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Help me Peshawar!

I have never written a blog about you. I have written about Lahore, London, Moscow, Dublin, New York, Karachi,Dhaka and Colombo. Yet the city that made me the creative writer I am, I have no words to write about it.

The city that made me appreciate the beauties of nature and the complexities of human minds and relationships; did not extract a piece of writing by me on its complexities.

Peshawar, you taught me to be brave. As a three year old girl, in your parks, I learnt no slide is high enough for me and no merry go round fast enough for me. I learnt that swings go as up as your ambition. You must dream big!

Walking aimlessly in your parks and in your streets, appreciating the mystery of the churches, the business of the markets, the majesty of the mosques, the greenery of the parks; I learnt many matters. I leant to negotiate, to embrace religious diversity, to appreciate Nature and to write stories.

When you with open arms welcomed refugees from Afghanistan, I came to reconcile that hospitality and generosity are essential characteristics of humanity.

Peshawar, you have taught me to be contended with simple joys like the book from London Book Shop, internship at Grindlays Bank, Coke at the shop in front of the British Council and ice cream from the Airforce Park. You have taught me to dance with joy and cry with grief without inhibitions. Above all you taught me to forgive and forget even those who have conspired against you.

Yet I never wrote anything about you, about my birthplace. Why? For I just could not.

What do I write about, the Peshawar that I know or the Peshawar that the world knows. The Peshawar where nights were calmly blissful and the days joyfully busy or the Peshawar where days and nights are wrapped in fear and violence. The Peshawar that was a page out of Arabian Nights stories or the Peshawar that is a Horror story.

I just cannot write about you. You are my mentor, my teacher, my inspiration, my courage. A visit to you has energised me always. Yet what have I done for you. I have betrayed you.

The sense of betrayal restricts my ability to write. You have been tormented by evil. Your children have been slaughtered. Your places of pride destructed. You have become a city of barricades. I have continued selfishly to enjoy life.

I have not even condemned the perpetrators of heinous crimes committed against you. Yes I feel helpless, yes I feel defeated but defeat and helplessness is not what you taught me. You taught me to conquer fear and to seek justice. To condemn evil and to eliminate evil.

I need to find a way to defeat your enemies and yet I have no time to do so. So I do not write about you. I run away from you, I try not to think of you yet you haunt me every moment. I want to shut you away from my thoughts in the hope that I will have a life but how can I have a life when my soul, my identity is tormented. I feel like a person on the run, running away from responsibility of my dear birthplace.

Yes I laugh but I cry too. Less for you and more for my helplessness and my selfishness. I sometimes envy all those who were victims of bombs and bullets. They live in peace while I can only pray for peace.

I know I need to do something. Maybe I need to write about you. Maybe I need to do something more. Maybe I need to work on spreading education and social justice. I must find a way to help you Peshawar for in helping you I will be helping myself. Having a life and being a self centred living dead is a nightmare worse than any nightmare you have endured Peshawar!

You have always helped me. Help me Peshawar in living a life again! Help me in saving you for in doing so am saving myself from having a life in vain!




I am sorry!

You need to forgive me. I have never meant to hurt you and I have hurt you. I am sorry.

You remember when you had jumped at me as I had entered the house. You had me scared screaming. You looked so dazed but did you not realise that I had walked inside the house and there was a storm outside. The driver had escaped an accident. Your house I was visiting and I wanted to look proper. You jumped, I lost balance and fell down. Instead of helping me get up, in a daze you had started jumping around me. I had started screaming but you did not want to help!

The in the pitch darkness when I was walking back home, you had come from behind and shocked me. Screaming I had collided with the pole. I was knocked off and you decided to walk away.

That day in the park. All I wanted was few moments of enjoying the sun and you did not let it happen. Wherever I went, you followed me. Sometimes you stared at me, sometimes you followed me, sometimes you smiled at me, sometime you tried to hug me, sometimes you tried competing with me. I was only walking briskly for I was running away from you.

