Tuesday
Sep062011

The Correspondent

I say, "There's no way back to your country,"

I tell him he must never leave. He cites

the world: his schedule. I set up barricades:

the mountain routes are damp;

there, dead dervishes damascene

the dark. "I must leave now," his voice ablaze.

I take off--it's my last resort--my shadow.

 

And he walks--there's no electricity--

back into my dark, murmurs Kashmir!, lights

(to a soundtrack of exploding grenades)

a dim kerosene lamp.

"We must give back the hour it sheen.

or this spell will never end...Quick," he says,

"I've just come--with videos--from Sarajevo."

 

His footage is priceless with sympathy,

close-ups in slow motion, from bombed sites

to the dissolve of mosques in colonnades.

Then, wheelchairs on a ramp,

burning. He fast-forwards: the scene:

the sun: a man in formal wear: he plays

on the sidewalk his unaccompanied cello,

 

the hour turned, dusk-slowed, to Albinoni,

only the Adagio as funeral rites

before the stars dazzle, polished to blades

above a barbed-wire camp.

The cellist disappears. The screen

fills--first with soldiers, then the dead, their gaze

fractured white with subtitles. Whose echo

 

inhabits the night? The phone rings. I think he

will leave. I ask: "When will the satellites

transmit my songs, carry Kashmir, aubades

always for dawns to stamp

True! across seas?" The stars careen

down, the lamp dies. He hangs up. A haze

settles over us. He opens the window,

 

points to convoys in the mountains, army

trucks with dimmed lights. He wants exclusive rights

to this dream, its fused quartz of furtive shades.

He's been told to revamp

his stories, reincarnadine

their gloss. I light a candle. He'll erase

Bosnia, I feel. He will rewind to zero,

 

film from there a way back to his country,

bypassing graves than in blacks and whites

climb ever up the hills. The wax cascades

down the stand, silver clamp

to fasten this dream, end it unseen.

In the faltering light, he surveys

what's left. He zooms madly into my shadow.

 

-Agha Shahid Ali

Saturday
Aug132011

I don't think we're in Karachi anymore.

I have a piece of stale barfi in my fridge.

It has been there for six days. I know it is old. And I know, that every time I carefully unwrap it to take a tiny bite, and wrap it back up, I am probably risking a drastic case of food poisoning. But it is barfi, sweet, with the right amount of pista and badam. Each bite reminds me of home, of my father selflessly buying a small box of barfi so that we would eat some meetha, even though he is diabetic. It reminds me of the time that I turned my nose up at it, insisting that desi mithai was not worth risking obesity for.

Four months away from home changes everything.

.

There were mangoes, that were brought into the US. I had a box gifted as a present, courtesy of the Pakistan Embassy. On Monday morning, I opened the box, and inhaled the smell of the chaunsas, and then quickly looked around to see that no one was looking. Two hours later, another Pakistani friend told me that she had done the same thing.

.

A few months ago, I read this blog post. It seems crazy, right? Why would anyone, in a city in a first world country, forego sleep and the benefits of a thriving nightlife, and sit at home and watch a cricket match?

A few weeks after I moved to Washington, Pakistan and India played each other in a semi-final [that we will pretend never happened]. At 4AM, I dutifully woke up, found the shadiest website that was streaming the match, aware that this might be illegal, and began watching what turned out to be a massacre, but was part of the ritual that we call life as a Pakistani. Even know, the thought of Mohammad Aamir's wasted career brings tears to my eyes. We stand united in our pain [and in our hatred for Ijaz Butt].

.

Today marks Pakistan's 64th Independence Day. There is no other place I'd rather call home. Lekin iss mulk ka Khuda hi hafiz.
Sunday
Jun122011

Everyday is a winding..wait, what?

I apologize, to the few who still follow this blog, for the lack of updates. For the most part, I have been preoccupied with work thanks to the gift that keeps on giving aka US-Pakistan relations. I realize that is no excuse, but in part, it is also because I am still adjusting to life in Washington, and at the risk of being brutally honest, one tries to fill their free time here with as many activities as possible, so as not to face being alone in an unfamiliar city.

In May, I went to Chicago to cover the first week of the Tahawwur Rana trial, and discovered how the city can rapidly change in terms of weather, and one must always be well-prepared. No, seriously, you try braving the cold [read: rain, fog and winds at the same time] of Chicago clad in one measly sweater as protection.

But, coming back to the Rana trial, a man accused of helping David Headley [who's confessed to his role in the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai], and providing material support to Lashkar-e-Taiba, and then helping in the plot to attack Jyllands-Posten, the Denmark newspaper that had published the cartoons that led to protests, deadly riots, deaths, a ban on Danish products [remember that folks?] and more.

While Tahawwur has been found guilty on two of three counts, it was fascinating watching David Headley. I'm still not sure if Headley is a victim of his own neuroses - where he believed that by joining Lashkar-e-Taiba and then dealing with men associated [or retired] from the ISI, he felt he was doing the right thing, or if it was a case of trying to pretend like he was a big shot in this dirty game that is called the India-Pakistan war. There are many reasons for why people turn to extremism - poverty, circumstances, hatred. But for so many, many people, the conflicts in Pakistan dating back to decades now, have allowed those searching for any kind of identity, ideology, a direction, to be influenced by whoever screamed the loudest, or talked in a manner smoother than whipped cream. What Headley's reasons were is something we'll probably never know. But the core problems that have riddled our state don't seem to be going away anytime soon, no matter how much we sweep it under the carpet. The problem is that no one seems to want to talk about it. Instead, terms are tossed around [also particular favourites of the Pakistan Army's] like "national identity" and "national interest," which have been abused so often that one doesn't even know how to reclaim these terms back.

Coming back to Washington, not one week passes by where Pakistan isn't in the news. Somedays, it is more of the same: debates on aid, conditions or no conditions. Then, there is the news that makes you want to rip your hair out - the ISI allegedly telling militants about hideouts, Senators saying that Pakistan hasn't fulfilled aid requirements ergo they can't release any money, signifying that a desire to not be transparent is more important than allowing aid projects to be green lit. There is the ludicrous, which I've mentioned before: a Senator referring to people from Pakistan as "Pakistanians". And then, there is the news from back home that breaks one's heart - the daily incidents of terrorism, the reluctance of the military to cede control over anything, the utter failure of the civilian government to question, or at least attempt to question the military on anything and everything. I haven't been away from Pakistan that long and I will never write a "The Pakistan I Knew" blog post, but judging by the way things are going, I am anything but optimistic about this country's future. As I remarked to someone the other day, ab tau yeh lagta hai ke Allah Mian ne bhi iss mulk se apna haath utha liya hai.
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