Published Us Magazine, The News. January 06, 2012.
There were times, albeit not very distant, when my city Abbottabad allured all and sundry owing to its natural beauty. I vividly remember how my cousins and relatives from Punjab and Sindh would go insane over the city, citing its magnificent vistas and greenery, and mountains and snow, and the weather. Ah, the weather! All would always, always inquire about the weather while calling, with the remark already seated in their minds even before their query was replied to. It was always something like, ‘Yeah, you people are so lucky’, ‘You just live in heaven, it’s so hot here’, or ‘Oh, How I wish we could spend summers in Abbottabad. Okay, so the fact goes that Abbottabad is endowed with pleasant weather, but I was often so deeply piqued by these reiterated, almost learned notions that at times I just wanted to bark out ‘Yeah, we do have good weather, but are we going to squander the rests of our lives over this?’ Having lived since always in this serene, calm town, I took it all for granted. And needless it is to say that I never much respite or divinity in the snow or the grass. ‘Yes all, we have snow, mountains and greenery, but can we please just accept this fact and get over it? Talk about something substantial, can you!?’
But long before anyone among my relatives had started getting over it or talking about something substantial, it all started changing. Pakistan took on its dictated role as a frontline state in the ‘war against terrorism’. And the lush views of Abbottabad were hampered by walls, the grass was replaced by concrete, and check-posts began emerging as a tough competition to pines. It was among these colossal changes that the city changed it’s identity too; from ‘that heavenly abode’ to ‘the place where Osama Bin Laden was found’. Ah, the irony!
As the perception of the city changed, the inquiries regarding it also did. And so many times I have been asked, ‘Was Osama really in your city?’ by literally everyone who knows I’m from Abbottabad that I just feel like holding a press-conference and ending the mystery once and for all. Dear people, despite the fact that Osama’s ‘multi-million dollar mansion’ is located at a distance of about four kilometers from my home, I have absolutely no idea on whether Osama really was here or not. And if you’re experiencing a bubbling sensation of asking my view on whether he could be present here, let me clarify that too. I have definitely no view on the issue, because for all that I know, I never saw him roaming around. Or shopping around. Or fooling around. Or shooting around. Nor did any other being in the entire city. Everyone in the city was as taken-aback by the discovery of the ‘world’s most wanted man’ in Abbottabad as anyone living on the other side of the shore was.
The perturbing thing about these Osama-related questions isn’t that I have to go through the reply time and again (which though, is pretty exasperating). The disturbance also doesn’t solely lie in the fact that post-Osama, the world is looking down upon us Pakistanis in general and residents of Abbottabad in particular as some blood-sucking, savage extremists. Because we’ve now acclimatized to a great extent, with being awarded often with generous, encouraging titles like ‘a failed state’ and ‘the most dangerous place on Earth’. Not to mention the forces at hand who want our whole population of 180 million to be officially renounced as ‘terrorists’; as by living inside this most dangerous place on Earth, we know it’s not the complete truth. Yes, we do have some extremist/violent groups in the country but the other facet of this truth is that they’re not us. They constitute a minority of the nation. (Still, we did take affront at the hostile ways the American media pronounced our city’s name; that sounded something between a butt and an add, and also, we could have done with a more respectable introduction than being reduced to a ‘sleepy, garrison town’!)
The actual uneasiness pertaining to all-things-Osama lies in the realization of the reality that this issue has garnered such tremendous public attention. I’m not concerned by Osama Bin Laden, given the endless array of other burning issues that invite mine, and every Pakistani’s concern. What concerns me is the fact that we’re a nuclear armed state without electricity. That our largest province is aiming for separation from Islamabad. That unmanned American drones kill my people in numbers every second day. That the religious right of my country keep on inciting hatred and violence. That the health conditions of my country stand amongst the worst in the world. That the literacy rate of my county is lowest in the region. That there isn’t any justice or accountability in the country. That we often pick up arms and start butchering our own. That we are ruled by an immensely corrupt, incapable settlement. These problems are what shape the life of an ordinary Pakistani, not Osama Bin Laden.
And since I intend to put an eternal full-stop to the Osama-nama via this article, I should better tell you what I feel about the whole incident (to be on the safe side; because the probability of that question being popped at me can never be ruled out). Have you ever turned on your television only to behold all news channels on fire; making a hoopla of the ‘breaking news’ that the MQM-PPP coalition has split? At such times, I feel something like, ‘Get a life dudes, and stop acting as if this split doesn’t happen every second other month!’. I feel about Osama along similar lines. The United States of America sets up the theatre for a brand-new play very often, and we religiously get shocked at every single episode. From the controversy surrounding 9/11, to the bombing of Afghanistan; from the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to Osama’s last dive in the ocean, it keeps on happening recurrently, continuously. We’re never given the facts, we’re never told the truth. It all goes in the one-big-book-of-secrets. In fact, this culture of showing us the play while keeping the plot in the dark has been dragged so much, that I won’t be surprised to the slightest if America finds its latest love-interest, Haqqani (don’t know the full name, and I just cannot convince my muscle to google it) hidden in some random Jeera and Gamma Public School or Noor Haseena and daughers’ Beauty Parlour of the country.
Our reality is not that of our government’s, or the United States’. Our reality hovers around a struggle to survive; to triumph against all odds on a daily basis. And to provide for our families, raise them in adversity and keep the pot boiling. It’s about going to the
battle-field as the sun rises and fight for the very basic amenities that we’re denied. It’s about keeping our children and families safe. Our reality is more about hoping and waiting for electric supply, water and gas; to bounce back after every fall, and to anticipate the colours of spring in the harrowing autumns. About embracing happiness as and if it comes; finding a reason to live and then a chance to do the same. And then perhaps, our reality is more about the weathers than the people whose corpses flow in waters that only God or Obama know about.
Therefore, with a plea of forgiving my naivety, can we just revert to talking about the weather of Abbottabad, please? I promise to give you complete weather reports from now on!