We Are The Dead


Last night, I said:

Saying you’ve lost hope and won’t come out in support for such causes is equal to saying they have won.

(Yes, I just quoted myself!) And then, I ‘read’ this:

O’Brien went on:

“[We] cannot be wiped out because it is not an organization in the ordinary sense. Nothing holds it together except an idea which is indestructible. You will never have anything to sustain you, except the idea. You will get no comradeship and no encouragement. When finally you are caught, you will get no help…You will have to get used to living without results and without hope. You will work for a while, you will be caught, you will confess, and then you will die. Those are the only results that you will ever see. There is no possibility that any perceptible change will happen within our own lifetime. We are the dead. Our only true life is in the future. We shall take part in it as handfuls of dust and splinters of bone. But how far away that future may be, there is no knowing. It might be a thousand years. At present nothing is possible except to extend the area of sanity little by little. We cannot act collectively. We can only spread our knowledge outwards from individual to individual, generation after generation…In the face of [all this] there is no other way.”

George Orwell, 1984

And suddenly, so many things make sense. We need to get used to living without hope and without seeing any result, whatever the struggle we are involved in for this country. We need to understand that we are the dead. We need to remember that there is no other way. We need to make sure that we do this for the future, whenever that finally comes.

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What I Learned In Ramadan 2013


1. Continue the routine of sleeping at work so that you can easily stay up all night to make sehri. (No way you gonna wake up otherwise).

2. Share the number of parathas that you wolf down daily. (It’s always a competition!)

3.  Irony has a new definition: spending all your time thinking about food, jumping from one craving to another, in the month of abstinence. (Mmm…pakoray…)

4. Chances are that, cartoon-esque, everything is food for you. Go with it! (There is no such thing as bad publicity, right? *takes a sip of her Pepsi*)

5. Distract yourself and embrace the jingles within your head. Unless you can carve out your brain and stab it to death, which is in itself a distraction. (Kynke Panther ka pahiya he tu best hai bhaiya!)

6. You can also listen to your friends’ jabbering, thanks to special Ramadan calling rates in order to pass the day, and thenstab your brain to death.

7. Golden Rule #3.14: The way to everyone’s heart is through their stomach. (In reference to culinary skills, not cutlery skills!)

8. Anything and everything can be – and will be – done in the name of Ramadan transmissions and ratings. (Warning: giveaways may include small children and an endless source of content to Tweet about)

9. Avoid that by going out for Iftar buffets, checking out all the deals and eating like kal ho na ho. (Special Tip: for digestion, share each and every detail of your iftar on Pakistan Food Forum on your return).

10. You can also relieve all kinds of tension by visiting Servis and getting yourself some shoes. Good shoes are the key to happiness. (As well as a weapon to employ against those who disagree with you).

Choices


Faiza’s steps were short and quick, but measured. She carefully balanced a thin naan, soggy with the watery chutney that the vendor had so generously poured on it, on her palm. An emaciated-looking shami kebab sat in the middle.

There was no time to waste. She had to get back to her sister, Saba, as quickly as possible. She had settled her in a swing in the little playground near the bus stop. She had not wanted to leave her alone but it would also have been hard to keep an eye on Saba in the crowd.

Oh, how she hated crowds! Too many people, too close to her. Jostling and pushing and shoving.

She winced at the sound of someone spewing mucus ahead. Beads of sweat trickled down the back of the neck of the man in front of her. A wet patch, darker than the rest of his clothes, extended clearly from one pit to another and covered his whole back. Its dank odor made her gag, but there was no space to move away or to change pace. Unless she wanted to step down on to the mud-spattered road, she was stuck.

***

 Adil sat on the pavement, near to where all the food rairhis were snuggled together at the busy road intersection. He picked at a thread on the cuff of his frayed shorts as he watched the commotion of people and traffic all around him.

 The deep red of the cold aloo-bukhara juice. The samosas protected from flies by the flimsiest of cloths. The smell of the pakoras being scooped up fresh out of a deep fry pan. The naan-shamis nestled cozily next to the jugs of runny chutney. All of this tantalized his appetite. He had to swallow more than once and his stomach gave several deep, hungry growls that actually seemed to hurt his already-shriveled insides.

 Then, he saw her.

 His beady eyes settled on her as she purchased a naan-shami. He observed the girl’s harried movements as she handed over the money and quickly joined the throng of people that was moving away down the pavement from the intersection.

