نڈر


نڈر

This was Asma Jahangir.

Attacked on every front that there was; that of her character, her morals, her faith, her sense of loyalty to Pakistan.

Called an agent, a traitor, a blasphemer, and every imaginable and unimaginable label and epithet from the many heaps and streams of hate, misogyny and abuse in this country for the condemnation and demonization of an individual.

And yet, there she stood. Undeterred, unfazed.

نڈر

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“A senior lawyer from Lahore, who does not wish to be named, declares: “Asma Jahangir is working on a specifically anti-Islam agenda and she is getting foreign funding to do that.” The same lawyer contested the Lahore High Court Bar Association election as Asma Jahangir’s nominee but he could not win. “The liberal lawyers did not vote for me because I have a beard and the religious, conservative ones did not support me because I was backed by Asma Jahangir,” he says as he explains how she divides the bar along ideological lines. “She is part of the Illumanti, a secret organisation controlling the world,” he then proclaims.

“When Asma Jahangir decided to contest the election for the Supreme Court Bar Association’s president in 2009-2010, she faced stiff opposition from many sections of the society, including newspapers and television channels. The media campaign against her was led by the Jang Group’s senior reporter Ansar Abbasi and it focused on projecting her as anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam. Six years later, the same media group engaged her as a counsel to represent it before the Supreme Court.”

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There she stood. Fierce.

Shouting at the top of her lungs on issues and matters that people in this country quivered and continue to quiver to even whisper about. Speaking truth to all the powers that be, all the powers that reign and trample many under their tyranny.

She took on the mullahs and the army. The holy and the mighty of Pakistan. She took on the politicians, the judges. The powerful and the many.

And she minced no words. Biting, blunt and brave.

To do so as a woman in a society not used to such a woman, that actively castigates and looks down upon such a female figure, was doubly dangerous; risking her reputation, her personal safety and even her life.

نڈر

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“This is Asma Jahangir’s style — mixing the legal with the polemical. She knows how to make her presence felt, using calculated aggression, wit and sharp one-liners. For a woman in her 60s, just over five feet in height, she is acutely aware that she cannot afford the other side to dominate.”

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She was an icon for so many of us, especially women.

Amidst the many invisible fetters and fears we wear and parade as conformity to conventions, to traditions, to myopic notions of womanhood and femininity and propriety, which limit and lower our voices, which regulate our tones, which ask us to be careful, to be docile, not to stand out too much, not to draw attention to ourselves, to concern ourselves with nothing beyond the home, to never question, to never stare someone in the eyes, to never disturb things, to bend and break but to always let everything run as it is, and amidst a society and culture that asks us to live and pass in the silent shadows of the night without notice, Asma Jahangir was a fascinating force of defiance, courage and inspiration.

She feared nothing and none. Her voice was loud, it resonated. She tore through conventions and silences. She marched with her head held high. She was not going to hide, she was here to stay.

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And there she stood. For women, for minorities, for those denied justice, for those denied a voice, for those silenced, those comfortably unheard. For democracy, for our rights and freedoms. There she stood and battled, in words, in actions, on the roads and the streets.

And we watched in wonder.
Could there be such a woman among us?
Could we be such a woman?

نڈر

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Asma Jahangir is the woman I aspired and aspire to be. Or at least a fragment of her self and life, for none of us can ever truly be her.

As heartbroken I am, I feel privileged to have been conscious of her life and work, to have witnessed it in admiration and awe. To have had the chance to look up to her. To learn from her. To question, to shout, to speak truth to power, to stand by what you think is right.

نڈر

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“Munizae had just started her first job as a television reporter for India’s NDTV in 2005 when in May that year Asma Jahangir, along with other human rights activists, organised a women-only marathon in Lahore to highlight violence against women. There was serious opposition to the idea by religious parties and groups. On the day of the marathon, the police attacked participants with batons, kicking and dragging them into police vans and taking them to the Model Town police station.

When Munizae arrived at the site of the marathon, the first image she saw was of her mother with her “clothes torn off, her bare back exposed — being manhandled by police officials”. Her reporter colleagues had smirks on their faces. They looked at Munizae from the corner of their eyes. She felt embarrassed — more than that, she was shocked, traumatised.

Asma Jahangir’s husband was out of the country at the time. He immediately came back, only to see Asma’s bare back on the front page of a newspaper. Munizae broke down and cried when she saw her father but Tahir Jahangir was unfazed. If anything, he was proud.

Asma Jahangir was later transferred to jail from the police station. When Munizae got there, she saw her mother “in the same shirt, now stitched up with safety pins”. She was “shouting and essentially leading a protest in jail”.

Nothing, it seems, can ever stop Asma Jahangir from being what she has always been.”

