Faith, Family, Friends & the many faces of Pakistan

Last week on short notice I took a flying visit to my land of birth – a yearly ritual of sorts. This time I had decided that politics and religion will not be on the agenda and I won’t yearn for what this country used to be many years ago; and it helped. I had an amazing time although I landed in very turbulent circumstances. The same day a passenger plane had crashed near Islamabad, so there was a smell of death and mourning in the air. Saddest part was the realization that the families of the deceased will never get an answer to their question about what went wrong and whether this fateful tragedy could have been avoided. There was no national day of mourning because human life has become expendable. But no politics I said so I closed my eyes, ears and my mind to the reality of this forsaken land. I focused on faith, family and friends.
FAITH: My family lives very close to Clifton and for years I drove past the Mazaar of Hazrat Abdullah Shah Ghazi without a second glance. This visit something compelled me to visit the shrine because he was known for his spread of tolerance.
It’s amazing to see that despite the wide spread thrust of Wahhabism in Pakistan, there are still thousands of people from all walks of life who believe in Saints and come to the shrine full of love and respect. From jean clad yuppies to ill-clad beggars, they feel there is something here for them. On Friday morning my sister I went to say Fatiha. As we were leaving, the darban gave me a blue piece of material immersed in attar with Quranic verses. I was taken aback thinking this is gifted to everyone visiting the Mazaar, but my sister who is a regular there said No, this is especially for you. It was a very moving moment and made my few days there very special. It also gave me hope, that the ideology of hate exported by the Saudis, has not yet penetrated every heart.
FAMILY: Family is the reason I visit Pakistan every year and the love they shower on me, makes every moment count. My sister, brother, nieces, nephews and their families extended themselves to cater to my every whim. They arranged a special family outing to Port Grand ( Karachi’s latest treasure. And treasure it is! I remember as a child how smelly and unkempt the old Native Jetty (Netty Jetty) used to be but now that area has been transformed into a food street par excellence. Supervised so that only families visit, there is no riff raff and heckling. We ate by the water and saw the stars and the weather was perfect. I was also given a tour of the new Malls and shopping centers which are state of the art. Meeting family is always joyous and poignant because each year, one or two people are not there anymore and the rest are getting older – hopefully wiser. With no clocks to watch, each day was like a week and I relished every moment – the feel of morning dew on my feet, the fragrance of motia kay gajrey, the aroma of poori tarkari, even the sound of the sabzi-walla and most of all the call to prayer, azaan.
FRIENDS: The true test of friendship is take up where we left off with no grudges complaints or gripes, and that’s what my friends did. They all gathered one evening so that we could meet in one place as I did not have time for individual visits. We all talked at once but each knew what the other was saying. A few dear friends were seriously ill and I could not see them all but met one closest to my heart who has serious Multiples Sclerosis and can’t even speak. Yet spending a short time with her was worth the whole visit and an experience so humbling and deeply moving that I am still touched by the image.
This was my bubble and I loved every minute. I know it’s a bubble because reality is very different and I was fascinated at the ability of Pakistanis to survive, despite the odds. This is where I saw the many faces of this country.
Politicians live in a world of their own where only their personal interest is at stake – in fact most of them have sold their souls for money and are in competition for power and position. Turf wars take place where hundreds are killed with no accountability and the usual passing of blame to a ‘foreign element’ – nothing new here. I heard that someone close to the President has invested in aircrafts to run a domestic airline business, hence is making sure that the other airlines, including the domestic carrier fail miserably. Whether human beings are made to suffer is irrelevant.
There are the elite who live in an enchanted world of parties and more parties – a competition for decadency and opulence because they really don’t care. Then there is the upper middle class who lives a resemblance of reality with kids in schools and bills to pay. Prices are atrociously high and there are no institutions left but the spirit of many Pakistanis is to be lauded.
Being an eternal optimist, I was especially impressed with one group of youth who are serving humanity to the best of their abilities. Doctors who heal the sick in rural areas, one niece who runs 3 tandoors that serves fresh bread free to masses of people, another niece who teaches in the villages and more …. Most of them have full time jobs but are also volunteering on the side to help built the country. Many women are going above and beyond the call of duty to create a better society – not enough though because there are just as many interested only in the latest fashions. By the way, the Pakistani fashion industry has gone through the roof and is an International contender for its share of the market. All this in a country where the majority are not educated, don’t have a roof over their heads or clean water to drink. But you could live in the bubble and never be aware that there is another side. On the one hand there is art and culture, dance and drama, food and drink (yes alcohol-a-plenty) boutiques and breakfast bars and on the other daily killings, work stoppages, electricity cutbacks and no water. But they seem to accommodate two separate worlds.
However the masses can be very easily swayed and rallied with one call of anti-American slogans which politicians use to their advantage. One person tried to hook me into registering with Imran Khans party and when I said I’m not impressed with his track record, she said “well at least he’s become a Musalmaan”. A well thought out criteria for the country’s leadership?
The only reason I enjoyed my short stay was to stay far away from politics and religion because no one can agree on these two points. But the bubble can easily burst because under the surface simmers a deep resentment for what once was and perhaps this was best expressed in the words of a song that I heard played throughout my stay. The CD of lyrics by Habib Jalib and Faiz Ahmad Faiz touch the strings of my heart.
Umeed-e-Sahar (Laal)
Jigar dareeda hoon, chaak-e-jigar ki baat suno
(My heart is torn, Hear the wounds of my heart)
Umeed-e-sahar ki baat suno
(Listen to the hope of a new dawn)

Alam raseeda hoon, daman-e-tar ki baat suno
(I’m stricken with grief, Listen to my being soaked with tears)
Umeed-e-sahar ki baat suno
(Listen to the hope of a new dawn)

Zubaan bureeda hoon, zakhm-e-guloo sey harf karo
(My tongue is dry and unable to talk, Talk to my gaping wounds)
Umeed-e-sahar ki baat suno
(Listen to the hope of a new dawn)

Shikasta pa hoon, malaal-e-safar ki baat suno
(My feet are tired, Listen to the sorrows of my journey)
Umeed-e-sahar ki baat suno
(Listen to the hope of a new dawn)

Musafir-e-rah-e-sehra-e-zulmat-e-shab se
(From the one who travels in the dark desert of tyranny)
Ab iltafat-e-nigar-e-sahar ki baat suno
(Hear him speak of the beauty of dawn)
Umeed-e-sahar ki baat suno