 Two seconds later, he joined the crowd and followed her.

 ***

 A couple of burly burka-clad women rubbed shoulders with Faiza. One of them stepped on her toes. Faiza barely managed to keep her balance. The ‘haey’ that escaped her, as two of the toes of her right foot throbbed with pain, went unnoticed. The woman carried on as before, unfazed. Faiza glared at her from the corner of her eye, muttering under her breathe. Some people! Uff!

 Shaking her head, she ploughed on. She must not keep Saba waiting, or alone, longer than was necessary. By now, Faiza was certain Saba’s wide forehead would be creased with a frown, wondering what was keeping her sister.

***

Though only ten, Adil had plenty of experience. He knew how to blend in with the crowd, how to go unnoticed. He kept his eyes fixed on the back of the girl he had seen at the naan-shami vendor, and followed her at what he deemed to be a safe enough distance for now.

 She seemed to be in a hurry but Adil was not worried. There was no danger of losing her. The crowd controlled her pace. It was harried – and she certainly seemed a bit impatient – but not so much that he couldn’t keep up with it.

 The same crowd hid him as well. He did not mind being in the midst of so many people. The close quarters, the rustling of cloth as people jostled each other, the smell of sweat, the loud chatter – he liked it all. And operating in such a huge crowd was second nature; it made his task that much easier.

 He bypassed an old, straggly man, who was bent at the waist and taking slow steps, and moved closer to her. Much closer, waiting for the right moment.

 Any second now, he thought. Any second.

 ***

 As the bus stop got nearer, the crowd around Faiza seemed to expand and pulsate with a new energy. The jostling grew and she struggled to hold her ground and keep her food balanced.

 A push and a little stumble, a pirouetting tumble – and her world turned sideways.

 She fell off the pavement, right onto the uneven road. Her heart pounded in her chest and she seemed unable to draw a proper breathe. For a second, she felt numb and then pain exploded in her left shoulder.

 Ignoring these pin-pricks, however, she sat up as quickly as she could, using the pavement as support against her back.

 No one seemed to notice that a person had just fallen to the ground. If they had, they had not stopped to help her. Not even to ask her if she was alright. The almighty crowd moved on. She vaguely registered this fact. Or that her elbow hurt as if scratched from the gravel. The whole of her left arm had also become wet, courtesy a puddle of muddy water.

 But she didn’t care. She didn’t even feel any embarrassment. The pain in her shoulder seemed unreal. All that clicked in her mind was her food.

The food. O Khudaya! A cry tried to escape her but never made it far. Her voice caught, her throat tightened up and all that came out was a whimper. The shami had broken into pieces and one side of the naan was soaked in the same puddle of water.

She stared down at the little spectacle in front of her, speechless. The food…lost!

***

Adil stopped dead in his tracks when he saw her fall, staring at her as she sat up against the pavement.

Oy! Get out of my way, you!” huffed a man, his moustache bristling, as he bumped into the standing-still Adil.

Several others shot him looks and grumbled as they veered around him. He would have shot them his special looks under different circumstances. Today, he barely noticed. He just stood there watching her, holding his breath.

***

Lost! Tears sprang up in her eyes suddenly, and she was unable to blink them back. Their saltiness stung as a couple of them rolled down her cheek and dissolved on her lips. Now what was she going to do?

Her thoughts turned to Saba. Saba was waiting for her back in the play ground. Hungry and impatient and bored of the swing by now. What was she going to do?

Neither of them had eaten anything the whole day. Nor had they had proper meals the previous day. Old, dry chapaati dipped in water did not fill their stomachs. An unusual occurrence; but temporary, their mother had assured them. Their father would soon be home – tomorrow, she said – and then they would have provisions. For now, they had to be patient.

But the hunger had struck. Unbearable pangs that had made it harder for both sisters to concentrate on their work. Or breathe. The rumblings of their empty bellies could not be ignored, especially since it was the first time their rations had dwindled down to such an extreme. They had always managed somehow in the past.

Today, the only motivation to do anything was the imminent return of their father. Now, even that seemed to have run out with no work as distraction. There was only the rumbling of their stomachs that filled their ears and their heads. And all Faiza had in her possession were two measly twenty rupees notes. One of which they needed to catch the bus back home.

Two growling, empty stomachs and just twenty rupees.

Faiza had quickly assessed their options and made a decision. Saving twenty rupees and going home hungry would be stupid. Better to get a small portion of something – anything – to put their mind and stomach at ease.

