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Daddy

  • June 18, 2017
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When I close my eyes and think of my first memory of this world and my life, Daddy, my grandfather is the star of the memory.

He had taken me to have a look at a train. In the train, was a man cooking food. I asked Daddy why was he cooking so much food. He replied that the man was happy that I had come to visit him. So he was cooking a lot of food.

I remember asking Daddy as to why Peshawar had so many lights on a day in August. He replied that Peshawar was happy to have a visit from me.

Now Peshawar was decorated for the Independence Day and the man in the train was cooking food for the passengers. Daddy however had made me feel so very special. Many years later when I realised the truth, I was not angry with Daddy. He was teaching a very young girl a very important lesson. Make people feel special!

Daddy came to settle me in Dublin. He would talk to everyone in Dublin. He could have a chat with the bus conductor on the bus routes. He could talk to the taxi drivers on the changing world. He could talk to the women in the parks about their dogs. He did not need to know a person to have a conversation.

On reflection he talked as he believed by talking people would come together.

He would always be asking people if they could employ someone he knew.He would always be asking us all for new year diaries and calendars. I wondered why? Well he wanted to help people with jobs. As for diaries and calendars, I guess as he loved writing diary, he wanted others to do the same.

His greatest pride were his grandchildren. If I ever finish my novel, it will be dedicated to Buddo, a character that Daddy invented to narrate stories of goodness to his grandchildren.

Every time I fell from a swing, Daddy would tell me you are my brave girl. You must get up and try it again and smile for you look beautiful smiling.

With tears in my eyes and smile on my face, I would try again and usually succeed. Guess that is when I learnt resilience!




Afghanistan

  • June 17, 2017
  • Blogs

I have known Afghanistan for as long as I have known Snow White and Cinderella. I was a little girl when my Grandfather told me of his trips to Afghanistan.

His stories of Afghanistan were mesmerising. Afghanistan to me was a fairy tale but like many fairy tales that I could never visit, I could visit Afghanistan one day. My grandfather promised me one day we will sit in the train and go to Kabul. It was only a few hours away from Peshawar.

As I grew up. People from Afghanistan could be found in Peshawar. Some people liked them. Some did not like them. My Grandfather liked them.

To him they were Pathans like us. So they were one of us. They needed our help. Their country was invaded. They had nowhere to go. The thought of them having no home made me like them.

My Grandfather had many books on Afghanistan. Most of my summer afternoons were spent reading those books. Those books told me of Afghan bravery, resilience and generosity. The fairy tale image of Kabul was affirmed. Just that with a war going on in Afghanistan, the place could not be visited.

As I grew up, Afghanistan went through many accidents and adversities. It came to be considered as the reason for much of the chaos of the world.

A few years back I came across a group of handsome dedicated resilient Afghan men. They had been educated in different countries. They had returned to Afghanistan to contribute to picking up pieces and setting up an accounting profession.

They had a dream. They wanted Afghanistan to be having a vibrant economy. They desired business to be set up and grow. For that they needed professional accountants. They envisaged donor aid coming to Afghanistan to help in rebuilding Afghanistan. Donors would prefer accountants with international qualifications.

They themselves had international qualifications. Selflessly they wanted their countrymen to benefit from their vision. They needed help.

At lest they thought so. In the few years I have known them. Without any help they have overcome insurmountable obstacles to realise their dream. Afghanistan economically is still to grow. Businesses still need to thrive but they have set up the foundation of an accounting profession.

Knowing them have been knowing Afghanistan. I feel very helpless when I think of them. Like them there are millions of people in Afghanistan wanting to live their dreams.

They all have a dream. They all want Afghanistan to be the fairy tale I grew up believing Afghanistan was. They want to get up in the morning without worrying whether they will sleep in the bed again or not. They want their children to grow up.

One of the young men I had come to know in Afghanistan lost his life in the recent bomb blast. He was a teacher dedicated to teaching the next generation. He died, but his dream must not die.

Afghanistan has to be the fairy tale my Grandfather knew of. How will it happen? I know people of Afghanistan want it to happen. If they want it to happen, can others help them to make it happen.

