘Insha Allah, it will be fast enough,’” he happily insists.

Directing from his wheelchair on the family’s rooftop, Malik sends his brother “downwind so he can catch the kites I will set free.” His sister remains nearby, carefully following his instructions. Together, the children take on the bully next door, whose hurtful words and powerful kites are no match for Falcon. Once he’s defeated the enemy, Falcon continues to pluck kite after kite from the sky: “When they land, they’ll belong to whoever finds them. But at least they will have tasted freedom.”

Malik is not only king of Basant for his aerial prowess, but even more so for his earthbound kindness as he manages – anonymously! – to stop the tears of a little girl who becomes the bully’s next victim. Joyfully, he’s already planning for next year: “And tomorrow I will start designing a new kite … for next Basant when, Insha Allah, I will be king again.” By highlighting Malik’s many other strengths and talents, author Rukhsana Khan seamlessly presents a hero who is much more than his physical challenges: His patience and skill prove stronger than any bully’s cruelty and greed.

Christiane Krömer, who “specializes in illustrating stories that feature cultures from around the world,” uses multi-layered, mixed-media collages to enhance Khan’s caring story: unexpected combinations of delicate embroidery and rougher textures add depth, carefully placed architectural specifics ground the narrative, while the depiction of a teeny-tiny black cat who is the sole witness to Malik’s secret thoughtfulness turns out to be the perfect ‘show-don’t-tell’ detail.

In the endnote “About Basant,” Canada-based Khan gives a cultural and historical overview of Basant in her birthcountry of Pakistan. She explains in the final paragraph how “kite flying and the celebration of Basant in Lahore were banned for safety reasons and for security concerns due to orthodox religious opposition.” According to a recent Pakistani media article, “Hundreds have died in Basant related accidents in the past decade”! Khan mentions that 2013 was supposed to bring a return of Basant to Lahore, but activities remained cancelled until this year. At least in Lahore, Basant officially returns February 21 until March 5, 2014. Here’s to the promise to lofty adventures ahead!

Click here to see Khan’s other titles on BookDragon.

Readers: Children

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Canadian Asian Pacific American, Pakistani, Pakistani American, South Asian American

An Infidel in Paradise by S.J. Laidlaw

An Infidel in ParadiseEmma is hardly the typical Canadian teenager. At 16, she’s lived all over the world, thanks to her career diplomat mother, who Emma currently blames for all the latest terrible events in her life: she’s in yet another new country – this time Pakistan with some of the highest security risks for foreigners – and without the comfort of her father who has chosen to stay behind in the Philippines and start a new life with the former family maid.

On her first day at her Islamabad international school, Emma literally falls into the arms of a “gorgeous godlike creature,” Mustapha, as she trips off the school van, but her awe is short-lived when she’s challenged by his girlfriend, Aisha, who happens to be the queen bee everyone worships, or at least obeys. Unable to control her embarrassed anger, Emma egregiously blurts out in answer to Mustapha’s friendly question about his beloved country, “‘Well … there’s not a single mall, movie theater, or Caramel Frappuccino within a thousand miles, but there are huge poisonous reptiles, beggars on every street corner, and all the atmosphere of a maximum-security penitentiary. I’m just surprised there’s not more tourism.’” Uh-oh.

So much for first impressions! Not just for Emma, but for the reader, as well – the first few chapters couldn’t be filled with more hackneyed clichés (running off with the near-illiterate Asian maid because high-power Mommy had no time for emasculated Daddy? oh, puh-leeeeze!). Cringe, much?

But, wait! Patience will be rewarded. Really. Chalk off the wobbly start to a debut author’s inexperience because S.J. Laidlaw actually delivers quite the action packed, emotionally effective first novel. Emma finds good friends, including an older sage-like gentleman who teaches her how to make perfect chai, survives harrowing events, learns a thing or two about personal responsibility, and finally reigns in some of her bitter anger to repair her most important relationships.

