Our Bajiya

Today, on what would’ve been her 88th birthday, Google honours Bajjo. Two and a half years after her passing, it is still heartbreaking to think about her. She made 85 feel too young an age to go, because all she had was love to give – no favours to ask, no embittered comments, always the one to make the effort even with people 60 years her junior. Bajj was always available if you needed anything; from helping your drivers daughter get admitted into school after the admissions had closed to making sure an innocent Bangladeshi cook wasn’t deported unfairly.

At her home, the governor and the governor’s driver, sat on the same sofa, drank tea from the same cup. She never turned anyone away, not at 6 in the morning and not at 11 at night.

She received the highest civilian award from the Japanese emperor, and in the 90s when India and Pakistan were conducting nuclear tests and war seemed imminent, she was offered Japanese citizenship for herself and five family members. She said, “can you offer 150 million people citizenship? The whole of Pakistan is my family”.

Bajiya beat cancer like it was a common flu. She lost all her weight, her appetite, her clarity of speech, to cancer, but not her strength of character. She’d say, “I’m sure they got it wrong, I never had cancer”, and she’d go about her business just the same. For her radiation she was being given minuscule dots of tattoo ink on her face to mark the areas where the radiation needed to happen. Some of it spilt, leaving her with a very large, circular permanent mark on her face. “Mistakes happen!”, she smiled and said.

Despite living alone it was her who would come see us as opposed to the other way around – she’d come in for five mins at the most, remain standing the whole time – “I just wanted to see your face”, she’d say, “now I’m leaving. I have too much work. I’ll come again tomorrow”. And she kept her word, as always.

Bajj always had too much work, none of it her own, none of it for herself. At her home, she’d be buried under piles of paper that she was allegedly “sorting out” for as long as I had lived. The answer to “do you need help?” would always be no. The answer to “can you help me?”, would always be yes.

That’s who Bajiya was I suppose, now that I think about it. She was one big YES in a world full of No’s. A smile and a helping hand, in a world full of people who never have the time. An encouraging constant source of support, never with any expectation whatsoever.

And the beauty of it is, she wasn’t just mine. She belonged to everyone. Today I live in the house where Bajiya once lived. She was my grandmother, but when I moved in, all my neighbours said, “Oh welcome! You are lucky to live in Bajiya’s house! Bajiya was our aunt!”. I smiled and didn’t say anything because in some way, in every way, they are right. Bajiya is as much mine as she is anyone else’s.

The day she had her stroke, she had gone to Lyari at age 85, on a scorching day, because someone’s gate keeper had promised their daughter that Bajiya would be the chief guest at a function in her school. That’s Bajiya.

I’m sure God would’ve come to receive her himself at the pearly gates, where she would have greeted him with her signature “Hullo!” and started saying “beta, you must put so and so in heaven, they don’t deserve hell”….

I have a knot in my throat thinking about her even today. Rest in peace, my darling Bajj – rest in all your glory, your impeccable egalitarianism, your unparalleled compassion, and your beautiful, beautiful, soul. Thank you for making it so easy to love you this much. Always.

Published on Facebook on September 1st, 2018.

Pakistan: a story of the surreal and the sublime

Yesterday was different, at least for me. It was one of those days when that batsman who survives because of a no-ball ends up scoring a century; or when the ball hits the stumps but the bails don’t come off; or when you drop the catch for the best batsman in the world and he has to walk on the next ball anyway; or when your scorecard is reminiscent of decades ago when your line up wouldn’t devastatingly crumble; or when a team you expect to score 180, wins by that same margin instead. 

Yesterday was different for me because our game embodied everything we represent as a nation; a little bit of madness, a vast amount of skill, effort, passion, prayer, a few silly mistakes, the ability to rise up when it is least expected, and of course, a little bit of magic; all the elements that make us completely predictable in our unpredictability; all the elements that make us Pakistan. 

These are kids that haven’t played at home, don’t have the resources, the training, the exposure, or the support that athletes require; they have been ostracized and left out of international contests. Yesterday was different because it felt like it no longer mattered how we had been wronged, it didn’t matter which team we beat as long as we were the winners, it didn’t matter whether we were allowed to play in Pakistan because we brought every last bit of Pakistan to them. 

Congratulations guys; this is a victory for all of us if there ever was one! ❤

Lest I Forget: Remembering Fidel

Karachi, 26th November, 2016

I don’t remember the first time I tasted chocolate. I don’t remember the first time I saw the sunrise and the colours in the sky blew me away. I don’t remember the first time I felt excited about seeing a new city, or when that excitement became my foremost desire. I don’t remember the first time I recognised how much I love my family, or the first time the waves washed over my feet at the beach. These are extraordinary emotions; those that are constant through my life. Exhilarating, yet impossible to verbalise. 

It was similar for me, with Fidel. I use his first name because he has been more a friend, a companion to me over the years, than a distant figure. I’ve carefully studied his life and his struggle, I’ve lived and relived it on pages of books, old and new; on television screens, and in conversations with hardliner communists or those disillusioned by the same; I have breathed in his valiance on the streets of Havana and absorbed his undeniable presence in the tiny lanes of Soroa. I’ve cried and mourned for the loss of his fallen comrades as though they were my own. Why not? It’s never too dramatic to cry when the world loses good people; people with strength of character, moral fibre, people who stand for what they believe in despite the consequences instead of losing themselves in the riptide; exactly the kind of people the world is desperately lacking today. 

In all this, I don’t remember when I began to love Fidel. Be it as a figment of my imagination, or my friend who lived in the pages of those books, or an ideal, someone who stood up to bullies and put his money where his mouth is. 

As much as I feel the need to defend my friend, I will not comment on his politics because for me, this grief is not political, it is personal. 

Today, I mourn you Fidel, from the depth of my heart and soul. I don’t remember when you became my friend, but I will never forget your loss and what a void it has left in me, or in the world. 

In a global atmosphere where racism and bigotry are the order of the day, I will remember your regard and struggle for equality and brotherhood; where the poor struggle to afford medicines for their families, I will remember your service of free health care for your people, and the doctors you sent world over in times of need; where only those who have means can afford quality education, I will remember your effort for free top quality education for your people; where a switch to renewable energy is desperately needed but not implemented, I will remember how you survived Peak Oil; where natural disasters are frequent, I will remember your efforts to safeguard the Cuban people through foolproof evacuation plans and early warning systems; where the chemicals that fertilise our food are killing us, I will remember how you encouraged Cubans to grow their own; and finally, when we sit in our living rooms and talk about changing the world, I will remember how you went out there and did exactly that. 

In a world where the options are either Trump or Hilary; where after colonising the world Britain wants to become isolationist; where opportunities are based on where and to whom you were born, and in a world where money, not work, is what gets you ahead, I will remember you, my dear friend. 

It is not history, but our present that has absolved you. 

Rest in Peace, Fidel Castro. 

Hasta la Victoria siempre! 

Fuerza y adelante!

Himalayan Breeze

After 45 mins of the most treacherous terrain, and the most vicious downpour, the mountains were kind enough to let in some sun. I put my hand out of the window to engage in a gentle battle with the Himalayan breeze… Then I stuck my head out and breathed some of the purest oxygen the region has to offer. I was sure the trucker didn’t share my enthusiasm for a view that was probably commonplace for him, but my music got louder as the clouds rolled back – country roads, take me home.

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Country roads, take me home 🙂 Hunza to Gilgit

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Published on Facebook on May 30, 2014.

An Ode to the Karachi Monsoon

I’m not sure how I’ll make it home. I don’t know how many more minutes of rain will drown all these streets; I don’t know when the children playing in the puddles will finally be bored or when this man will get his motorcycle to work again; I don’t know if Karachi Electric will ever be prepared for these downpours; I’m not sure how Malik Riaz’s mega infrastructure will fare; I don’t know how many people are worried about their loved ones, or how many people are sipping garam chai on their balconies; I’m not sure how long my wifi will hold and I don’t know when my exhilaration will turn to despair.

I do know, however, that Karachi and the Monsoon rain have an unspoken agreement that makes home feel like home and that makes my city beautiful to me. And when the two collide, unprompted, my heart screams – Karachi, I love you!

Monsoon, welcome home.

Originally published on Facebook on July 23, 2015.

Soul Stirrers

Two weeks ago I left Pakistan, hoping to see and know different countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, with some people I hold very close to my heart. The holiday was promising from the get-go not just because of the company – Latin America is a region I have long been obsessed with, for one reason alone: Cuba.

My obsession with Cuba stems from years of studying (under no duress from institutions) the revolution, the people, the cities and Che/Castro. In doing so the subject became so real to me that I never really had the nerve or the audacity to plan a trip to Cuba; when should it be? how would it be? for how long? how long would be enough? would any amount of time be enough? it was one of those distant, yet exciting dreams, the kind of dream that motivates you, intrigues you, ignites something within you… thus like any dream, I couldn’t plan it, it just had to happen to me.

And so it did. Four days into my Latin American dream Lorena Viale and Miguel Olivencia surprised me with a visa and a ticket to Cuba. The rest, as they say, was ecstasy.

A friend asked me whether Cuba met my expectations. It’s strange but I never had any expectations from Cuba; I always knew I would love it, no questions asked. I felt I knew those people; I knew those places; every inch of Havana steeped in a history of sacrifice so ripe, so raw and so beautiful that it made me never want to leave; every conviction so strong, every hope so tainted, every effort so honest, every conversation so meaningful, every handshake so genuine.

The past two weeks have taught me a few things – that no one can ever top what Lore and Miguelito have done for me (hah!); that the Pakistani passport is a curse; that immigration officers have a tough job; that some friends are just tailor-made to travel with you; that it is incredibly easy to survive without internet and telephones for days on end; that the new Pearl jam album is bloody brilliant; that fake teeth are unreliable; that the jet lag emanating from a 35 hour journey home may never leave me; that the waters in the Caribbean are bluer than blue and calmer than calm; that Colombian taxi drivers are great at giving guilt trips; that Venezuelan street art is incredible; that Aruba is better than it looks on your post card; that iguanas roam freely in Curacao; and that Panama City has a lot more to offer than you would think.

Most importantly however, I’ve learnt that dreaming may be what keeps us alive, but realising our dreams gives us new life.

Hello Karachi : )

Originally published on Facebook on November 1st, 2013.

The Rain of Tears: Hindu Temples in Pakistan

Katas Raj Temples, Chakwal District, Punjab, Pakistan

Pakistan never ceases to surprise me (albeit not always pleasantly!). There are several myths and legends associated with Katas Raj. As per Hindu mythology, the Pandawas (of Mahabharata fame) were exiled to this spot, and these temples were constructed to commemorate their arrival.

My favourite story, naturally the more dramatic of the various versions, is that relating to Shiva. Shiva is the Destroyer amongst the Hindu Trinity and legend has it, that it was here that he received the news of the death of his beloved wife Sati. The “Rain of Tears” following this news created two pools; one here, in the homeland, and one just across the border, in Ajmer.

Originally published on Facebook on September 4th, 2016.