In my lifetime I want to go to Afghanistan. Dreams cannot die. The resilience of people of Afghanistan will make it happen.




A story of two boxes

I am a box. I live in a small grocery shop in Lalkurti in Peshawar in Pakistan. I came to this shop in 2013. The shop owner had recently recovered from cancer. His treatment at Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre was free. Whenever he asked who was paying for his treatment, he was told a box was paying for his treatment. He resolved to have the box in his shop.

Initially I was not happy in the shop. A money box has to have money to feel proud. I doubted if I ever would fill up as the people of the area had little money for food and milk. Why would they worry about a cancer hospital? It is for the government to worry about.

They however did care about cancer. They continue to contribute small denominations mainly because they know that each donated penny at Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre helps to save lives. Therefore, there is never a day when I am penniless.

I have lived happily in this shop since 2013. Today the shop owner’s son visited the shop. He told his father he has found a friend for me. I was very excited to learn all about this new box—the online donation box for Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre in Karachi.

The shop owner asked his son who can contribute to the online box. The son replied anyone in the world can contribute anything, even a small amount to the box. The shop owner then asked why the son has set up the box. The son replied that there are millions of people in the world, if those millions can contribute even a pound, a dollar, a rupee, the first Cancer Hospital in Karachi would be constructed.

Karachi has a population of millions and cancer patients in thousands. Every day dozens of people die of Cancer. A Cancer hospital is needed in Karachi. A small box like me cannot generate millions, but an online box can generate millions. Unlike me who has to wait for people to visit, people can reach out to my new friend from anywhere in the world as long as they have an internet connection. I love how my new friend can travel to so many cities around the world and then share with me all about his adventures—such as the small boy who donated his pocket money, a professor who donated in the loving memory of his mother. Just one share on Facebook, Twitter, or email, and my friend can travel to so many cities within a few minutes!

The shop owner smiled and replied. For us to construct Cancer Hospital in Karachi, needed is my box and your box and very importantly are needed people to contribute. My box is never empty for no one ever thinks of the smallness of the denomination, what they think is the greatness of the aim to which they are contributing.

They are saving lives. They are giving hope to a mother whose son is dying of cancer. They are fulfilling a dream of a child whose father is dying of cancer. People will contribute to your box if they believe the same and they should believe the same.

They are educated people, unlike us. They are people with money unlike us. Like us they know cancer kills and a life of regret also kills. If the Cancer Hospital in Karachi is not constructed, will anyone among us ever forgive ourselves?

So contribute anything to online box or a box like me near you. Let us be part of a miraculous milestone! Let us make Pakistan proud again!

Keep donating and sharing my story!
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You can donate online for Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre or create your own Fundraising page by following this link: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign...

 




I killed them!

  • April 3, 2016
  • Blogs

I am ten years old.
I lived in a small house in a village not far from Lahore. My father worked as a school teacher. My mother worked at home. I had a brother and a sister. My brother wanted to be a doctor when he grew up. My sister wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. My father wanted all of us to study hard and be his pride. My mother wanted us to be healthy and to have a long life.

I did not like studies as much as my brother and sister did. My father had promised me that if I worked hard for the exams, we would be able to visit Lahore for a day. I had never seen Lahore.
My father had visited Lahore. He had said that in March, Lahore had spring and it was full of flowers and butterflies. I loved flowers.

So I studied hard. The exams were over on Friday. In the evening of Friday, I begged my father to take me to Lahore. My mother did not want to go to Lahore. She said it was waste of money but I cried and cried. So my father agreed to take all of us to Lahore on Sunday.
We went by bus. We got to Lahore by the afternoon. I was so happy to be in Lahore. It was full of people, cars, shops, flowers and fun.

Our father took us to a park. We had ice cream and candies. For hours we played in the park while my parents talked, laughed and enjoyed seeing us playing together.