Then today at the traffic lights, because of you I had to go for a walk of the shop nearby as you were refusing to make space for me and I was too scared of you. That day in the bus, you decided to come and sit next to me. Maybe you did not realise that I missed my bus stop because I had no courage to walk in front of you and when I tried to do so, you decided to walk with me and I got scared and sat down. Then you started barking and I thought I would have a heart attack.

Yes, to all the dogs who throughout my life for no fault of them have made me feel miserable, I have to say to you I am very scared of you. Please try not to be friendly with me for I cannot be friendly with you.

So please try to have your way and I will certainly have mine.

I am sorry!




Love you forever!

I still remember it was a very hot June afternoon. I did not want to sleep in the air-conditioned room. I was ten years old. Sleeping was a waste of time then!
Much better was exploring the world. I stumbled upon you. As I started to discover you, could not help falling in love with you. There was something magically mysteriously different about you.
Was it the warmth of your fur colourful clothes? Or the suspense of your changing fortunes? Or the grandeur of your appearances? Or the tunes of tragedy always in the background?
Were you a follower of traditions or the master of codes, could never guess. Was the romance ever true or was it necessity of times and lust? Yet on that summer day, reading War and Peace I developed fondness for the people of Russia.
The fondness was challenged very soon. In our neighbourhood was a country at war with Soviet Union. Everything disastrous in my country was attributed to that war.
My beloved Peshawar had changed from a carefree Arabian night town to a barricaded security risk.
To reconcile the at times shades of brightness that I read about in the novels like War And Peace to the ruthless, barbaric and merciless image of Russians being projected in the media was massively confusing.

 

As I grew up and life became more about understanding people rather than believing perceptions, I wanted to know the truth about Russia.
The opportunity took time in coming but when it came, have to say found myself engulfed in feelings of excitement and apprehensions. Thus a bit fearful, a bit cheerful I set feet on the soil of Moscow.
A surprise awaited me. I have travelled the world yet never came across a city as historical, as huge and as obviously mysteriously romantic as Moscow. As for the people, from the man at the immigration to the taxi driver who did not understand what I was saying to the hotel people to the large number of people I met, they were normal people. They were friendly and wanting to get on with life.
Red square was incredible. Unforgettable was the tourist guide. As she told me the history behind each and every building, she paused to say history can be cruel too as well as charming. I grew up in a different world. For me my country then was a heaven. One day all that I believed in was snatched from me and I was told to live on. How could I live yet I did and I do for I belong to a resilient country.
In my blood runs patience in times of adversity and courage in face of misfortunes. I have seen enough yet I am ready to see more. Hope the world understands people are people, generally good with only one desire that is to have a peaceful life.
She left me with tears. She left me with thoughts. What she said about Russians apply to us Pakistanis too.
For making me feel I am not the only one who is misunderstood and misjudged by the world, I will love you forever Russia.
You are an amazing country with people as romantic and as warm as I thought they were when as a ten year old I read War and Peace. In War and Peace, my best wishes with you and you will be forever loved by me!



Far Away Eid

Eid at home has always been a family affair. As a child, Eid was to be waited for a multitude of reasons.
Eid ul Adha was a different Eid. It did not have the same ambience of festivity as Eid ul Fitr had. It was to be spent at home and not at granddad’s house in Peshawar. As children we looked forward to the animals being bought, being taken care of and being decorated. Of course the moment of separation left us with tears, but we were told that their sacrifice is for Allah and we must not feel sad.

The breakfast was eagerly waited for. The butcher relentlessly hunted for. The barbecue or the biryani or the korma or the curry of the Eid animal meat just tasted uniquely differently mouth-watering, maybe because for few days before Eid meat had been banned in the house.

Over the years, much has changed in Pakistan. Not much has changed at our home except that children have left home to follow their dreams and their jobs at places far away from home. So even though animals are slaughtered at homes, kids spend Eid having halal meat at cafes and eating places all over the world.

My Eid celebrations in London took me to Pakistani, Lebanese and Persian eating places. At all the places I found people talking about Eid of their childhood. Their tales were studded with playful fondness of days gone by. As they told their children stories of Eid back home, their voices got choked with emotions.