Laidlaw’s back flap bio reveals she “has worked as a counselor in many countries and has led workshops for parents and educators on raising and working with third-culture children.” Perhaps channeling all her peripatetic experiences, she throws in everything but the proverbial kitchen sink here – arranged marriage, heroic servants, an “ice princess” with a heart of gold for homeless children, living in a constant war zone, burnt-out luxury cars, dog-murder – and somehow succeeds rather gloriously in crafting a compelling, resonating novel about coming of age in a land far, far away. Really.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, Canadian, Pakistani

The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam + Author Interview

Blind Man's GardenFrom the opening few pages of reading a Nadeem Aslam novel, I knew his writing was something to treasure and behold. Serendipitously, I used my then-day job to bring the Pakistan-born, British-educated-and-domiciled Aslam over the Pond to be a featured guest at the then-annual South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival (SALTAF) at the Smithsonian Institution. In SALTAF‘s eight-year history at the Smithsonian, Aslam’s Maps for Lost Lovers – published stateside just in time for his appearance –is the only book that has ever sold out its sizable inventory before the lunch break. Never before or since has another SALTAF author commanded such exceptional sales.

The Smithsonian reading public’s sophisticated taste resonated far beyond: Maps for Lost Lovers won the Kiriyama Prize, was longlisted for the Booker, shortlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Award, and named a New York Times Notable Book. Maps is a contemplative, intimate look at a Pakistani community in northern England – self-named “Dasht-e-Tanhaii,” meaning “The Wilderness of Solitude” or “The Desert of Loneliness” – where a pair of unmarried lovers go missing. Five months later, the woman’s brothers are charged with their murder, and the man’s older brother must bring not only the families, but their reeling community, back together.

After discovering Maps, I instantly declared groupie status: Aslam is one of less-than-a-handful of personal favorite authors whose latest title causes nervous paralysis. For fear of the potentially long wait ahead until the next book (because there must always be a next book!), I agonize for months, even years, before actually daring to open certain authors’ newest titles.

Three years following Maps, in 2008, The Wasted Vigil hit U.S. shelves; I waited almost five years to finally read the novel. In fact, until I had this year’s The Blind Man’s Garden in hand, I couldn’t even peek at Vigil‘s first page. What I eventually discovered was a book of extremes: Aslam wields his language like a weapon, his mellifluous prose in cutting contrast to the horrific acts witnessed in the name of God, patriotism, honor, truth, and even love. Weaving in and out of the turbulent decades of Afghanistan’s modern history, Vigil gathers the interconnected stories of four disparate lost souls – Marcus, a septuagenarian British ex-pat doctor; Lara, a Russian widow searching for her late brother; David, a former CIA operative; and Casa, an injured young fundamentalist Muslim.

Aslam traveled extensively through Pakistan and Afghanistan in order to write Vigil, as well as interviewing some 200 Afghan refugees living in Britain. His international, peripatetic background places Aslam simultaneously on both “sides” of an incomprehensible conflict; that unique dissonance imbues Vigil with its unfathomable opposites – its terror and beauty, its deception and truth, its abhorrent hatred and unconditional love.

With Vigil finished, I might have hoarded the promising potential of Aslam’s Garden for a few more years (as it was, I had the galley for a good six months before its publication date) – had I not been assigned this interview. As a bonus, I also had a copy of Aslam’s 1993 first novel, Season of the Rainbirds, which finally made its stateside debut in March of this year two decades after its British publication, clearly timed to overlap with the May publication of Garden.

Dovetailing the reading of Aslam’s first and latest books reveals unexpected parallels. Rainbirds – spare and atmospheric – proves to be a character study of a remote Pakistani village’s inhabitants after the murder of one of its leading citizens. Garden is another detailed, careful observation of a not-so-dissimilar isolated town in Pakistan, the spotlight shrunken onto a single extended family and what happens when two sons – one by birth, the other by informal adoption – disappear. Garden tunnels deep into the tragic “war on terror” to examine the very lives of the individuals who must live through (or not) the shattering decisions of faraway leaders, governments, and regimes. When one brother secretly decides to go to Afghanistan in hopes of caring for the human collateral damage from the post-9/11 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the other immediately decides to join him. Together (and too soon apart), they embark on a harrowing journey of Odyssean feats in an attempt to return home.