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Today, neither a life nor a light, but a raging fire has gone out.

Rest in power, Asma Jahangir. There was none like you before, and there will be none like you ever.

نڈر

 

-Hafsa Khawaja

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The State of the State


*Originally published in the Daily Times.

A mere twenty-four hours after the country observed three years since the APS Attack of 16th December 2014, a blast struck the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta during Sunday church service, killing several and injuring dozens. Pictures of the scene of destruction within the church soon spread; spoiled, smashed and shattered Christmas decorations with the forlorn figure of a Christmas tree still standing in between.

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As the National Action Plan lies in fractures and fragments of its failure, the situation continues to deteriorate for minorities in the country as they continue to be gunned down, their places of worship targeted, and their communities used as fodder for sordid political performances.

Only a few months ago, Captain Safdar attempted a grab at political relevance in a manner only a disgraced and insignificant political actor capable of headlining solely through corruption scandals can.  Railing against the Ahmadi community in Pakistan, he declared that “the Ahmadis are a threat to this country, its Constitution and ideology” against whom action is warranted. This was not the first time Safdar applied the time-tested tactic of resorting to religion and conjuring a threat to Islam and Pakistan for easy political mileage and rehabilitation of a damaged political standing.

In February 2012, he made a speech at the Istekam-e-Pakistan Conference in Lala Musa where he expressed support for Mumtaz Qadri and mentioned that “the first conspiracy was hatched against Pakistan when Sir Zafarullah Khan was made foreign minister.” Sir Zafarullah Khan, who was one of the leaders of the Pakistan Movement and the architect of the Lahore Resolution, was appointed the country’s first foreign minister by Jinnah himself. Did Safdar think Jinnah conspired against Pakistan? Through his principled and distinguished diplomacy, Zafarullah Khan elevated the newly-created state of Pakistan with dignity and respect among the nations of the world, and emerged as an eminent advocate for the Muslim World and the Third World which earned him honor and recognition from around the globe. However, some consideration and compassion can certainly be spared for Safdar and his ilk who devote most of their meagre grey matter to the swindling of state resources, dodging of NAB references and acquisition of apartments in London, leaving little for education, knowledge and decency which would familiarize them with such facts, history and realities

Safdar aside, the recent turmoil unleashed by the the Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah and the Sunni Tehreek Pakistan’s protests cannot be dismissed in any consideration of the state’s approach towards hardliner groups within the society either.

Neither bigotry was new to the disgraced captain nor was extremism new to the crowds at Faizabad but the placement of both these incidents side by side is necessary to illustrate the shambolic state of affairs regarding minorities in the country and most importantly, the underlying foundations that support it in the form of the state and its institutional attitude on the matter.

Safdar-prisma-min-681x454While Captain Safdar’s venomous tirade against the Ahmadi community in Pakistan drew condemnation from several quarters, the diatribe was essentially enabled by the prevailing criminalization of the community’s faith and identity and the constitutional sanctions for their discrimination and persecution. Even the protestors at Faizabad had demands that tied into existing acts and measures such as the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act, and the ostensible end to their agitation, which also included the bizarre act of releasing protestors and parceling out cash to them, was contentiously brokered by controversial state actors signaling other tensions within the state apparatus and balance of power. Such groups and incidents are only bolstered and buttressed by the establishment of religion as a handy and convenient resort and refuge for the coward, guilty and powerful in a state and society where its exploitation finds fertile ground for the reaping of plentiful gains. This includes the weaponisation of blasphemy allegations, and the scapegoating, targeting and demonizing an already persecuted community, which also serve as effective diversionary tools when political pressures and scandals surge. This is only facilitated by the traction these ideas and tactics find in a country where scapegoating and hate-speech against minorities is a legitimate and popular exercise in vying for votes and power, and where pandering to the religious right and partnerships with militant sectarian outfits are acceptable electoral strategies.

It would be absurd to expect state, government and political authorities to lead the charge against these incidents when these institutions, authorities and actors are at the forefront of enabling them in the first place, with constitutionally enshrined persecution in the case of the Ahmadis, and the institutionalization of the frequent deployment of religion as a prop and ploy otherwise. And without changes in this political culture, and the institutionalized frameworks and state policies which accommodate, adopt, enable and empower elements that endanger the lives of minority communities in the country, Pakistan will continue to be held hostage to the violent and vicious vagaries of bigotry, extremism and intolerance and their many willing and eager adherents who will leave us with no recompense or redress to look to.

– Hafsa Khawaja

A Body of Burden


 “A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman.”

― John Berger, Ways of Seeing

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The female body. The female form. The female figure.