There was an Iraqi man who had lived in London for more than 20 years. He cannot go back home but that home where he is unwelcomed still hold him a hostage. The home has shut doors on him but the only place he loves in this world is his home.

He was fondly telling stories of how he played with slaughter animals, how his entire family would gather to have a feast. I looked hard at his children’s faces. They listened with interest of a far-away land that they will always be mesmerised with. The TV channels may scream of chaos in Iraq yet their father would make them believe it is a paradise.

Then there was the Palestinian woman with two boys. Her husband has been martyred and she now lives with her sons in London. The land that had given her much grief was dotingly remembered by her as an abode of joy where Eid bought unrivalled festivities.

There were far too many people of countries that are torn apart by war and chaos busy in telling tales of supreme exultation on Eid. Listening to them, for some reason I thought they were trying to convince their children that no matter what the world says, you belong to that country that we were forced to leave but for you to have an existence in this world, you must continue to live the culture and values of that country.
You must continue to celebrate Eid in far-away lands yet long to be home!




Come on Lahore!

It has been exactly 30 days since our separation. This is neither the first nor I think the last time that we have separated. To say I miss you will be a lie. Missed are those who are forgotten, you are an integral part of my existence. How can I forget you?

For the last 2 years or so I had been a part time resident. I flew here and there but always knew after a few days would return to Lahore. No matter how tired I was, you made me feel alive!

This time however I have decided to move homes.

My new home has made me reflect on the city I have loved the most. As a child Lahore was Paris for me. I did not dream of visiting New York or London. So complete Lahore was as a city for me.

I remember the day fondly when Walls ice cream came to Lahore. I recall Burger Eleven, to date have never had burgers as yummy as were served there. Then there was joy unlimited at Joy Land. There are many precious memories of my childhood and college days associated with Lahore.

Then one day just to become more enlightened I went far away from you. Europe was enchanting yet it never made me think Lahore was less enchanting. Years of studies kept me away from Lahore but not for a minute did I think of not returning to Lahore.

Then I returned exposed and unwillingly and sometimes not happily I started questioning whether Lahore despite its grandiose and generosity was still an urban village. Did the Moghul buildings have the Lahoris trapped in thinking that they were the invincible emperors of the world?

The enchanting Europe did not make me ponder over Lahore because it seemed a destination unachievable for Lahore. It were the South Asian cities that me me think whether Lahore mesmerised by its gardens, universities, fly overs, cafés and shopping malls has assumed its excellence.

For its inhabitants,Lahore is better than the crime ridden Karachi or the sleepy Islamabad or the antiquated Peshawar. But is it really the heart of Pakistan just like Colombo is of Sri Lanka or Dhaka is of Bangladesh.

My South Asian friends get impressed with then blend of modernism and culture of Lahore. Lahore has the apparent affluence to dazzle anyone but Lahore has the potential not only to dazzle but to influence the thinking and actions of all Pakistanis.

In my childhood Lahore was my London. Till recently Lahore was as brilliant as London but on reflection Lahore has a long way to be London. To be London, people of Lahore have to accept that their thinking has been caged by the reckless injection of steel in its foundations. It has become self centred and snobbish.

Whereas Pakistan struggle, Lahoris take solace in the thought Lahore is peaceful.

Lahore for me will always be the city that on any day can give me energy but I want the energy to spread beyond Lahore. I want Lahore to be the heart that pumps the energy of Pakistan, that helps Pakistan become a tolerant enlightened cultured developing country.

And I want to return to a Lahore that brings smile not only to me but to everyone in Pakistan.

You are my love Lahore but to love you blindly will be to let you and my dear Pakistan wither. To constructively objectively tell you how you can be the love of every Pakistani will be to let you and Pakistan blossom….and that is the Lahore and Pakistan I want to return one day inshaAllah!

Come on Lahore!




I do not know!

Long March he declared! And I cursed him discreetly for hours.