Then it was time to leave. I was so sad leaving the park but we had to get back home. As we were walking out, I needed to go to the wash room. So my parents and my siblings decided to wait for me at the gate while I quickly went to the wash room not far from the gate. As I was in the wash room, I heard a noise louder than any noise I had ever heard. I ran out of the wash room. .

I saw people running here and there. What had happened? I did not know. All I could see were children and women and men, crying, screaming, and lying in blood. There were legs and arms around me.

I ran and ran to the gate and when I got there, there was no one waiting for me. I ran around and found my father with no arms and maybe no life. My mother was lying unconscious without legs. I could not find my brother. I found his head somewhere but not him. My sister was lying in blood and mourning. I shook her, urged her to get up but she did not respond.

The police and ambulances came and took them and me to the hospital. My brother had died. The rest were dying but I praying and prayed for them to live but they did not live, all of them died.

If only I had not insisted on going to Lahore, they would have been alive. I cannot forgive myself, nor can I forgive the man who came with a bomb and took away all that I had. Why did he do this? Did he have no children? Did he have no parents?

Maybe he had no one like me, but if he had them, why did he leave them alone.

But it was not him who killed them; my dream of seeing the city of lights Lahore darkened my world.

I killed them!




‘Are you married’

  • March 7, 2016
  • Blogs

Kamran

‘Are you married?’

I am asked this question all the time; but never before had it been asked so simply by a boy called Kamran. I met him in Lahore in a school where children of those men and women study without whom the gardens of Lahore will not be green and the houses of Lahore will not be clean.

You

‘No I am not.’

‘Are beautiful people not married?’

‘No they are, but I am not beautiful.’

‘You are beautiful just like my mother. She is not married too.’

‘Oh!’

Our first reactions are outcomes of our upbringing. Our second reactions, the demonstration of our capacity to blend the values of our upbringing with the realities of our surroundings. I had thought he was an illegitimate child and exclaimed Oh!

After Oh came the thought that this may not be true and even if it was there could be many reasons.

‘My father died and no one wants to marry her.’

‘But that is fine.’

‘Do you have money to buy your food?’

‘Yes I do but why do you ask.’

‘My mother does not. She does for ten days of a month and not for twenty days of a month.’

‘Oh then what do you do.’

‘She works as a cleaning woman. Sometimes she gets food from the places she works at, but when she does not, we go to sleep without food.’

I did not want to continue my conversation with the seven year old boy Kamran. I knew I would hear a story of suffering enough to keep me awake for half the night.

I started to look for money in my handbag. A habit, I have developed to escape responsibility, accountability and reality.

‘You live in London.’

‘Yes I do.’

I continued to search for money.

‘Will you stop searching for money and look at me.’

‘Of course.’

‘Are people in London hungry.’

‘Maybe.’

‘No they are not. You are just saying it to make me feel better.’

‘Yes they are not but how do you know.’

‘My mother says I must study so that I can never be hungry. I think people in London will not be hungry. Why are they not hungry?’

‘Because they have education. When you get educated, you will also not be without food. Does your mother have education?’

‘No. That is why I want her to get married to an educated man. Then we will not be hungry.’

His innocence was tragic.

‘Yes but you must study hard so that neither you nor your mother is ever hungry.’

‘Yes I will work hard. I will become a doctor.’

‘Yes.’

‘I can come to London then.’

‘You can go to London or America or wherever you want to.’

‘I will have a car.’

‘Yes a big car.’

‘So I must study hard.’

‘Yes because if you do not then your children would be hungry too.’

‘But if I study hard then I will marry a pretty woman like you.’

‘Yes you will and then have a big house.’

‘In London.’

‘Of course in London.’

‘London must be a very big city.’

‘It is a huge city.’

‘Just like Lahore. Is London better than Lahore?’

‘Oh no Lahore is better.’

‘How can it be better, people like me have no food to eat. Men like my father have no doctors.’

‘Do you dream Kamran?’

‘All the time.’

‘So let us together dream of a Lahore like London.’

‘It will have food.’

‘Lahore has food.’

