Unpatriotically patriotic views of a Pakistani artist/photographer, temporarily unsettled in Bangkok.
A young girl who has left the house on her own for the first time to commute to her college through a public bus walks the street of a lower middle class area -an area that bore the signs of regular political gang wars. She is nervous, very conscious of hiding herself, especially her breasts, with her dupatta (traditional wrap). She is aware of the lecherous stares of the men-men who reminded her of rabid street dogs with wagging tongues. She wants to be invisible. The public bus arrives and as usual it is like a speck of an island that is so densely populated that there is no room to stand or even breathe. She stands inside the bus prepared for a 2-hour ride consumed by the stench of sweat and poverty. The men are oozing out into the ‘Ladies section’. She feels someone pinch her bottom. She wants to be invisible again.
A few years later, the same girl, a workingwoman now, is driving back home to the same area from her office after 11pm. She is wearing modern clothes and her demeanor radiated confidence. It was late but she was a thorough professional. She notices she has company. The same kind of rabid dogs following her on their motorbikes, probably just trying to have some fun by instigating fear from this pseudo modern woman. She starts to drive faster but was unable to lose them. She takes a sharp turn and in the process her car touches one of the motorbikes. The bikers slip, others stop. She disappears…becomes invisible.
Three years later still, the woman is admitted to the hospital scheduled to have a C-section the next day. Her husband goes to the bank to take out the money they had saved for 9 months for this day. He was mugged at gunpoint. She had been mugged at gunpoint before, she had seen people been shot for money before. She is only glad that her husband is alive.
A few years and many happenings after, Benazir Bhutto is killed, and the city sees the most efficient outbreak of violence it had ever seen. The same woman with her family is stuck inside her apartment for 5 days. She has no water to use. No milk for her daughter. There is no choice but to stay hidden and wait. At least it was better than the 72-hour power failure (one of the many frequent ones) they had faced earlier.
Yes, this is Karachi. The city of lights, the city that never sleeps. What always mesmerized me was the fact that despite the quality of daily life, and the smell of fear, how resilient we are. If 18 people die in one day, we thank Allah that it wasn’t 80 and we would then find out if the roads were open so we could go about going our business-the very same day! There is no mourning, no flowers left anywhere. Only short sad discussions (that too when at least more than 20 people die in a day) followed quickly by normal life. Why are we not paralyzed with fear and sadness? Have we become numb or have we learnt to live in our survival? Why do we still love the city? Why in the midst of chaos, frustration and limitations, we find peace in the people and even places? Why does it still feel like home?
I am no political columnist, or a human rights activist. Nor am I an ambassador for my country. But when I hear about any terrorist attack in the world linked to Pakistan and witness the hateful reactions of the people towards everything that is linked to the country, I cannot help but think of the daily turmoil faced by a common man or woman living in Pakistan. Poverty, perpetual political and economic crises, lack of education and awareness and many other factors intertwine to produce a nation that is struggling for survival on a daily basis. If such a state generates lack of empathy, it is not only for the world at large-it is also for our own selves. I feel that in such disarray, people become either closer to their animal or find some anchor in religion. The animal in them takes out their frustrations by inflicting pain on others in many social layers. The Muslim in them have their interpretations emanating from their emotional and physical state to become focused on acquiring heaven in the life after. Their animosity towards their own lives, become externalized dribbling through. It is a phenomenon that is creeping into our lives consuming us.
If life on a daily basis was as it is in Pakistan, anywhere else in the Western World, I wonder how they would react. Would the frequent terrorist attacks within the country would still be talked about and responded to on a daily basis? Would there still be memorials for years and years to come? Would they still play the victims and hate themselves for breeding terrorists who do not refrain from killing their own kind?
And I come back to the very basic question within myself. If I am not a patriot, I do not agree with many aspects the values and culture followed in Pakistan, I am not religious, I do not believe in war and hatred, and I do aspire to have a comfortable standard of life; then why is it that I still love my country? If not for the land or for the life in general, what pulls me to it? Why do I feel like it is that parent that I can bitch as much about but would not accept anyone else’s bitching about it?
And that takes me to the other side of Pakistan that I realize I connect with and I appreciate-The poetry, music, dance, and many forms of art that have come out of the people from the same land makes me want to belong. The awareness, love and beauty felt and expressed by the few yet many give me hope. It is these people who are the true change agents. Every poet who has the courage to write his/her truth against all adversities, every singer who still sings of hope, every dancer who dances against all social norms, every artist who puts dreams on the canvas-is a change agent…is the representative of the intrinsic goodness and depth given to the human kind by the creator.
I have always argued about the gender biases that how we need to recognize anybody as a human first; a soul before we acknowledge their gender. I wish to find that soul of my country, no matter how muddy or hidden it is. It does not change the ground realities. But it does expand that reality for me. I wish for the world to see it too.