Living Dead

It was another sad day yesterday.

A brave Minister lost his life to the terror he was dedicated to eradicating. A young police officer became a victim of the evil he professionally was determined to defeat. Along with them many more were martyred by the impure people, who have killed thousands in the Land of Pure.

This happened just two days after the Land of Pure had celebrated its most Pure Peaceful Independence Day in many years. The dark night of terror seemed to be giving way to a Dawn of Peace. It all now seems a wishful thinking.

The bullets of terror and despair take the lives of their targets. The targets go to a peaceful world.

Yet they leave behind many grieving and mourning for them forever.

My heart today goes to the mothers, wives, fathers, children, sisters and brothers of the martyrs. They must have the satisfaction that their loved ones perished while fighting a noble battle for their country and their people.

Yet in moments of extreme loneliness, will the widows of the martyrs not crave for a warm hand to hold, for shoulder to cry on and for someone to talk to. As the children or grandchildren celebrate milestones, will she not long for her life partner to share those joys with her?

A mother gives birth to a son and her greatest wish is that her son buries her. He takes care of her in her old age. Who will take care of the mothers of the martyrs? Who will bury them? Will she not miss her son as she grows old?

I think of the children of the martyrs. Children of any age need a father to be their protector, counselor and friend. No matter how old children become, they miss their fathers, if they are not around. Children of the martyrs would miss their parents at each and every milestone of their lives.

Think of an old father who has to bury his son, his anchor of support. Think of a sister, whose brother had to arrange a dowry for her. Think of a brother, whose brother had to educate him.

How do these people live? How does a plant live without water? It withers away. Do they whither? Do they live?
Do we care about them? Maybe we bury them also along with the dead. For I do not know of any effort made to reach out to these people who have lost their treasures in the hunt for terror.

For us they are living dead….but should they be living dead?

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I am a Father!

It was a cold December night. Darkness had spread everywhere. I had waited for nine hours sitting on the wooden chair and walking to and fro in the corridors of the hospital in Peshawar.

Many times I had asked the nurses if all was fine and they had replied that I must wait. I had prayed constantly. Then at around mid-night time, a smiling nurse had come to tell me that I had become a father to a son. Few minutes later, my son was in my arms. He was healthy, full of life and to me the most handsome boy in the world.

Many years later, in the same hospital, my son left me alone in the world. He lived for only 15 years. In those 15 years, he gave me 15 million smiles and many million hopes and dreams.

One day he would grow up to be a doctor or an engineer or maybe a lawyer. I would be an old man. He would look after me and his mother. We would not have much money as all our money would be spent on his education but he would be a well to do man. So we would not have to worry about our expenses.

He would have a caring wife and loving children. I would spend my old age being taken care of and being loved by all of them. Then one day I would die and he would carry me to the graveyard and pray for me.

All my dreams died on 16 December 2014. I had dropped him at the school. He had promised to walk back to home directly from the school as there were exams to be prepared for. He loved cricket and at times would stop to play cricket with the boys but today he had to return home early. He had hugged me and I had wished him for the exams.

On way to my office I had prayed hard for his success in exams. Little did I know that by mid-day I would be praying for his life. I prayed hard but Allah knows the best.

I had to carry him to the graveyard. I laid him to rest in the grave. He was a bit too young to need eternal rest.

As the grave closed, I wanted the grave to open and be buried with him. I wanted to weep but I had to be the pillar of strength for my wife and my daughters.

They had lost a son and a brother. They needed compassion and support. They could cry but I had to be strong yet in the evenings and nights, I go for a walk to the graveyard. I sit next to his grave crying for hours. He was my best friend.

As I cry at the grave, I think of the men who took away the treasure of my life from me. Did they not have children? Did they not have fathers?

But I have no answers to my questions. I wipe my tears and walk back home, strong and steady for I am a father.

Perceptions and biases!

As I got on to the train for Moscow at St. Petersburg station, my mother sent me an SMS that read as follows:
So you are on the train, must be full of suspicious people. I am so worried!

Mothers do worry. As I looked around, the train did not have a single suspicious person. They were people like me. Most
of them busy with their electronic gadgets. Some already asleep, some getting ready to sleep.

The train crew did not understand what I was saying but was willing to do anything to make me comfortable. I had the
most memorable journey.

Mothers worry. If they did not, they would not be mothers.