To be a woman in this country is to be constantly, painfully and unusually conscious and aware of a great many things: so conscious of every part of your body; deeply aware of the demands made upon you for its every movement, move and motion to be calculated.

An oppressive consciousness and awareness.

Sit in a certain position, don’t sit in a certain position; don’t lean too much, don’t slouch so much, don’t sit cross-legged. Don’t talk in a certain tone, don’t laugh too loud.

Constantly survey and check yourself.

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It is as if the female body is a burden to be carefully carried and shouldered.

To possess a female body is to exist for and in multiple bodies. You are responsible for your own morality, and that of the other – that of the male. You check yourself and so you check the other. By possessing the vice of a female body, you bear the burden of their imaginations and their impulses. If the gaze or some misfortune falls onto you, you invited it for it is your responsibility to bar it, not that of those who cast it onto you.

You exist with the burden of that gaze on you and that gaze defines how you carry yourself.

It takes nothing but a moment to realize just how these burdens have sculpted you and your persona in the public space. I hold a deliberate and constant scowl on my face, head high, and my walk brisk. It is my way of denying and deterring those prowling leers and stares, of resisting the vulnerability that comes with my skin and whose fear crawls on my skin.

Of leers, jeers, and harassment.

And yet I know it can prevent little. My mere emergence in public visibility is what makes me far too prominent itself. Just being there is what draws attention, I need not create a scene. I am the scene.

The female body is oppressive for the expectations, fears, threats and oppressions heaped onto it are what it heaps onto you.

I catch myself unconsciously glancing at my dupatta every now and then, adjusting it even while it is adjusted. I find myself unconsciously straightening my kameez even when it already is, to make sure its corners aren’t turned, to make sure they cover me fully.

It is a constant ticking in my mind that tugs at its peace; this, being conscious of myself to a painful degree.

embodying-indus-lifeI sit in the car and get uncomfortable when a car or motorcycle veers too close to my window. The proximity is unsettling for the proximity of access of sight is unsettling. I grab the black shades and fix them over my window amid a sigh of relief. There, I am now hidden. Phew.

I step out and it is a struggle to keep my appearance…in order. I can’t hide here.

How can you possibly feel naked with clothes?

How can your own skin induce fear, vulnerability and discomfort in you? How can it induce a desire for invisibility in you?

An invisibility from the leers and stares that pierce right into you, that frighten and unnerve you. Leers and stares that stalk you with a perverse pride, entitlement, insolence and impudence, and with a complete sense of the perverse power they are, which are undeterred by one’s detection of them. The detection only emboldens them.

How do you come to feel uncomfortable in your skin? How do you come to feel uncomfortable by your own skin?

You see the leers and you survey yourself in worry, is the dupatta in place? Is something wrong? Is my kurta too short? Are the chaaks too much? I quickly sling my bag or purse on one side to slump over my legs, while the dupatta falls over the other.

How do you keep prying eyes away? To what extent can you possibly hide yourself? What more can you hide of yourself when the imagination encroaches and penetrates all that is you?

What can I do when I am uncomfortable by my own skin? When I made to be felt oppressed by own biology?

I wonder what it feels like to be in the public and to have a mobility unhampered by an agonizing consciousness of every part of your body, a tiring and grueling consciousness that presses itself on your mind.

How does it feel to not be ashamed of your anatomy?

How does it feel to not want to shrink?

How does it feel to not be stalked, surveyed and to surveil yourself?

How does it feel to just wear your skin without wanting to peel it off, shroud it, or fix it?

How does it feel to not be a woman?

I wonder what it’s like, while the corners of my dupatta and kameez tug at the corners of my mind. Is the dupatta in place? Is my kurta too short? Are the chaaks too much? A constant ticking in my mind that tugs at its peace; this, being conscious of myself to a painful degree.

-Hafsa Khawaja

You Are 70 Today


You are 70 today.

This journey hasn’t been easy. You’ve stumbled, staggered, suffered along the way. You’ve grown old, and with age your problems have only aggravated. You are as stubborn and slow as a seventy year old can be, your bones creak and ache more, and it hurts doubly: to see you in the state and to feel that state ourselves.

We are, of course, joined at the hip.

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I have my complaints, I have my shikway. Take it as the grievance of child to his parents.

And I speak for many of your children when I say this: we too have grown weary with you, as often do children when tasked with the constant and careful care of their weak, old, obstinate parents.

You take one step forward, and two steps backwards. An unchanging, painful cycle.

Maybe it is our fault too. It is, after all, not easy having 200 million children; half try to tear you away in one direction, and half pull you to another.

It is remarkable how you still stand today.

We truly are an unruly, a frustrating bunch, I admit. And we wrong you every day.