Why can he not live and let live? Why can he not govern KPK dedicatedly and let others govern Pakistan as they want to? If only he could make KPK a paradise of peace and prosperity, the writing on the wall is the present rulers would fail and he can win by a huge margin the next time.

Give up Imran Khan. Do not dig your grave. In vain I hoped he would be arrested, something would happen for the March not to take place.

Nothing happened and he marched on. The crowds were astounding but how would he sustain interest. I wanted him to stop the madness.

Why can he not have common sense?

As I tried to answer the question, for once I started questioning my common sense. What was he demanding? A vote recount! Why, because he thinks elections were rigged. So what, if they were rigged?

Flashed in front of me the Magical May morning when I had seen people of all ages and groups, voting for Imran Khan. In their eyes I had seen dreams. After decades Pakistanis like me had woken up from their coma to cast a vote for a change.

I recalled the day after, when at Lahore airport I had seen people who had come to cast their vote from all parts of the world crying for the change dream shattered. I remembered the Pathan taxi driver in Dubai who had wanted to commit suicide after PTI lost the elections and will only come to Pakistan when PTI forms government.

So if Imran is to be believed, the will of the people of Pakistan has been assassinated. We have been robbed. If it happened last May, it will happen always unless someone stops it.

As I see people at his rallies, in their eyes I can see the same dreams, the same hopes that I saw last May. They are braver than I am. They are willing to stand up for their rights.

For me important is that given so many challenges, the government is allowed to continue governance but then if this government is not the one that we voted for, then why are they governing us? Why are we letting this happen?

Democracy must be preserved but is democracy not about what people want, or is it about what a small group of politicians want.

Who is manifestation of true democracy – the Parliament and Prime Minister or the thousands of Pakistanis protesting?

I do not know!

Are they right in protesting? If they are able to bring the government down, it will become a trend setter? Will it or will it become a lesson for anyone daring to rob Pakistan of the will of its people?

I do not know!

I also do not know why I think that something somewhere is changing, the Prime Minister may not resign, Imran Khan may never become the Prime Minister of Pakistan but rigging any elections in the future will be a task not easily executed.

Imran Khan has thousand imperfections but he has done one thing perfectly…… made people of Pakistan realise democracy is of the people and must be fought for by the people.

Whether our democracy ever is for the people…..maybe soon, maybe never …I do not know!




Dreams and Dreams!

“When you really want something to happen, the whole world conspires to help you achieve it.”
― Paulo Cohelo
Never before had Paulo Cohelo words of wisdom echoed as loudly and as truly, as they did on the bright sunny summer morning when I met the handsome young man. I have always been master of words but I cannot find the words to describe the man’s resilient determination.

If story of his life was turbulently tragic, his cheerful face showed no resentment to the tragedy. He narrated his story like a fairy tale.

He was fourteen when a disease called Leukemia came to visit him. He needed treatment. He went to SKMTH to get treatment but he did not want to leave studies. He had to be an engineer. So as he went through chemotherapy, instead of calculating his miseries, he calculated numbers, prepared for his exams during chemotherapy. The treatment appeared to be grueling but all he was focused was to be an engineer.

While he went through rounds of chemotherapy, his friends and cousins were going through rounds of interviews for universities abroad. His dream was to go abroad for studies but life had other plans and he could not fight life, so was contended focusing on studies in the cancer hospital. He just had to be an engineer.

He did have tears in his eyes for few moments as he mentioned factually how he could not go to school not only because doctors feared for his immunity but because school children mocked his deteriorated physical condition.
Did he have any grudge against his friends or cousins? Maybe he did but did not say a word.

Suffering from Leukemia, took Grade ten and Grade twelve exams. Despite what for me were traumatic trials and tribulations, and for him usual events, he is on the verge of becoming an Engineer.

