By Sonya Rehman
The title for this blog post is borrowed from the poem by the 14th century Sufi poet, Hafiz. I’ll get to his poem in a bit.
But first, the night before last.
I lied to my mother on the pretext that I was going for coffee, when in actual fact, I was going to cover the protest at Liberty Chowk, Lahore, initiated by young Pakistanis in solidarity with Mohammad Jibran Nasir’s Lal Masjid protest in Islamabad this week. Even though I’m an adult (I promise I am), I needed to lie to my only parent as rallies terrify her – mainly the fear of bombs going off at charged protests.
While that would terrify just about anyone, Ma, more so. For example, when we used to live in Karachi in the 80s, the security situation in the late 80s left a deep impact on her. One incident in particular, a succession of bomb blasts in a bazaar area (she does not recall the exact location) that made my poor mother so scared and jittery, that at night, she’d stay up looking out the window (while my sibling and I slept soundly) at the park across our apartment building to make sure no unidentified, shady character was planning on blowing up our building.
And then there was the time in 2008 when bombs went off at a festival in Lahore that I was covering which was the final nail in the coffin. I’ve hardly ever covered politics in my career – however the few times I have (jeez), my old articles make me horridly embarrassed since I sound like such a naïve little bimbo bacha – I am finding myself frequently pulled in the direction of covering topics and stories that deal with socio-political issues in Pakistan: the minorities, religion, sectarian violence, human interest stories, and so on. Maybe I am tired of writing about rosey posey art and culture subjects – even though that, I will never stop – but I feel the need to suss out more depth in stories pertaining to Pakistan from a nice, big, holistic perspective. On a personal level too, I prefer depth with a few rather than mindless chatter with large groups.
So yes, back to the night before last. Lied to Ma, chirpily told her I was going to some shitty café on MM Alam Road, as I walked out of the house, my camera obscured under my late grandmother’s kashmiri shawl.
The traffic at the chowk was clogged up due to the protest. While there were no cops deployed around the area, the traffic police looked frazzled diverting traffic to ensure a smooth flow (didn’t work). It was good to be a part of a rally, part of a movement, part of the bigger picture, for once. However I will not exaggerate: the number of civilians, concerned citizens weren’t in the hundreds. At the most, perhaps 200, or less.
What was interesting was the number of young students present at the protest – infact a majority of the participants were students with posters and candles, chanting slogans and coaxing people in their cars to join the rally. It was good to be out, together, fighting peacefully for something, rallying for a shared belief. It felt different, rewarding, cleansing, almost.
After the Peshawar attack this month, in the days that followed, I realized what a deep impact the tragedy has had on all of us Pakistanis. While the outside world gaped in horror and the international media kept churning out similar pieces, all carrying a similar tone of ‘look how fucked up they are, look, Pakistan, the pit of shit,’ I thought about the resilience of our people. Pakistanis are very graceful when they grieve. But then I also thought about our threshold of pain – it is great, vast, but it is nearing the point where pain moves into profound madness. It starts out slowly, and then hits you full force, and one day you realize, you don’t think like other, normal people, you are paranoid, insecure, detached and an emotional mess – all at once.
Last month, the fire alarm went off at my college one morning. My blood ran cold and I told my students, that in case there was trouble, no one was to panic. In my head I was trying to locate the fire exits in the building. I had been seized with fear and couldn’t think rationally for the life of me. Later, I realized it wasn’t normal to feel like that, to react in such, pure terror.
And then the Peshawar attack took place. Teachers at the school were doused with petrol, burnt alive, children were shot at multiple times. A friend said to me; can you imagine what the parents must be going through, knowing they couldn’t be there to shield their children from the horror, to protect them from the bullets?
Pakistan – living the Pakistani struggle, breathing it, tasting it, hearing it, touching it, feeling it, sensing it, constantly…While the wounds of the Peshawar attack are still fresh and raw, we must not forget similar incidents now carved into our young country’s history. In an article for DAWN, Pervez Hoodbhoy states:
“All tragedies provoke emotional exhortations. But nothing changed after Lakki Marwat when 105 spectators of a volleyball match were killed by a suicide bomber in a pickup truck. Or, when 96 Hazaras in a snooker club died in a double suicide attack. The 127 dead in the All Saints Church bombing in Peshawar, or the 90 Ahmadis killed while in prayer, are now dry statistics. In 2012, men in military uniforms stopped four buses bound from Rawalpindi to Gilgit, demanding that all 117 persons alight and show their national identification cards. Those with typical Shia names, like Abbas and Jafri, were separated. Minutes later corpses lay on the ground. If Pakistan had a collective conscience, just one single fact could have woken it up: the murder of nearly 60 polio workers — women and men who work to save children from a crippling disease — at the hands of the fanatics. Hence the horrible inevitability: from time to time, Pakistan shall continue to witness more such catastrophes. No security measures can ever prevent attacks on soft targets. The only possible solution is to change mindsets.”
In Pakistan, we, all of us, are on a perpetual emotional exile waiting for the next tragedy to jolt us out of ordinary, blurry living. We are drunk on routine, drunk within our bubbles. We fail to forget we are part of the whole, part of the bigger picture. Our solidarity, support, and love for each other has to be constant and unwavering. Existence will seem meaningless when one focuses only on the personal narrative.
Like Hafiz states in his poem (below), our presence in this life has been pre-written – we are here because we are meant to be here, living in these times, experiencing and feeling what we are – what we allow ourselves. Each of us has a greater purpose – from the ordinary to the extraordinary, both as important, both as vital.
For the new year, days away now, I hope we never forget each tragedy that has befallen our people and use it as a call of action, a call of duty, for change, for beauty, joy, and peace, for our children.
I want to hear them laughing again.
*Hafiz’s poem, below, is from the book, A Year With Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky. Each poem in the book is a jewel in itself.
This Place Where You Are Right Now
This place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.
Wherever your eyes and arms and heart can move against the earth and sky, the Beloved has bowed there,
the Beloved has bowed there knowing you were coming.
I could tell you a priceless secret about your real worth, dear pilgrim,
but any unkindness to yourself, any confusion about others, will keep one from accepting the grace,
the love, the sublime freedom Divine Knowledge always offers to you.
Never mind, Hafiz, about the great requirements this path demands of the wayfarers,
for your soul is too full of wine tonight to withhold the wondrous truth from this world. But because I am so clever and generous,
I have already woven a resplendent lock of His tresses as a remarkable gift in this verse for you.
The place where you are right now, God circled on a map. And wherever, dear, you can move against
this earth and sky, the Beloved has bowed there, knowing, knowing you were coming. – Hafiz
Paperazzi, Paper Magazine