‘For people like you, not for people like me. In Lahore of my dreams no one goes to bed without food. Everyone has real food to eat.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Cooked food, not like me who only has bread and onions. Everyone has chicken, eggs, vegetables, deserts. In my Lahore everyone would have money every day, not on some of the days. In my Lahore everyone would have a doctor.’

My Lahore already had everything he was seeking. Did I and him live in different Lahore? We did not.

‘You know now why I want to go to London, did you go to London for food?’

‘Yes Kamran’

‘And you got food’

‘Yes loads of it and so will you.’

‘Alright then I will study hard.’

I had at last found some money to give him for food. He did not take the money. He wanted to earn the money some day soon to buy food.




Salute the Martyrs!

  • January 24, 2016
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As a child, my favorite stories in my Urdu text books were of martyrs of wars. I would sit in my room visualizing the scenes when martyrdom was embraced peacefully by the bravest soldiers of Pakistan.

I fail to remember my sadness at the passing away of soldiers for martyrdom for a soldier had to be the ultimate destination.

I feared war yet knew the dare devil soldiers of my country would keep my country and its people safe.

In my middle ages all around me are stories of martyrs.

Now we do not need to be soldiers to be martyred. We need not fight. We need not have guns. We will still be martyred.

Do we want to be martyred?

Did the students of Army Public School wanted to be martyred? Did the students of Charssada University aspire for martyrdom? Did the thousands who were martyred in bomb blasts wished to be martyred?

Did I want to be martyred when I was caught in the firing on Sri Lankan team in Lahore?

No I did not want to become a martyr. I wanted to live on, to make my dreams possible.

I can be called a coward but I saw no value in dying at the hands of terrorists. I could not fight them, so why should I die.

A soldier willingly participates in war. Bravery is expected. I saw no bravery in dying. I saw bravery in living on, in having a normal life. To me that was my war against terrorists.

Every time I think of the children of Army Public School, or of the thousands who have died unwillingly and unknowingly in the War on Terror, I feel guilty. I feel they should have been protected by the custodians of our security.

I try to feel proud at their sacrifice and I cannot. They were the hope of their mothers. They were the pride of their fathers. They were bread winners. They were the love of lives of many. They went away leaving their dear ones living dead for ever.

We must salute them for they are martyrs of a country whose people unwillingly have been thrown in a war. We are expected to be brave and to become martyrs fighting an enemy that is powerful even for our custodians of security.

I try to salute my martyrs, but may hand only rises in prayer for the safety and security of my country men and for lessening the pain of the dear ones of the civilian martyrs.




Who am I!

  • December 7, 2015
  • Blogs

I am definitely a Pakistani at an immigration counter. The green passport has to be scrutinised and questions asked. After the immigration clearance, however I can be anyone.

In Turkey I am thought to be a Turkish. In Russia I am at times mistaken as a Russian and in Brazil as a Brazilian. In Spain, everyone thinks I am Spanish. In London, I can be anyone!

I am however a Pakistani. I am constantly on a mission to live life by rules and values for how else would a Pakistani survive in this world. I carry the baggage of sins uncommitted and that makes me apologetic and confused at times.

However my travels to Russia, Brazil and Turkey have taught me lessons of national pride. I am learning to stand up logically to criticism and defend my people and their values, rather than apologies for them.

My years in Ireland taught me no matter how adverse the problem, the solution has to be found. You must laugh at yourself and learn from your mistakes.

Few months in Sri Lanka helped me appreciate a nation that has overcome adversity with a hopeful smile. My very frequent visits to Bangladesh taught me self-confidence brings success.

Dubai and Singapore were lessons in shopping as part of entertainment culture. Nepal taught me resilience even when all you have is faith.

Couple of years in London have made me a bit of mind my own business person. I can feel my words are becoming measured. My emotions checked and yet at times the emotional curious helpful Pakistani returns.

So who am I? Do not think even I know who am I. There are many like me who would face the same predicament. They are from a country, the country where they were born, learnt to live a life. Yet when the time came to live a life, they had to find that life in another country.

All they want to do is to live a life. Yet for many that is becoming hard to do. Who are they has become more important that what they are.