Leukemia was defeated, now he dreams of working as an Engineer in the Middle East, going for a holiday to Paris.
In the end he did become emotional talking about how indebted he is to the thousands of nameless donors for contributing to his treatment. He attributes his dream to them. With evident tears in his eyes, a tone bordering on pleading, he concluded, thousands like me would not have had a life, had thousands not contributed millions to SKMTH.
He is right. SKMTH is testimony to Pakistanis unyielding determination, over generations to contribute to a dream that a man had. The dream lives enabling thousands to live their dreams….the dream stretches its wings to Peshawar…..and anyone who has even little sympathy for what Peshawar has gone through in the dramatically dreadful decade must contribute to the dream….maybe that would bring some hope to Peshawar and may lead to a few dreams seeing the light of the day.

So to dreams we must contribute something this Ramadan and continue the spirit for the rest of our lives!




PIA again!

  • May 6, 2014
  • Blogs

Having gone through forced separation from PIA for a few months, not out of my free will but out of compulsion had to travel by PIA today.

If I say during my separation period, I had missed PIA. I would be being honest and truthful. PIA is national pride and seeing its logo flashing anywhere does bring a longing smile.

Thus when I found a PIA plane without its logo, I was distressed quite a lot. Well the whole experience was exceptionally enlightening!

My sleep was disturbed by an SMS at 0500 hours that proclaimed:

Dear Customer, this is a polite reminder. Your flight PK/MAY is on time at 0955 hours. Have a pleasant flight. Thank you for your choice of the National carrier.
PIA Contact Center 111-786-786

Well what is this! The sceptic within me screamed suspicion and sabotage. The optimist within me pleaded for leniency and clemency.

Anyhow got to the airport.

Wondered why while checking in at Lahore airport for non Pakistan airlines, we stand in a straight line. With PIA, we stand anywhere but in a straight line. The PIA check in counter was in a mess with people jumping in from anywhere to check in till an iron lady restored order.

Luck came visiting! The man at the counter recognised me from my days of being a frequent flyer with PIA. Was so delighted to see me that I got a LEG SPACE seat and a pass to business class lounge when my ticket was Economy Class.

When he said PIA misses me, I wanted to say PIA misses its complaining critics- incredible! But my ego had been massaged and the Pakistani within me was floating on the clouds!

He made sure I was escorted to the lounge. Maybe he remembered my previous tantrums at issues unimportant uncounted in the past.

I sat in the lounge being served and looked after. I had many mails to reply and was calmly confidently that the ever late PIA will let me reply to all my unanswered e-mails.

Devastated I was when the boarding was announced sharp at 9 am. I consoled myself that boarding will take ages but 20 minute later was rushing to the bus as one of the last passengers.

The fully loaded bus stopped by a plane that had blue wings. On it was written something non-English in blue and yellow. I refused to get down and shouted.

Where is PIA?

The driver shouted back get out, this is your plane.

Others were leaving the bus but I sat there frozen!

The driver shouted again this time threatening I will miss my flight if I did not get on to the plane.

His threat did the trick. I ran up the stairs or steps with my eyes half closed.

Has PIA been taken over by a blue company? Where is the green logo? Where is my country’s pride? Am I on the right plane? Is the plane hijacked? Will it crash?

I screamed as I entered the plane. The crew half Pakistani, half not told me to sit silently.

Silence at the slaughter of my national pride! I wanted to shake the crew for an answer.

As I sat on the seat, I was flabbergasted. Something non English was written on the seats.

What is it? I said to the air-hostess.

She smiled and said, as we aspire to get great people like you on board again, temporary inconvenience is apologised.

This is not a PIA plane-but a plane on lease!

The plane on lease was an old plane, there was hardly any leg space. The announcement in an alien accent caused laughters loudly. I looked forward to the dried cookie and butter-less and chicken less sandwiches but got yummy snacks. Yes, haunted by MH disappearance, whenever the plane turned turbulent silently, I prayed passionately!

Have to say though the plane and crew on lease adhered to punctuality. Only if the plane had PIA logo- I would have been perfectly pleased at this rare achievement.

PIA: I realised today, I may condemn and curse, but like the cricket team that gives me woes and wonders, I love you loads too.

What else can I do- you are part of my nationality!

May you be the best soon and all your planes have your logos!

 




Journey of recognition!

  • April 7, 2014
  • Blogs

Today I again did let her down. Today again she had to defend me!