It is not only my mother. I have discovered that my fondness for Russia has invoked quite a few questions from my
friends too. Most of them have been unable to comprehend my fascination with Russia.

When I went to Russia the first time, I had expected men and women in dark fur coats who did not smile. I had expected
frowning and screaming people. I had expected immigration people who would not look at me, but would deport me.

I had expected the hotels to be dark and without much food. I had thought a walk in the town was unthinkable. I also
imagined that the shops would not have anything. Taxis were not to be trusted but then no one was to be trusted in
Russia.

Politics were not to be discussed. American and European channels were banned. Everything would be black or red!
I was proved wrong. You can walk in the middle of the night in Kremlin and no one will say anything. You can discuss
politics in cafes and you are not arrested. You can find any type of shops in Russia. It has every colour building. It
is like a fairy tale and not a ghost story.

Its people just like many other people want to get on with lives, want a future for themselves and their children.
Does it sound familiar? Does it sound like a story of Pakistan or any country in war with perceptions?

I could feel an empathy with the people of Russia. Just like us, Pakistanis, they need a visa for every place in the
world almost. Just like us, they are misunderstood. Just like us they are interrogated at the immigrations around the
world. Just like us, their whole country is considered dangerous. Just like us, they are fighting a battle against
biases and perceptions.

And yet I went to Russia with my perceptions and biases.

So may years of living in a country that has battled perception and biases, I should have challenged perceptions and
biases. Wonder why did I not?

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Sabeen; the dream!

I did not know Sabeen Mahmud, just like I did not know the school children of Peshawar or the thousands killed in target
killings and Shia-Sunni sectarian conflicts in Pakistan.

What I do know that they all were senseless killings!

All done by men who would not be able to live in peace with their conscience and if they are able to live, then there is
a Divine Justice.

Ever since the massacre of school children massacre in Peshawar, I have spent hours trying to rationalise how could
someone, who could be a father, a son, a brother, kill innocent children. There is no rationalisation. They are mad
people.

Sabeen’s killing last week shocked me, even when it should not have shocked me. By now I should accept, in Pakistan no
one should dare to speak the truth, no one should dare to dream, no one should dare to challenge the status quo, no one
should dare to have a difference of opinion. No one should dare to think of a better enlightened Pakistan!

In fact, in Pakistan of today, thinking should be banned! For if you think, then you may not live!

Sad, unfortunate, devastating but that is the truth!

And yet why do I not accept the truth. Why inside me somewhere, there is always a voice urging me to think positive. To
dream of an enlightened Pakistan that will emerge out of discourse, discussion and diversity.

To work for it and that voice at times rebukes me for being thousands of miles away from Pakistan, for being a deserter!
Pakistan for me is my pride. It is my identity. I have returned to Pakistan every time with a dream of doing something
for my country.

Has it become a crime to dream in Pakistan? I think it has but it is a crime worth committing.

I wish Pakistan was all gloom and doom but it is not. It is a country, for which people like Sabeen have given their
lives. If they were alive today, would they have given up on Pakistan! I do not think so.

Just because some senseless men killed their dreams, should we stop caring for Pakistan and living a life that would not
be a tribute to their legacy.

If Peshawar was devastating, Sabeen’s killing was wrecking, if this is how I feel, what would be the loved one of those
dear departed be feeling. If not for those gone, but for those living, we still need to dream and care for a Patient
Pakistan!

Hard but Achievable!

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I am an immigrant!

I have come to characterise London as a cosmopolitan city always on run. Its disciplined demonstration is the underground station in the morning. People of delightful diversity are running to catch train and get to work.
My mornings are mad missions to get ready, stuff breakfast and get to the office yet at the underground station; I lose the urgency to get to rush. I stand still on the escalator, witnessing the spectacle of humanity on run and analysing the advertisements on display finding anything of interest.

A few days back, came across advertisements proclaiming I am immigrant! A keen follower of British election debates, where immigration remains a passionately pleaded subject, I became intrigued.

I am immigrant campaign aims at integration of immigrants I think but it made me think of immigrants. The pictures on display that I saw were of taxi drivers, police men, nurses and teachers. I know of many immigrants who are business executive, social workers, sportsmen, lawyers and business tycoons. I also have heard of many immigrants who only came to this country to get the maximum benefits and who over the years have used the benefits unfairly.
To immigrate to a new country is not an easy decision. I have taken this decision many times. Even if your home country is as challenged as Pakistan, that is where your roots are. Your belongings are, your connection are, your identity is! That is where your loved ones are. Your joys and sorrows are!

You leave your country but you long for it. I have left my country four times in the hope of expanding my horizons and every time returning with horizons expanded. I know even this time, I would return with far broadened horizons with a far greater ambition to do good for my people.

So when I hear politicians debating immigration, I can appreciate all the perspectives. I will never forget the taxi driver who once drove me to the Heathrow airport.

He was a disturbed man at crossroads with his identity. He had grown up in an England where maybe immigrants were not in abundance. He now lived in an England where he saw immigrants everywhere. They were marrying English, they were buying English properties, and they were taking up jobs.

He shared his agony with a girl who definitely was not English. Somehow I was able to console him, for I tried to visualise as to how my grandparents or parents would react if Pakistan was to be taken over by non-Pakistanis.

London over the years has changed. I had Fish and Chips at a Halal Arabic cafe that day. Marks and Spencer sells Madras Curry Sauces. Sainsbury sells Halal food.

To see your country being taken over by others cultures, culinary and concerns must be terrifying.

But you know what I love London for is something I miss massively in Lahore is the opportunity to talk to people of all cultures. I spend my Saturdays in a Greek cafe just because so many different people come there and sometimes I talk to them about their countries, aspirations and ambitions.
We all miss our roots and dream of the day when we return to our roots to enrich our roots with the learnings of diversity and opportunity that London is.
So I am an immigrant who pays taxes, uses benefits and understand not all immigrants are same as me but then nowhere is there equality. But for the opportunity to know of the inequality called diversity I am thankful to London!

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Metro and Kensington

merto I have had an apartment in London for more than six months!

My relation with my apartment is similar to a passenger’s relationship with the waiting room of a rail station. As I wait for my next trip, I use the apartment to do laundry, eat some take away food, check the post and sleep in my bed. Nothing is in order and I cannot care!

This month as I have been at the apartment for two weeks at a stretch, my apartment feels like a home! It is clean and organised with a refrigerator full of things to eat and drink. I also have had time to explore my neighborhood at last too!

By the way I live in an area in London that has proved to be a bit of an embarrassment for me.

In my defence, I have to say I had a few objectives while searching for an apartment. I wanted to live near the office. I did not want to buy a car. I wanted electricity/gas bills to be included in the rent. Most importantly, I wanted a very small and a very secure apartment. I trusted my negotiation skills to get a good value for money.

Thankfully I got what I desired.

A small apartment in Kensington! If you are ever around, drop in for a cup of coffee or tea.

By now I have got used to being greeted with a mix of astonishment and curiosity at the location of my apartment, as thought is only the rich and affluent can live in Kensington!

But it was not always like this, I have discovered many hundred years back, Kensington was a mix of people from diverse economic and social backgrounds.

Prime Ministers, ministers, actors, writers, artists, men and women of wealth lived in Kensington along with gardeners, cleaners, maids, cooks, artisans and labourers. They lived in a separate area and their apartments were a far cry from the mansions of their masters.

Today however in Kensington, generally, with a few exceptions like me, only the very rich live.

The underground apparently changed it all.

As the underground came into existence, travel became easier. Kensington became a place only for the rich and apartments of less rich people were converted into extremely expensive blocks of apartments, shopping and parking areas.

Will Metro do the same to Lahore! Will Metro a divide Lahore between rich and not rich?

Does Lahore need to be divided by a Metro or is Lahore already divided! Underground made travel equal for all, Metro has further endorsed the division between those who have and those who do not have as it is only used by what our politicians would call the poor people of Pakistan!

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Prayers for You!

I live in Peshawar. I shudder to watch television ever since 16 December 2014. I had the television on as I did household chores. At around noon time, there was breaking news.

I live in a country where on daily basis we get breaking news of bombs and bullets.  I stopped my household work to listen to the breaking news.

I need not turn the volume up to know what was happening. On screen was the school of my son, my only son. The school had been attacked by Islamists. Children were being killed. Army was fighting them. There was too much detail and all I cared to know was whether my son was alive.

I ran out of my house. I ran, prayed; fell down on the ground thinking of any eventuality that I did not want to think of. I got up and ran hard. I got to the school. They would not let me go in.

Ambulances were running in and out of the school. They told me to go to the hospital. I had no strength to run to the hospital. So they put me in a van going to the hospital. In the hospital, I searched for my son among the living. I searched for hours. He could not leave me alone in this world. He had to be alive!

I was wrong. He had left me alone in this world.  When I found his dead body, it was bullet ridden. They had shot him in the head, the head that I had kissed in the morning before he went to the school.

Ever since that day I do not watch the television but few days back, I had nothing to do and I switched on the television. It had scenes of shooting, of parents running here and there, of innocent blood splashed on the walls, of dreams ruined by devils. There were ambulances racing and people weeping.

It reminded me of 16 December 2014 and Peshawar!  The scenes looked the same. The mourning mothers looked like me. Yet it was Kenya and not Pakistan.

As I saw parents burying their children in Kenya, reminded I was of the day when hundreds of parents in Peshawar had buried their children, their hopes and themselves too. Their lives would not be the same and they would always look for reasons. Many young people in Kenya were killed because they were not Muslims.

My child was a Muslim. He prayed five times a day, fasted 30 days a month and was a pious boy. He would have grown up to be a model follower of Islam yet he was killed in the name of Islam just like the children in Kenya were.

If religion was the reason for the deaths of your children, what was the fault of my son? I brought up my son to believe that Allah loves peace and HIs Messenger Propher Muhammad (S.A.W.) spread Islam peacefully, as death would have come near to him, would he have believed me or the killers chanting the name of Allah.

I think he would have believed his mother and just like him, you have to believe a mother. The religion of the killers of your children could be death, devastation, disaster and all this has no place in Islam. My prayers are with your son and my son and all of you and all of us.

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My dearest Son, I miss you

I remember last year on my birthday, I had got up in the morning to find a bunch of flowers waiting for me with a hand made card from you. It said you love me the most in the world. It promised you will take care of me always.

Today I need your care. I am not well. Doctors tell me not to take stress. I have no stress in my life anymore.

My only stress used to be your grades. I worried whether you will go on to be a doctor. Everything is so competitive these days.

My life revolved around you. Making meals for you, getting your clothes ready and helping you with homework.

I have no dreams left. My dreams were for you. I had hoped you would grow up to be a doctor, to get married, to have children, to be looked after by you in my old age and the to be carried by you to my grave.

All my prayers were for you. I spent hours on the prayer mat praying for your success and safety.

Now I pray too, to give me courage to accept that my son, who was my life and my world is no longer in this world. He has gone to a better world, where there is no chaos and violence.

I also pray that what happened to my son on that unforgettable and unfortunate day in December, in Peshawar does not happen to anyone. When I see bullets being fired in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Palestine, I wonder who created weapons of destruction and why. Did they not have any children?

Your father says we need to accept your loss as Will of Allah. I have accepted His Will that very day, when my son left the world.

If I cry, I cry wondering whether my son’s death made any difference to my country. Is it a safer country? Have the people who inspired the killers of my son, making them think they were doing a holy act arrested? Will they commit this kind of action again? Is my son forgotten by his country people? As I think I feel helpless and angry and I cry.

On my birthday, I wish a very happy birthday to all mothers. I pray you see the happiness of your children, you see them safely going and coming back from school. You see them growing up to be the dream of your life.

I also have a request, pray for my son and if possible, in your own way do something to make his mother feel, his life did not go in vain.

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I have to be right!

By now I have been a resident of London for six months. London grows on you especially on people like me who have always loved London for the feeling of empowerment. It is one of the most cosmopolitan city, maybe New York is too, but London is polite, prim and proper.

London is magic. It has the tremendous capacity to embrace anyone. For a city where people mind their business, this is an incredible characteristic to have. In London, you can wear anything, you can talk anything, you can eat anything and no one will commend or condemn.

The underground in London makes me feel massively mobile. I need not have a car and yet can go anywhere, not all the time, but soon all the time.

Unlike US where you many be complimented on your dress, on your bag, the chances of compliment in London are rare. There are times when I want to say to a child that he or she is cute but London limits interaction and for that I like London. My business remains my business, my privacy maintained.

Recently a European friend of mine visited London. To her everything was wrong in London. I however think she was wrong at times.

