Episode 6: A Closer Look at Pakistan
Through the Eyes of a Stand-up Comedian and a Journalist
February 10, 2022 — Stand-up comedian Saad Haroon and journalist Yusra Askari talk about freedom of expression, comedy and cultural taboos, and domestic politics in their home country of Pakistan. The episode is part of A Closer Look, a series hosted by Asia Society Switzerland with the support of BDO and the Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies of the University of Zurich, shedding light on different Asian countries through the eyes of leading local voices. Other episodes in the series cover Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan, and Sri Lanka. (59 min., 56 sec.)
Where to go and what to eat in Pakistan
Saad recommends going everywhere, as every place offers different things to do. One place you probably wouldn't want to miss is Karachi, where chicken tikka was invented. While the dish has been culturally appropriated in various forms (chicken tikka masala, chicken tikka pizza), Karachi is the place to go for the real thing, says Saad. "If I'm stuck on a desert island, that's the food I would choose to have everyday if I could." What makes it so good? The distance from the barbecue to your plate is very small, making it piping hot and fresh – and it's also really spicy.
Yusra suggests starting in Karachi, progressing up along the seaside, driving up all the way to the north, where you can see some of the highest peaks in the world. As for food, Yusra strongly recommends the bun kebab, Pakistan's very own desi burger. It consists of a lentil patty covered with an egg, and it also has a potato variant. "It's the nicest, cheapest, easiest snack you can pick up anywhere in Pakistan."
What to read or watch about Pakistan
For Yusra, the Pakistani music TV program Coke Studio is one of the country's greatest ambassadors. By promoting diversity through a wide repertoire of musical genres and cultures, the program brings to the fore some of Pakistan's greatest multicultural assets. Yusra's message to everyone: "Go and listen in, find us your favorite [songs] and come back to us. We'll send you our recommendations as well."
TikTok, says Saad, is "the most democratic thing that has happened for the people in a very long time," since anyone with a cell phone can create and upload content. TikTok shows you what people in Pakistan are doing on a basic day-to-day level.
Saad Haroon, awarded 2nd place in the Funniest Person In The World Competition, is a world renowned comedian, writer and performer who also created Pakistan’s first improvisational comedy troupe ‘BlackFish’. He has written five solo shows and performed in prestigious venues all over the world including the Southbank Centre in London and the world-famous Laugh Factory in Hollywood. He created, hosted and was head-writer for ‘The Real News’, Pakistan’s first English language comedy show on television. His work has been featured in publications and news media across the world including The Huffington Post, NPR, The Guardian, BBC, AlJazeera, The Telegraph, The Young Turks, and many more. He was also a popular morning show host on CityFM 89 for three years and is currently working on a new solo stand-up show that will debut later this year.
Yusra Askari is a print and electronic media journalist and an Asia 21 fellow. Having begun her professional career teaching art history at her alma mater, she is currently the Pakistan correspondent for New Delhi Television Limited (NDTV), promoting better cross-border ties, one story at a time. A supporter of numerous charitable causes, from the Kashmir earthquake to the Thar drought, she has worked on a number of social welfare initiatives, both in a personal capacity and with organizations such as the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation and the Edhi Foundation. She is also a member of The Kidney Centre Youth Initiative. A strong proponent of a less hostile regional narrative and increased people-to-people interaction, Yusra is a former visiting fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in Mumbai. Her writing has been published in Herald, Libas, HELLO! Pakistan, Paper Magazine, Good Times, The Friday Times, Destinations, OK, Express Tribune, The News, Daily Times, and the Hindustan Times. Yusra received her degree in textile design from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture.