Arz-e-Watan…

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Originally published in Us Magazine, The News. February, 2014.

It’s 4 a.m. already. The ticking of the clock resonates through the still of the night, crickets chirp just outside my window. It has been six hours since I came to bed, but sleep is still eluding me. I’ve turned in it; logging in to Twitter after failed attempts at sleeping – but news over the speculation of Juan Mata moving to Manchester United or the excessive publicity of the Sindh Festival wouldn’t distract me as they would on some other day. And every time I close my eyes, I’m forced back, instinctively, to open them. Every time I close my lids, the image comes before me. This picture of the siblings Rida and Ibtihaj, one of whom was killed and the other’s future shrouds in uncertainty; in yet another episode of sectarian violence in our country.

Tujh ko kitnon ka lahu chaiye ae arz-e-watan…
Holding on to each other, their tongues stuck out, both pose for the camera in a show of amusing mischief. You’d smile as you see this picture. If only you didn’t know what it was that happened to them. The gushes of emotional rage this picture incites in me are unwonted. But it isn’t just this picture I have to contend with – it’s about what it represents: the brazen betrayal of innocence by our state. Again! It reminds me of kids within my own family, my nephew and nieces. I’m pretty sure my parents are transported back to the time of our childhoods as they see this. And that goes for all the parents around. It’s a shared tragedy then – one of those things that now connect us. Observing this picture this way, we all let out a gasp. We all die a little.
The only problem is, we’ve all been dead a bit too many times now!

Jo tere aaraz-e-berang ko gulnaar kerein…
Aitzaz Hasan didn’t have to be a martyr. In a normal world, fifteen year olds don’t present themselves to be bombed to make up for the crimes of those in-charge. Laudable though his valour is, it was not for a kid to rise up to the occasion to defend his homeland. Children of his age should be busy with their books, or out in the grounds playing cricket – not making such grave decisions for the greater good! Malala shouldn’t have been made to toil for her right to education; it should’ve been provided. Malala, the same deplorable ‘Western agent’, the ‘blot on our image’ that we either hate to love or love to hate! (Did you go to Swat to defend its people when they were being butchered by the Taliban? No? Do you mind flushing your sadistic opinion in the toilet?!). What was the fault of Chakar Baloch, the ten year old missing person who stopped being missing just because of the plain reason that he was dead; his tortured body one day showing up in the Kech District? Was Noor Aziz’s existence nothing more than what could be covered by two words, ‘collateral damage’? Was she even old enough to anticipate death as she saw the drone appear in her country’s skies? And these are only those with names…

Kitni aahon se kaleja tera thanda hoga…
Can you bring yourself to gather what it should feel like to sternly deny your loved ones their right to a final resting place? In a country like ours, where the dead are revered more than the living, where extreme measures are taken not to disrespect the bodies of those no more; what should lead to a group of people putting up a show of those departed out in the open? Angst? Anger? Hopelessness? Helplessness? Indifference? Forfeiture? Or just nothingness? There just are too many words to choose from. In protests against this incident in Islamabad, I’m abashed to state that only four non-Hazaras turned up – rest were all Hazaras. I didn’t go there, dreadful as it is. But then, does it make any difference? Does anything make any difference? Can we still avail the option to return? If these frequent bloodbaths have failed miserably in sensitizing our rulers to the need of curbing terrorism, what potential can peaceful protests hold? Our interior minister, living up to his standards of graciousness, went to visit the mourners recently. Equipped with extravagant security that’s typical of our politicians, he perhaps again made half-promises he didn’t intend to keep. But why the security when he’s going to visit those in this decrepit state? Who is he scared of? The dead?On a second thought, perhaps he should be!

Kitnay aanso tere sehraaon ko gulzaar kerein…
My mother’s a hardcore patriot. All the patriotism in us comes from deliberate inculcation by her. She’s always been stoical, has always derived hope for the future by memories of the past. Her nostalgia of the shining, tolerant Pakistan is what keeps her positivity going. She has always been a very strong woman; her matchless strength is something none of her kids inherited, sadly. While she was in medical college, on more than one occasion she provided refuge to those innocents caught in a whirlwind of sectarian violence. She landed into trouble for this. The trouble could never deter her from inviting more trouble for the sake of what was right. I have always looked up to her for hope – for this country.
These days, however, I’ve sensed a change in her.

Kitni aankhon ko nazar kha gaye bad-khwaon ki…
I see these people from Hazara community on Twitter. Most of them have now shifted to Australia, some to New Zealand; still swooping down to gather any piece of news about the country that’s theirs. I often interact with these Ahmadis on social media, now in the UK, still celebrating the independence of the motherland that has long ceased to be much of a mother to them. I hear of others, pushed to the limit of having to seek asylum in another country, letting go of the place that has no space for them. And it makes me think about the dimensions of the equation they still share with their country. I can never think of being estranged from my beloved, my Abbottabad. God forbid, if I ever am, it will always continue to be a part of me – as a hole in my being. It would haunt my nights; it would mar my sleep with bouts of perspiration. All the good memories I have of this place will wear a different façade in my recollection – like ghosts from another life, maybe. Driven out of a place that contains you; in its streets, in its air, is a loss too great to bear!
While thinking about all those martyred in the waves of terrorism in our country, I’ve often pondered upon this. Now that they are in a better place, are they also haunted by the memories of their country?

Khwaab kitnay teri shah-rahon mein sangsaar huwe…
My mother has now given up on listening to political talk-shows, even the sight of those     who’ve molested her country is a burden too obnoxious for her. She doesn’t talk that ardently about her country as she once did. Only this evening, as I was showing the same picture to my sister, my mother asked me what it was. I tried to evade, saying it would hurt her. She insisted, she’d already seen the picture anyway. As I handed her my tablet, I noticed her voice crack-up. Exactly the same way it does every year on December 16; when she mourns the loss of innocent lives: both Bengalis and non-Bengalis. Then she said something that comprised the words, ‘leaders, hope, Pakistan’.
If it’s my mother who’s being unsure of the promise of our country, I know I need to panic.

Tere aewaanon mein purzay huwe pemaan kitnay…
Is ours a country that demands sacrifice? Is ours a land perpetually thirsty for blood? Every other day, hundreds of Pakistanis succumb to terrorism. Nameless, faceless Pakistanis are blown up or have their throats slit in our cities, towns and villages. Pakistanis who fail at making it to the headlines even in their deaths! They die as a number. Too many deaths out there, too many numbers! Of people who could have been us. Of children who could have been ours. In movies centered on the themes of war and conflict, there often are characters, despite not being directly affected, who lose their minds due to the catastrophe around them. Are we going the same way? Are we going the opposite way? If the right to live, the most basic of all human rights, is such an inaccessible prerogative in our country, do those who’ve suffered see our lives as an extension of this reprehensible provision of selective justice?
By choosing to be silent, are we just being party to the oppressors’ schemes or even outdoing them?

Kitnay waaday jo na asooda-e-iqraar huwe…
Bilawal Zardari has posted a picture on Twitter today. He stood, along with his sister, in the same pose as the children in the picture before him. There was something written too, I   didn’t  read. This is all our rulers are capable of, the only  consolation prize they can conjure up: a moment of silence, a statement of condemnation. Too busy defending the killers, too pre-occupied offering talks to those who kill us, too consumed with fighting over who’s a shaheed and who’s not; they keep on cruelly ignoring those who aren’t yet shaheed. Their elitist, escapist approach to tackling these monsters of extremism leaves the masses in a state of incredible vulnerability. No sense of security or justice, only luck. Lucky if you survive, sorry if you don’t! Zooming out, the hapless people of this country have in the meanwhile devised their own modes of steadfastness. In that way perhaps, my writing this article is just as egotistical an attempt to redeem myself as any. So that I may be able to sleep after I’m done. So that the images of those wronged would leave me.
So that I may rid myself of a guilty conscience. Our collective guilty conscience!

Teri mehfil ko Khuda rakhay abad tak qayim,
Hum tou mehmaan hain ghari bhar kay, hamara kya hai…
It’s Fajar. I can hear the azaan in the distance. The muezzin’s calling out to people, inviting them to pray, telling them salah is better than sleep. In minutes now, the first ray of sunlight will crack through the horizon. People will wake up from their state of deep slumber, readying for just another day. Forgiving others, forgetting things, making new beginnings … armouring themselves with optimism, bathing in hope. ‘All will be good one day, we have faith!’ This is what they tell each other; this is what they tell themselves. When I wake up, I will perhaps be just as normal. To borrow from Jhumpa Lahiri, the blood of too many will have dissolved the stain. We all will continue to be what we were. New journeys will start. Life will go on as it was.

Life in my watan is as selfish as it is selfless. Life in my watan is as simple as it is complicated.

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