The Hard Goodbye

My first conscious memory of London is a vivid image of the evening sun strewn across Hyde Park, at age 3, as i fed the ducks with our cook (before he became an alcoholic and when his food was still edible… Gran is right, those were simpler times). Fast forward age 8, I remember coming here after having been to the States, and thinking, “I can’t believe this is my sister’s favourite city. There’s nothing to do, and even McDonalds doesn’t taste as good here!” Subsequently, the countless visits every summer and over Christmas allowed London to show me her best side, and naturally, my city grew on me.

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#driveby #london

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3 years ago, I moved to London at perhaps the most turbulent time in my life. But London, she took me in like one of her own – I’ve walked her streets at 5am and 9pm and seen her at her best and at her worst. I’ve trudged onto the tube (to stand uncomfortably close to strangers) cursing the rain and broken bread with my friends over a summer’s day in the park. I’ve been to plays and I’ve been to raves. I’ve tried Pakistani food that has been called Indian food, never tasting like either. I’ve waited for a cab in the freezing cold and I’ve cursed my flat for not being equipped for the heat. I’ve dined at the best restaurants and eaten kebabs from the street corner after a night out. I have smiled because the busker was strumming my favourite tune, and allowed my football team to make or break my day. I’ve learnt to obsess over the weather for no real reason and accept that for days on end, regardless of what’s happening in the world, Jimmy Saville will be the most important news story. I’ve learnt that every cabbie’s life has unfolded in the most intriguing sequence of events. I learnt that London is in fact the sum of it’s parts, a beautiful amalgamation of the millions that live here, and that is its unique DNA. I’ve learnt that no matter how long you’ve lived here, it is always acceptable to ask for directions, because London is always hiding something you are yet to discover.

In many ways, I leave London today at age 3, albeit of a different life. In the last 3 years, my friends have turned into family, and my family, more so the most integral part of my being. Perhaps I now know better than to leave with an image of the sun shining across Hyde Park, (I mean we all know the sun never shines in London) but I leave a happier, fuller person. Happier, but heavy hearted nonetheless. So, my dear London, you know I wont be the same without you, but there is consolation in knowing that you wont be the same without me either. I would say thank you, but that would mean closing this chapter, and I’ll never be ready to say goodbye, so here I am raising a glass to you. London – here’s to the nights we felt alive.

Karachi – heartbroken but optimistic, here I come.

Originally published on Facebook on March 24, 2013.

Acquiesce

Just like thatjust like that, I forget the broken roads, I forget Amir Liaquat’s monstrous face plastered over all the billboards, I ignore the motorcyclist spitting paan strategically out of his helmet, I ignore the constant honking and the fact that no one observes traffic rules, I ignore the recurring adverts about mobile phones and lawn prints, the telecom wires that are dangerously close to the ground, and all the ‘Ramzan offers’ that are apparently too good to refuse. I can smell the raindrops hitting the mud and regardless of how humid it is, the weather feels like it’s perfect outside.

Just like that Karachi, with the first monsoon rain, I fall in love with you all over again.

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Monsoon mornings 2

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Originally published on Facebook on July 25, 2014.

Well-placed nostalgia

I find it deeply perplexing, that moments in history that one does not contribute to in any tangible way, can alter the course of ones life. My two weeks in India gave me the chance to meet a number of people who’s grandparents were born in present day Pakistan. I found it unsettling in so many ways, that a decision made by our grandparents, to move in 1947, is what so intrinsically defines us now.

I travelled to india with a number of preconceived notions – notions of clear differences and distinctions between two nations, notions of different accents and mindsets, notions of tolerance and intolerance, notions of love and resentment, notions of misplaced nostalgia, notions of chaos, notions of discontent and most importantly, notions of being completely alien to this undiscovered world of over a billion people.

Things never really are what they seem. The first thing that struck me about India was its sheer size, the sheer magnitude and vastness of it all, and the crude realisation that amid all the madness, there is something about the system that prevents it from imploding. This was accompanied by the sudden epiphany that 90% of my time in India will be spent commuting from one place to another.

