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! ❤

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.

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.

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.