Tuesday, 3 November 2015

The Power of Stories

Very few people in Pakistan know that Polish citizens played a very important role in the early formation of Pakistan Air Force. After the WW II, when Poland became a communist country, many Polish Air Force officers working with the Royal Air Force began to move to United States, Australia, Norway and Canada. Around thirty Polish officers and technicians opted to move to Pakistan in 1948 on a three-year contract. They served as instructors and other technical staff. They were among the pioneers. A number of them stayed beyond their three-year contract.

Young training cadets of RPAF College Risalpur with instructor Pilot Flt Lt. M Gorzula
Air Commodore Wladyslaw Turowicz and his section at PAF Museum, Karachi

A fine Polish officer Wladyslaw Turowicz became a Pakistani citizen and rose to the rank of Air Commodore in 1960. In 1966, the Government of Pakistan transferred him to SUPARCO, as the administrator and chief scientist. As the administrator, he revitalized and initiated the space program. He was awarded Sitara-e-Pakistan, Sitara-e-Imtiaz, (Mil) among other honors for his services to the Pakistan’s space program. Zofia, Turowicz's wife, taught gliding to the cadets in Karachi and Rawalpindi between 1950 and 1954. Later, she joined Karachi University and taught applied mathematics and particle physics there. She was also awarded the Pride of Performance and Sitara-i-Imtiaz for her services. Turowicz's son is currently working at SUPARCO as an aerospace engineer and chief scientist.

We humans like to stereotype. Our perceptions about a group of people, communities and nations are based on our experiences with individuals and the stories that we hear about them. So what would a commoner have thought of Polish people if the above story was widely known in Pakistan. I think that the mental image would have changed from something distant, remote and unknown to friendly, intelligent and helpful people. Such mental images also affect all future interactions between communities and nations. After all, the Turkish image of Pakistani people is mainly based upon the Khilafat movement of 1920s. Same is true for a number of negative images and stereotypes. That is the power of stories.

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