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Qutub Minar #throwback #delhi #takemeback

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In two weeks, I have attempted to skim the surface of India’s northern cities and it’s southern rivers and She has welcomed me as though the haunting line that divides us is a mere figment of my imagination. I have breezed through immigration. I have found myself wondering how I haven’t yet had an accident in Delhi and whether all the cabbies here are secretly engaged in a game of “chicken”, I have seen all the chaos of home and all the order of the first world. I have realised that you rarely feel more alive than when you almost get hit by a bus every five minutes while being driven around in a cycle-rickshaw in Chandni Chowk. I have noticed that Indian street dogs are as resilient as the MQM in Karachi and as lazy as Nawaz Sharif’s cabinet. I’ve seen all of Delhi’s monuments from the Qutub to the Fort, enveloped in a dominant yet silent grandeur, humbly embodying a rich and colourful history the city so forcefully represents.

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These crowded streets Delhi, February 2014

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Down in Kerala, I have seen what it means for separate nations to reside in a single state. South Indians are largely oblivious to most other Indians let alone Pakistanis. I have soaked sun on a boat in the back waters and witnessed natural beauty like never before. In Agra, I could sense the Taj Mahal acknowledging my presence in all it’s cliched majesty, standing relentlessly beautiful amidst thousands of people.

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#backwaters #kerala #india

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I have haggled with shopkeepers, seen people fall ludicrously sick, said yes to all the right things, rekindled old friendships, made new friends, reunited with older ones, I have heard “salaam” “namaste” and “sat sri akaal” all in the same day, I’ve been proud to come to the realisation that I know a lot more about Bollywood than any of my Indian friends and at the same time been blown away by how enamoured my Indian friends are by Pakistani culture, I’ve danced till my legs hurt, laughed till my jaw hurt, been silly, been embarrassed, been excited, but most importantly, been truly content.

Now that I am leaving, it hits me that I was never an alien here. What was alien were my preconceived notions. I felt no differences, I felt no resentment, and no intolerance. What I felt was love, a whole lot of love, and an understood, understated regret on either side of this imaginary line, that our relationship status was at best, complicated.

My nostalgia is no longer misplaced. I have no qualms in saying that I felt at home in a place that could very well have been my home. On a very basic level, only now have I realised, after criticising the rush in Delhi and the lack thereof in Kochin, that our alphabet, our script may be different, but our language is exactly the same.

India, you have been incredible. Until we meet again…..

Originally published on Facebook on February 25, 2014.

Our Great Divorce

It’s strange, this affinity with India. I find myself getting increasingly upset at the abuse and hatred tossed from one border to another, with little rationale apart from the 69 year old chips on our shoulders. These chips have, over time, turned into boulders, and who doesn’t crumble under the weight of those?

It’s very strange, this affinity with India. When Amitabh Bachchan is in the hospital, we pray for his good health; when Ranbir Kapoor’s film is a hit, we’re prouder than Neetu and Rishi; we never deny that no one brings romance to life like the voices of Kishore and Rafi; they are in unanimous agreement that their local music scene is not a patch on ours; if we happen to interact abroad, they’re the only pardesis we include in the ‘desi’ category; their monuments carry our history; our language carries their roots.

It’s far too strange, this affinity with India. Like siblings, we retaliate to each other’s provocations. Ultimately, we both share the label of being impulsive and emotional in our responses to one another – ‘Look at what you’re doing in Kashmir’ ‘Hah, look at what you’re doing in Balochistan’; ‘You attacked us first in Uri’ ‘Have you forgotten about Kargil’?; ‘You started it!’ ‘No! You started it!’

Like orphaned trust fund babies, we feel entitled yet have no idea how to cope. They neither acknowledge nor respond to Muslims being massacred for eating beef in Gujrat, for instance, and we? We turn a blind eye to Christians and Hindus being physically assaulted for eating before Iftar in Ramzan. They’re destroying Kashmir, we say, Kashmiris have a right to be independent (or choose us, of course), but we forget how we throttled Bangladesh – why should a Bengali speaking majority not accept Urdu as its national language? We never speak about that, do we? Too soon, perhaps.