So, she had settled Saba in the swing and went off to buy the naan-shami from the vendor she had seen where all the food carts were congregated near the intersection. She had known that it would not be enough – or course it wouldn’t be enough! – but it would have to do for now.

And look where her cleverness had got her, she thought bitterly, sitting against the pavement. Now her whole arm throbbed with pain and her heart felt even more heavy. Sweet, little Saba. How would she ever face her sister empty-handed? How would she ever explain to her expecting eyes why and how she had failed them?

Tears stained pathways down her cheeks. She closed her eyes, praying for a miracle.

***

Adil did not know what to do now. He had been seconds away from getting his prize. Snatching it and running like hell. He was fast. He would have disappeared in a matter of seconds. And he wouldn’t have looked back. He wouldn’t have given a second thought to her reaction, to anything. He just wouldn’t have cared. He never did.

And he would have had a nice little meal, all to himself, that would have kept him going for a couple more days. At least today. Fate did not present him with such easy targets often.

His stomach grumbled as he saw how the kebab had disintegrated, while the naan was being seasoned by a puddle. A wave of disappointment washed over him. Rabba! How unfair! Why did she have to fall?

***

A few minutes passed. To Faiza, they felt like an eternity. She realized that that there would be no miracle. No help. No one around her had even stopped for a second, let alone ask her if she was alright. No one cared. They had buses to catch. Important business to attend to. Everyone was in too much of a hurry to bother helping, to even bother looking.

And she realized she could not just continue to sit here. Saba would be getting jumpy. She had to get back. And they had to go back home or their mother would be worried.

The corner of her chaadar absorbed her tears. She looked around her furtively bent towards the dropped, soiled food, her hands trembling. She picked up the naan, and brushed at it, carefully separating and discarding the useless wet part. Then, gulping back a fresh wave of tears, she gathered up the scattered kebab on the naan.

***

Adil saw her collect the food up from the road but did not understand. He felt utterly perplexed. Why would she pick it up from the road? She would eat that?!

He felt repulsed. He had not thought of doing the same. He, who had not eaten for – what was it? Two, three days now? – who did not know when the next meal would be coming, who often fed himself by stealing, who was accustomed to long bouts of famine. He had not wanted to eat the food that had fallen on the ground.

She had picked it up. Dusted it. Was carefully balancing it once more in her palm as if she still planned to eat it. He suppressed a gag.

***

Faiza gazed at the food in her hands for a moment. But she couldn’t think. No. She shouldn’t think. She would not allow herself to think.

So, she slowly stood up, gathered her courage. Brought her sister’s face to her mind as motivation. Her whole body seemed to ache from her fall now. Her arm was still wet. But she ignored it all. She had wasted too much time already; it was time to get back to Saba.

She adjusted her shawl with one hand and started moving on the road, along the pavement. Avoiding the crowd of people. Slowly making her way back. She couldn’t risk losing her food again.

***

He shook his head and turned away.

The pavement would be a good place to start again.

***

Author’s Note:

“Choices” may not be used or reproduced, in part or whole, without proper consent. I am assuming you would want to.

I wrote this back in 2011 for a university fiction-writing class. This piece earned an A-, even though I didn’t fare that well overall.

What Protest?


In my head, I had this really deep and meaningful post thought up about the Gaza and Palestine conflict. I was ready to wow everyone with my awesome analyzing and writing skills. It would be one hell of a piece of my opinion, protesting the atrocities being conducted by Israel on the poor Palestinians, and a wake up call to the world and what not!

What post, what protest?

I’m just another person who is silently watching from the sidelines as your innocent people are put to death. Just another person who can’t even imagine what you must be going through. Just another helpless person who could barely even write about how awful she feels. and how wrong she thinks all this is. Just another person who reads an article about how unfair all this is, shudders a little and then goes back to doing whatever she was doing before.

But what can you expect from a person who can’t do anything about the ‘bad’ situation in her own country? What can you expect from a person who won’t do anything about the ‘bad’ situation in her own country?

Sorry Palestine. I am just another person to let you down.

A Glowing Example


…of stupidity! Yeah, I said it!

In general, I have lots of issues with ads in Pakistan and I find very little motivation to document them (having done just once before). But this is one that I think I can do this one quick and get it done with and maybe, have an iota more of peace.

I have just one mamu (mother’s brother). He doesn’t come over too often. So I really like it whenever I get a chance to meet him. Whether it’s at our place or his.