Ankara

  • October 12, 2015
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It was only a few weeks back that I made my first trip to Ankara. I did not have time to see anything in Ankara except the hotel and the meeting places. It did seem a calmly peaceful city.

Today as I watch scenes of death and destruction in Ankara, my heart and my prayers are with the people of Turkey.

Bombs and blasts are unknown to them and may they remain safe and secure forever. May this be the last bomb blasts in their lives and history books.

I come from a country where there was a time, bomb blasts were weekly events. If a week went by without a bomb blast, many among us feared something more catastrophic was in offering.

I remember a time being in the office. There was a huge bang. Everyone thought it was a bomb blast. I thought it was just some noise. Everyone was right. I was wrong, but I was always wrong.

When the Sri Lanka cricket team was attacked. I was warned not to go to work. I thought the firing shots were of a wedding party. I was wrong.

I am one of those who believe with incredible belief that all is well even when all is not well.

I have often wondered at my idealism. I grew up in a different Pakistan. My biggest fear was a thief breaking into my house and taking away my things. I also feared a war with India, for I thought that it was only war time when people could be killed.

I do not remember how I reacted to a Pakistan, where without war, many were killed. I think I has no option but to accept it, yet every time a bomb blast happened, I convinced myself this would be the last.

I do not know how those who become suicide bombers convince themselves about killing innocent people. Are these people not sons, brothers, fathers or uncles? Whose fault is it that they become desperate enough to kill themselves and many others with them? Have we failed those who died and those who killed them? Could we have prevented it?

As I watch the scenes of bomb blasts in Ankara. The fear on the faces of survivors is known to me. The tears of the loved ones of the victims is known to me. The chaos after the bomb blast is known to me. I had seen all this before. I had thought that the blasts did not impact me till I started writing a novel. On each and every page is a mention of that fear, of that helplessness, of that frustration.

People who die in blasts go to a better world. Those left behind, continue to live in a deteriorating world with a guilt that does not let them have a life.

I often wonder, those who incite the suicide bombers, to commit the act, do they live with a guilt too or are they convinced they are the rightful people.

I do not know but what I do know is that today many in Ankara would be grieving for their loved ones. Life will never be the same for them. With them are my prayers for that is all I can do.




Death to Death

  • August 31, 2015
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I wanted life. A better life, if possible, but a life would have been sufficient too.

I once had a home. I once had healthy children. I once had laughter in my courtyard. My handsome husband had lands. He had cows and castles. We had a life in which everything was sufficient.

Then it all changed. There were bombs. There were blasts. There was blood. Everyone was fighting with one another.

I do not know how and why my country became a hell but it did. It was never a heaven but it was a home. It no longer was a home.

I heard women of the village say after all the bloodshed; we would have a better country. We must have hope in the free world to free us.

I hoped for improvement every day till one day they left my dead husband on the door. Who were they? I had no enemy but after his death I had to get a life for my three sons.

I had lands, I had jewellery but there were not many people to buy all that I had. So I gave them all to the man who promised me a life for my boys. He took everything I had except my sons.

He brought us to a lorry. It was a big one and it was white. He said in few hours we would be in the land of white people who would respect us. There would be no death in that peaceful world.

I believed him. My sons cried leaving their friends but I told them they will have better friends, better books, better food and a life in their new home.

My old parents begged me not to leave them but a mother has to do the best for her children only. I could not let my sons die like my husband.

I left it all. Maybe I should not have done it.

I trusted the free world for free life but I should not have done it. If my country could not give us life, why should any other country do?

We are people without any respect. Our lives have no value, neither for our people nor for anyone else.

If they did, my sons would not have died begging for water and air. We banged the walls and doors of the lorry but no one heard us.

Who would hear the voice of homeless people like us?

They died. I drove them to death, while all I was doing was to save them from death. Was it a sin? Was it a crime? Should I have left them die in their own home but maybe they would not have died there.

Now I must die too for I have nothing to live.

It has been a long journey from a death anticipated to a death achieved.




Living Dead

  • August 17, 2015
  • Blogs

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?