For readers who have experienced Aslam before (and the apt word really is “experience”), you’ll recognize (and be awed by) his mesmerizing prose in Garden. Of course that sense of awe comes at a high price for me: as grateful as I am for the one-to-one opportunity to chat, I remain bereft that preparing for our authorly exchange cost me all lingering comfort of knowing I still had more Aslam to read. Now having finished his entire oeuvre, I wait (and wait and wait). Patience is not my virtue.

Is it true that you write your novels by hand? Is that why I’ll have to wait so long for the next book? And how, if ever, does the computer play a part in your writing process?
I write the first draft longhand. There is a feeling of direct contact with the paper through the nib. And the words seem to be flowing from my mind into my hand, then down the pen, and onto the page – blood becoming ink. But after the first draft, I move everything onto the computer, mainly for editing. (I use an eight-year-old Dell laptop, very heavy and gray.) I print out each chapter in three font sizes: First in 12-point, which is my usual size. Then in eight-point – which is the smallest size available, so there are more words in each line – and therefore the eye reads faster, instinctively. The eye, in its hurry to get to the end of each line, takes in more words – so you think not about individual words but about the overall narrative and the storyline, the pacing. Then I print the chapter in 14-point – which means there are fewer words in each line, so the eye slows down, and you do think about every word – the weight of it, the lightness of it. [... click here for sooooo much more]

Author interview: Feature: “An Interview with Nadeem Aslam,” Bookslut.com, July 2013

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ...Author Interview/Profile, ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, Afghan, British Asian, Pakistani

The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam

Blind Man's GardenWho needs films when writers like Nadeem Aslam can create such eloquent canvases that no celluloid could ever hope to project? Blind Man’s Garden takes you deep into the tragic ‘war on terror’ and shows you the very lives of the individuals who must live through (or not) the shattering decisions of faraway leaders, governments, and regimes.

Mikal and Jeo grow up as brothers in a small town in Pakistan – Jeo is the son of former schoolmaster Rohan who takes in Mikal and his older brother Basie when they lose their own parents. When Jeo, training to be a doctor, secretly decides to go to Afghanistan in hopes of caring for the human collateral damage from the post-9/11 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Mikal immediately decides to join him.

Both young men leave behind their shared family, including the same beloved, Naheed – she who loved Mikal first, but married Jeo at last. The brothers embark on a Odyssean journey to nowhere fueled by a fierce hope to return home. With all their fates unknown, Naheed mourns and waits, her mother Tara desperately fights what she believes is inevitable, and Rohan attempts to save another man’s young boy as he was unable to save his late wife from eternal damnation. The family, splintered by ideologies and violence gone awry, will never be the same again … and yet somehow, a much-transformed new family will inevitably survive …

In spite of needing to finish Aslam’s fourth and latest novel because of a looming interview deadline (I know, lucky me!), I lost all my usual reading alacrity as I approached book’s end, so as to avoid actually reaching that final page. Now as I ready myself for the authorly exchange, I’m bereft that that preparation cost me any lingering comfort of knowing I still had more Aslam to read. Alas, I must settle into waiting mode for his next novel; and patience was never, ever my virtue.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, Afghan, British Asian, Pakistani

Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid

Moth SmokeLet’s work ourselves from the outside in … that is, from the first and last pages, and so on towards the novel’s center.

Outermost layer 1 (presented in italics): The aging, ailing Emperor Shah Jahan asks a Sufi saint which of his sons will inherit his coveted throne.

Penultimate layer 2 (chapters one and nine, italics lost): An unnamed man in a jail cell “full of shadows” receives an envelope … and eventually begins to read.

The core: The prime characters just happen to share the names of Emperor Shah Jahan’s family. Did you pay attention? And what exactly are their relationships to each other?