But if it’s at my place, I don’t resent his presence in my house. Or the way he hugs me. With always a smile and a joke or two. A kind word. A boop on the nose.

Or sometimes just a rub of his cheek against mine so that I feel every one of his day-old beard’s bristles.

But this is what we are teaching the kids of today (and tomorrow): Your mamu coming over is an inconvenience. You can’t be stylish in front of him ’cause he is old fashioned. He’ll pinch your cheeks in a really annoying way. And again. How rude!

You’d be bored to death, with your phone and your friends (and obviously, a very good mobile and internet network) as your only hope. And who better to rescue you from a decidedly unentertaining afternoon than your very cool and hip friends. What else are friends for?

Of course, it is very plausible to be asking about a test prep all dressed up. In person. I don’t think I need to mention that it’s clear that there was no test in that ad’s universe. Unless it was a test our patience!

A hurray for gullible parents at the (almost end) of this post as well as the ad.

One look at a beautiful woman and go crazy!

Or not! Remember: bros before hoes. Always.

Glow away, my friend. Very far away from me.

Bleeding Green


I thought I was a true Pakistani but no, I don’t bleed green. I know this for a fact. I checked it the other day (accidentally*).

I have a feeling most of us don’t. The people who actually sacrificed their lives, literally and figuratively, 65 years ago were the only ones who bled green. We can never understand it today – or ever. What it meant, what it took.

Because we were born with this independence, this freedom, we don’t care about it. We have put it on the topmost shelf for safety like we would a precious and delicate decoration piece. It sits there year after year, gathering dust till a day like 14th August arrives. Then we take it out, polish it and admire it for a few moments before putting it back.

And it once again sits there in its esteemed position, shining only outwardly for a while before being forgotten once again.

I have often wondered: why does a ‘patriotic’ statement from anyone sound hollow these days? In my opinion, the answer lies in the fact that we ourselves don’t believe in it. And while we struggle to paint a balanced picture, a picture of both the good and the bad of this beloved nation of ours, we still find it hard to believe in the good. And for the bad, we already believe in it too much.

The change is evident in the very fact of ‘celebration’. My own personal experience: I didn’t wear green clothes this time; nor sported any badge. Jhandian have long become extinct as far as I am concerned. No Facebook status; no green display or cover picture. We only put a flag on our roof on the day in question.

And, once outside, I looked to my right and then to my left. Didn’t even see the tiniest trace of a green-and-white flutter.

This is how we celebrate 65 years, the zeal reserved for our social media profile, our blog post and watching TVCs like Ufone’s.

[*If you’re reading this SaaFaa, yes, I think I should give some serious thought to marrying a doctor :D]

 

 

 

Invisibility Cloak


If no one sees us doing anything wrong, it means we haven’t done anything wrong. If people see us doing something wrong but no one stops us, it means we haven’t done anything wrong.

Simple logic.

We will fire in the air randomly, not caring a bit whether someone dies because of it. Nobody stopped us, you know. Of course, we realize everyone was too busy running for their own lives and trying to keep their own hearing intact. But if they had a problem, they should have said something. Even the police officers did not seem to mind our activities. So why do you care?

We will probably get angry and b-slap a few poor women. We realize that physical violence is not the answer but sometimes, these things have to be done, you know? Some people have to be reminded of their place. Once again, nobody stopped us: not the people, not the police officers there. So we’re automatically in the right. If you didn’t like our attitude, maybe you should have said something, yeah? May we remind you, however, that none of the people we “wronged” said even one word. Guess they knew who was right and who was wrong *nod*. Better than you seem to be doing so.

It would seem that Harry Potter is not the only lucky one. We Pakistanis are this lucky too. And these are just two very simple, yet so complex, examples of incidents that occurred during the (a little more than) recent (small-level) elections that took place in the country.

We haven’t acquired this Invisibility Cloak recently either. We have become quite, quite adept at all levels at making ourselves and our actions “invisible” from any consequences, brilliant people that we are.

Thumbs up, fellow countrymen and women! (We don’t discriminate based on gender either! Ha!)

Author’s Note: I apologize for the disappearance act. A draft of this has been sitting in my folder ever since election day but I was unable to muster enough motivation to research more before actually finishing up and publishing a proper piece – something I promise myself every time. Since this is done now, I can easily move on to “massacring” the new(er) ideas floating in my brain.