At the underground escalator, she stood in the centre talking to me and I told her not to do and she did not listen. She was of course shouted at. She kept on doing it and kept on getting shouted at.

She was wrong but she said people in London need to be more accommodating.
I will never do improper things. I make a conscious effort to be always right. Yesterday at the airport, by mistake, my laptop bag hit the laptop bag of a passenger. I stood and apologised massively. He said it is fine but to me it was not fine.

I am a Pakistani, a very proud one. I want to be the admirable ambassador of Pakistan. I know I carry the burden of sins not committed yet I think if I am a law abiding person, the sins would be washed. My Oyster Card must have credit, my bills must be paid, I should always be in the queue.

When I was looking for an apartment, I had at times wondered whether my passport would prevent me from getting a flat but it did not. The owner had confidence in me, of course questions were asked, but they were answered. I have promised myself the flat has to be well maintained at all times. A few weeks back, on an inspection I was told I have the most well maintained flat. I had a scone and cream to celebrate my success. A Pakistani can be trusted.

I do know even if I am not right, London will be patient but I have a point to prove. Everytime my green passport leads me to be questioned, I promise myself I need to make it proud. That is why I need to be more than just right.

I have to prove to London and to the world, Pakistanis can be clean, competent and consciously ethical. I know I alone cannot make it happen but I do know someone has to start and for that if I have to be more right than even right, I will do it.

When death comes to me I want to die satisfied at least I would be remembered as a Pakistani who was honest, humble, rightful and ethical. I do know I am not alone, millions of Pakistani all over the world must be on the same mission as me. It takes a few good people to change realities and I am confident will not have to wait for death, in my lifetime my green passport would become an identity to be displayed proudly.

Till then and after then I have to be right!

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Lahore and London

So I am back in London and I miss Lahore. In Lahore I missed London.

Why do I miss Lahore? It had one of the most worst petrol, electricity and gas crisis in the middle of one of the hardest winters in Lahore. Fog out ruled any possibility of enjoying sunshine at regular stretches of times. At times I thought London had more sunshine and was more warm!

Even then I miss Lahore for its familiarity, its laid back attitude towards life and its incredible ability to remain calm in the face of turbulence.

Bombs may explode, conflicts may go on. Lahore will keep its head down and focus on its own growth for Lahore has sense and sensibility along with sensitivity and creativity. Whereas other capital cities like Peshawar, Quetta and even Karachi have struggled to have infrastructures and cleanliness, Lahore is a model of developed infrastructures, centre of learning and by Pakistan standards a clean city.

People of Lahore have been rewarded for their unflinching support of Shariff brothers. Whereas the rest of Pakistan has experimented, Lahore has played safe in electing representatives.

To very high energy people, it gives space to breathe for sometime for it is highly predictable.

When I started working in Lahore, I could not understand as to why tea was always accompanied with many things to eat.

I could not understand as to why the welfare of all the family members and friends have to be inquired about before the meeting would start. I could not understand as to why more important than my ability to do work right was my family background.

Over the years I have come to understand. In Lahore everyone who matters knows everyone who matters. You need to prove you have credible family lineage.

Food is the main entertainment of people of Lahore. On a rainy day they would skip the office to enjoy samosas and pakoras! By nature Lahoris are generous. They are home to a shining example of generosity, the Shaukat Khanum hospital.

Personal networks are as important as professional networks and very thin line separates them.

The safety people of Lahore feel is rare in Pakistan. It is as if Lahore is a mini state within Pakistan, peaceful, prosperous, posh and pretty. This is the Pakistan every Pakistani would want and maybe that is why I love Lahore.

London is similar and yet opposite to Lahore. It is a high energy city but with plenty of places to relax and ponder. London is not judgmental. London aims for inclusiveness. London tolerates diversity. London knows when to raise a voice. The kind of crisis Lahore goes through due to petrol, electricity and gas shortages would have made London protest.

In London it is easy to ask from where are you for no matter from where you are, London would make you feel at home.

Yet in London I miss Lahore and in Lahore I miss London. Maybe they are two extremes. In London everyone leads their own life, in Lahore your life could be everyone’s business. They are both right and maybe I want both the approaches in my life.

Maybe I at times I want to gossip, maybe at times I need my own space. So I am content splitting my life between the two cities and having the best of both the worlds.

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