Today again because of me she had people staring at her!

Till when will I continue to create moments of embarrassment for her.

It was not always like this.

Many years back, when she was a teenager. I was her pride, to reflect, a pride unknown and unexplored.

She wad a non-entity, a young girl with dreams many in eyes. She had me on her side to take her to destinations unknown.

As she pursued dreams, I was her partner. Wherever she went, I went. I opened the doors for her.

I still recall once in the freezing cold weather of Europe we became separated. Till we were not one, none of us were at peace. I cannot forget her beaming face when she saw me. I vowed that day never to leave her alone.

So I have not left her alone. Over the years, as she had ventured into newer paths, I have remained loyal to her.

She had remained loyal to me too even though the loyalty has been tested!

Over the years, I have seen her change a bit. She very proudly used to show me around. Recently I have seen a bit of reluctance. Sometimes I feel she does not want to own me but has no choice. Till death do us apart, we are one!

Do I blame her?

How does she feel? I want to ask her but am afraid to do so. She always has a smile.

She protects me more than she takes care of herself . Not even once have I heard a hard word about me.

Yet there must be moments of dismay but then may be there are none. Maybe just like the land she loves the most, she loves me too.

I was supposed to be her pride, yet I have not been!

If I could tell her, how proud I am of her. I was to be her identity, In fact she has gone on to be one.

Do forgive me…do forgive your passport!

My dear passport, you are forgiven. Yes I have moments of despair not because of you but my helplessness to change the realities of the land who is your identity. I love you loads for without you, the world would have been impossible to explore.

Together we will make the world value us! Together we will make this land as green as the colour of your cover!

Till then let us together continue our journey of recognition!




Burning!

Why have I been unable to look at newspapers or watch TV for the last few days?

Of all the people, I who have seen blood in abundance, who have witnessed bombs and bullet infested dead bodies in plenty.

I, for whom, watching scenes of weeping wives, wailing mothers, sobbing sisters and mourning daughters have become a part of life.

I who has seen hundreds of grieving fathers, helpless husbands, bewildered brothers and sniffing sons carry bodies of their beloved.

Why could I not see similar scenes in the last few days? Was it because it was another country?

Maybe yes.

Why?  I live in a country where if a bomb blast does not pierce our TV screens in form of breaking news for a few days, we start getting flustered.

Even days of peace do not give us peace of mind for we fear in store is a deadly disaster!

I have tried hard but cannot recall when bombs and deaths were not part of our lives.

Yet we live! People are surprised by the normal life that we live.

But there is nothing to be surprised. When our dear ones leave us, we mourn but in mourning, our faith gives us amazing strength. Their memories never leave us. They remain part of our lives but we live, we smile, we eat, we work, we rejoice. It is not that life goes on. Life is not the same but you know that the dears departed would not have liked you to live a life as a living dead. So you live on!

It is the same with many Pakistanis. Our country is not what it used to be when we were children. But it is our country and in the memory of days gone and in the hope that one day, it will be a country better than even the country of our childhood, we live on.

Living at times is agonizing. As a child when I watched news of killings and wars in other parts of the world, I used to pray that my country never becomes one of them. When I used to see scenes of children bleeding, I used to pray that children of my country never have to fear a bullet.

I used to wonder how people lived in such violence invaded countries.

I no longer wonder.

They lived just like we do. We have built a China Wall between us and realities.

Sate of our dear country moves us to tears for minutes but then we have to move on. We have to smile for smile is associated with courage and bravery.

We have sleepless nights but we must sleep for in sleep the realities are defeated by dreams.

We have to work hard! We have to be more right than even what the word right means.

We have to go extra miles to prove our professionalism, our honesty, to still have an identity not as a country of bombers but as a country of people who are to be respected for their resilience, for defeating disaster, for living life as if nothing has happened!

It is not easy but we expect no mercy, only understanding that among us are people who will work very hard to make this a country a land of realized potential.

Till that day scenes of bloodshed are to be witnessed to keep the passion of performance burning!