When I think about some of my best days and nights in the last ten years, more than 50% of them were spent with my brothers and sisters from across the border; sharing a meal, listening to music, discussing politics, or anything but; laughing, dancing, singing; but most importantly, completely aware yet in vehement passive rebellion against the lines that keep us apart.

Come to think of it now, it isn’t strange at all, this affinity with India. Our proverbial Lord and Master, the gargantuan power that rules us, ‘The West’, is an absentee parent; one we’re constantly trying to please but one who never really loved us anyway. If there is anyone for us, it’s each other. What’s strange is our reluctance to acknowledge this.

What’s strange is the burden we carry of decisions made in our pasts, based on an entirely different socio-political context, when a common, exploitative antagonist made sure we saw each other as the aggressor, and boy, did we fall for it. What’s strange is our prolonged blindness to the immense opportunities that lie before us as a unit, and the vast desolation that lies before us as enemies.

The strangest thing about our relationship, in fact, is our propensity to change roles. To the world, most of the time, we are siblings; constantly at loggerheads, trying to get into daddy’s good books so that he may buy us a toy, or take us for a drive, or better yet, increase our allowance. Other times, we are like a divorced couple, sharing space, constantly bickering over who lost out in the settlement, unable to finally come to terms with the fact that we are no longer together. It seems the scars of our separation are still so ripe, so painful, that they can’t accept that we left, and we can’t accept that they let us leave. In an event like this, we only find solace in making sure the other is just as hurt as we are, so we put in our all our resources, our best efforts, to do exactly that.

I read today that India claimed they carried out a surgical attack in Uri. Ridiculous. I immediately read several, equally ridiculous Pakistani reactions; some hitting below the belt, others claiming that one shouldn’t expect more from mass murdering politicians, like the ones we have across the border. Somehow, suddenly, we are all too forgiving of our own ‘glorious’ politicians. It’s strange how quick we are to forget how much trouble governance is in, on both sides, when we jump up to point fingers.

I’m sure this news will leave me in a month’s time. What hasn’t left me is the news about a Pakistani Head of State’s arrival in Delhi for a test match, ultimately averting the threat of war; or an Indian politician putting his hand forward to greet his Pakistani counterpart, to curb tensions; or that time when Ganguly acknowledged that there’s no one greater than Wasim; or when Shoaib Malik married Sania Mirza; or that image of the guards in the most beautiful fraternal embrace I have ever seen, on Holi at Wagah Border. I suppose it’s because some of us look for peace, we hanker for it, while others, they look for war.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is, in 20 years’ time, Uri will be just another event in the text books. It will be labeled as yet another period in our collective histories when our ‘cold war’ with India almost turned into ‘hot war’. It will be just another opportunity for me to pick on my Indian friends or vice versa. It will be just another event our older uncles will discuss when they try to feel better about Pakistan’s failures and convince themselves that partition was the best thing that could’ve happened for us and that, without India, ‘we’re better off’.

What will never be ‘just another event’ is one we never address. The fact that we are now divorced; the fact that our separation is painful for both of us; the fact that where there is now hate, there was once unity and a common pride; the fact that we allowed an external power to come in and manipulate us, and we fell prey; the fact that no one will know us like we know each other, because after all, we were once but one.

It is comforting somehow, that when I messaged one of my closest friends across the border, expressing concern over the destructive megalomaniac tendencies of our governments, he responded and said, ‘It doesn’t matter what they do, you know I will always love you’. It is comforting somehow, that in 20 years’ time, if you look away from the textbooks, and turn to your ancient scriptures or your holy books, it won’t take you long to see that since time immemorial, there is only one message they are trying to convey, only one message we should be paying attention to; and that message is Love.

This post was originally published on Facebook here. It was republished and reported on dawn.com, IndianExpress.com, BetterIndia.comStorypick.com, Buzzfeed, Mangobaaz, NDTV, rediff news, Huffington Post India, Scoopwhoop.com, The News Minute, Catch News, Mid-Day.com, India Live TodayNamanBharat.com, tahlkanews.com, MadhyamamZee News, amankiasha.com, The Times of India, BBC Urdu and BBC News.