Darushikoh Shezad is the man accused. In brave new Pakistan – powered by cell phones and the growing possibility of nuclear power – the once promising Daru has been fired from his bank job. Unable to find work, he loses himself further when his recreational drug use becomes abusive, fueled by his sometime dealer Murad. Recently reunited with his childhood best friend Aurangzeb (Ozi, to his nearest and dearest) who has returned to Pakistan with his American degrees, Daru is immediately enthralled by his almost-brother’s gorgeous new wife Mumtaz. As the title hints, think moths – far too close to the proverbial flame …

Mohsin Hamid – Pakistani-born, Princeton and Harvard educated, peripatetically domiciled – layers, weaves, and transforms his global experiences to create a rare debut novel that hit shelves 13 years ago with confidence and grace, engaging and disturbing both. If you’re wondering about the audible version, it’s read by actor Satya Babha (watch for him in Deepa Mehta’s film adaptation of Midnight’s Children, hitting U.S. theaters this May), and is quite an enriched experience – Babha’s affected stutter for Murad (not on the page), for example, is a daring enhancement.

In the decade-plus that follows Hamid’s lauded literary entry (Moth won a 2001 Betty Trask Award, was a finalist for the 2001 PEN/Hemingway Award, and shortlisted for the 2001 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book), time had only made him better: The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia are both not-to-be-missed-read-right-now(!) titles. That said, I must responsibly offer a sobering reminder: savor Hamid’s novels wisely, because patience will need to be a virtue while we wait, wait, wait for his as-yet-unpublished titles to come.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2000

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Pakistani

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising AsiaI realize it’s only March, but I’m pretty convinced Mohsin Hamid‘s latest will be one of my top three favorites for 2013. True, such a pronouncement might seem rash in a year that will see new titles from Nadeem Aslam (The Blind Man’s Garden next month), Khaled Hosseini (And the Mountains Echoed in May), and Jumpha Lahiri (The Lowland in September). But life is short … so I judge instantly.

If Tash Aw’s latest Five Star Billionaire (his best novel thus far – my review’s been filed and will cross-post here soon-ish) was a savory, satisfying appetizer evoking a taste of accelerating economic power on the other side of the world, then Rich is a complex, rewarding dessert with the perfect blend of lightness and depth.

In another ‘gawww’-induced case of less-is-more (just read Rich already!), here’s a simple overview: the youngest child in a poor rural family moves to the city, becomes a wealthy magnate, and reveals in 12 seemingly simple steps the secrets of his vast success. Lest you think such a tale is all too familiar, I promise you this is a lasting original.

Hamid is a most clever trickster – masterfully sly like no other! – and in just 228 pages, he manages to create a literary tapestry comprised of an everlasting first-love story (“‘Do I look as old as you do?’”), a skewering parody (“The master at whose feet you metaphorically squat is a middle-aged man with the long fingers of an artist and the white-tufted ear hair of a primate resistant to lethal tympanic parasites”), a Midas-scale tragedy (“You take this news as well as possible, which is to say you do not die”), and ultimately, quite the treatise on reading and writing and the intricate relationship in between (“Readers don’t work for writers. They work for themselves. Therein, if you’ll excuse the admittedly biased tone, lies the richness of reading.”)

Presented in a playful, almost cajoling vernacular addressed to ‘you,’ Rich is too delightful to miss. As I said, life is short … read this instantly.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ...Absolute Favorites, ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, Pakistani

The Wish Maker by Ali Sethi

I confess the main reason I finally plucked this debut novel (written by its author when he was just 23) from my never-shrinking ‘to-read’ pile was because I found the audible version is narrated by Indian American actor Firdous Bamji. After finishing Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide, I was missing Bamji’s transporting characterizations … alas, even Bamji couldn’t bring enough sparkle to the ultimately disappointing, overwritten family saga.

Wish Maker basically begins where it will end (don’t worry: no spoilers): narrator Zaki Shirazi arrives in his native Pakistan from his U.S. college in the first chapter to attend the wedding of his cousin-raised-as-his-sister Samar Api, the event which will mark the novel’s end. Over the 400-plus pages in between, we meet the many women – yes, the men are mostly absent – that shape and influence Zaki’s young life: his imperious, power-wielding conservative grandmother who is the family matriarch; his widowed, liberal, feminist mother often at odds with the matriarch; and, of course, his free-spirited, rule-defying cousin-sister Samar Api (who is, actually, Zaki’s father’s first cousin, the daughter of his grandmother’s younger sister, to be absolutely accurate).

Sethi gingerly overlays three generations of Pakistan’s tumultuous history – from its violent separation from East Pakistan-turned-Bangladesh to the controversial leadership of Benazir Bhutto to the country’s ongoing struggles toward democracy – with reminders of the unexpected influences of western pop culture (The Wonder Years!) and the closer-to-home fantasies created by Bollywood. Sethi is never overtly political except to allow Zaki’s mother an occasional anti-colonial diatribe, but he does remain keenly aware of the inequity of gender-based privilege throughout. Undoubtedly, the characterization of Samar Api’s mother remains the most memorable by story’s end.

I (again) confess that I don’t have any glaring, obvious reasons as to why Wish Maker eventually proved so lackadaisical a read (and listen); surely it seems to have had all the potential elements to be stupendous (including that 23-year-old wunderkind bravado!). But bottom line: at 432 hardcover pages or 11 hours in narration, such a time commitment is inevitably better spent with others … in Pakistan alone, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Kamila Shamsie, Mohammad Hanif, Mohsin Hamid, Bapsi Sidhwa all beckon with unforgettable tales.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Pakistani, Pakistani American

Leo the Snow Leopard: The True Story of an Amazing Rescue by Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, and Craig Hatkoff

Given this morning’s short flurries here in DC, had to post something with SNOW in the title!

Welcome to Leo‘s world, brought to you by the same bestselling, award-winning Hatkoff family team that introduced the world to the heartwarming hippo/tortoise duo, Owen and Mzee. That literary sensation has spawned a whole series, The Turtle Pond Collection, which brings “remarkable stories of hope and friendship about real animals and real wold issues …” Inspiring indeed, huh?

Their latest heartwarming true story takes readers to the high peaks of the Karakoram mountains in Pakistan where baby Leo was found mewing, lost, and hungry, his mother nowhere in sight. Because snow leopard cubs need some two years with their mother to learn the skills to survive life in their treacherous natural habitat of freezing temperatures amidst tall mountains, Leo was at grave risk out there “all alone.” Temporarily adopted by a goat herder and his family, Leo eventually finds his home thousands of miles away in New York’s Bronx Zoo.

If I tell you too much here about Leo’s journey filled with seeming impossibilities, then you won’t need to read the book …. and that would be a shame because you need to at least see all the wonderful photos within. Leo is not camera-shy, that’s for sure. Plus, happy stories read together cuddled under warm blankets while the world outside turns snowy white are what this holiday season is all about, right …? So don’t miss this cozy sharing opportunity …

Readers: Children

Published: 2010

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Nonfiction, Nonethnic-specific, Pakistani

At Home with Madhur Jaffrey: Simple, Delectable Dishes from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka by Madhur Jaffrey

What perfect timing! Madhur Jaffrey‘s newest cookbook makes for a toothsome companion to one of last week’s posts, Indivisible, the first anthology that brings together contemporary American poets who trace their roots to Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Put the two titles together and you’ll be salivating over the unlimited possibilities for literary feasts: read a few choice pieces from Indivisible, then prepare and share some delectable delights from Jaffrey’s latest. Without a doubt, Jaffrey is the empress of the South Asian kitchen for the most delicious reasons and her new cookbook is a gorgeous, colorful spread for the eyes as well as the palate.

South Asian cooking often seems “daunting,” Jaffrey admits, because of what seems to be a complex combination of just-right spices and seasonings. But Jaffrey is determined to simplify some of those recipes for you here, and even promises to “hold your hand through the entire process with clear instructions and detailed explanations.” How can you turn away from such an enticing offer as that?

My tummy’s already rumbling again … Salmon in a Bengali Mustard Sauce, Everyday Moong Dal, Green Lentils with Green Bean and Cilantro, Peach Salad, all enhanced by the perfect cup of Masala Chai … read and eat. Read and eat some more … mmmm, mmmmm, mmmmmmm …

Readers: Adult

Published: 2010

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Bangladeshi, Indian, Indian American, Pakistani, Sri Lankan