And yet you too have wronged many; instead of taking them under your wings you have refused, abandoned, disowned, hurt and ill-treated groups of your children for being different, for not being in the many: The Shia, the Hindu, the Christians, the Ahmedis, those in FATA and in Balochistan; those who think differently, those who see differently, those who question. With no fault of their own but the fault of their being.

Perhaps senility has crept onto your mind too soon. You are too difficult to put up with.

There are times I want to shout at you, there are times I want to scream, and too often have you made us cry, mourn, and despair.

How odd that log kia kaheingay is your mantra, and yet how badly some of your children have turned out to be. So full of intolerance, so petty, so small of heart and mind, and so mean.

Perhaps it is natural to descend into madness with children like yours.

There is mayhem in your home today, and fear prowls about with whispers of God’s decision to forsake you. The home is a circus of clowns, swindlers, serpents, and merchants of malice; playing to the din and drums of hate, injustice and insanity. And they devour you, the weak, the poor, the different in your brood.

You writhe with injury and anguish. And so do we.

I wish to run away sometimes. I do give up sometimes, I despair. I get tired of you; your many children, our differences with each other, our bloody squabbles, quarrels and your dastardly spawn. And yet I always return.

You’re 70, you’re stubborn, and you’re unimaginably demanding and difficult, and yet I am unable to let go of your hand. After all this is what you, while narrating that story of culture and values, taught us anyway regarding the elderly, the old, those who raised you:
Izat. Ehtaram. Farmabadari. Shais’tagi. Sabr.

For each one of us who roams the earth, there are three Makers. The One who breathes life into us, the one who brings that life into the world, and the world that life is brought into.

Each divine.

Each make us. In ways we know and know not.

And you were the third.

You, my Maker.

You gave the rhythms to my pulse, the history, heritage, and culture I wear as my skin, the metaphors; the idioms, the languages that make my many voices; the poetry, the folklore, the melodies etched in my breath; and the joy, the pride, the pain, you have taught me and I carry as I live with you, and as I love you.

In the cradle of your world my life began, and with my burial in your bosom it shall end.

You, my Maker.

You’re 70 today.

It has not been easy, for you and for me. For all of us.

But let us hold on tight to each other, to the promise of a better tomorrow.

Let us be kinder to one another for we are all we have.

And there’s a lot of healing, working, fixing and fighting to do.

Pakistan, you’re 70 today, and there’s a long way to go.

It will be arduous.

But somehow, some day, we shall make it through.

 

-Hafsa Khawaja

The Internet Under Attack in Pakistan


*Originally published on Fair Observer

It has been two months since Mashal Khan’s brutal murder. Amid great shock and outrage, many hoped that this would mark a turning point for things to change in Pakistan. Things had to change after this, they believed.

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And indeed there has been a change. There is now official license and pursuit for replications of the ghastly incident: a social-media witch-hunt and increased crackdown on alleged incidents of blasphemy and dissent.

Last month, text messages from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority began circulating nation-wide warning that “uploading and sharing of blasphemous content on internet is a punishable offence under the law” and calling for such content to “be reported for legal action.”

Rather than adopting caution and carefully defusing the growing incitement and agitation over blasphemy, especially after such an appalling incident, the government has decided to vigorously charge right into it by actively encouraging the use of the blasphemy law and expanding its stretch to social media.

THE RULE OF LAW

A few weeks back, the first death sentence for blasphemy on social media was handed to 30-year old Taimoor Raza by an anti-terrorism court. The allegations of blasphemy emerged after Raza engaged in an online Facebook debate on Islam with an individual who later turned out to be a counter-terrorism agent. The sentence was given by an anti-terrorism court and should occasion debate about the bizarre logic of an anti-terrorism court dealing with cases of blasphemy and its subsequent implication of blasphemy being tantamount to terrorism.

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Since the past few years, the internet and social media in Pakistan have surfaced as vital spaces for expression of critical views of the state, the government and discourse on various issues confronting the country, especially those that are deemed sensitive or left uncovered the media such as Balochistan, attacks on religious minorities and the Blasphemy Law itself. These were spaces long considered safe from the eye and intervention of the state and government; and free from the taboos prevalent otherwise regarding such subjects.

The disappearance of six prominent social activists and bloggers earlier this year, however, shattered this illusion. And the recent series of developments have only served to cement the realization that the internet is no longer safe but at the center of a dangerous witch-hunt and crackdown on dissent.

The creeping state spotlight on social media has been given a more threatening tint by the association of blasphemy with it.

It is also important to remember that after their disappearance and recovery, blasphemy accusations were hurled at the bloggers, which indicates increasing pervasiveness of blasphemy accusations for silencing people and for justifying harrowing acts like disappearances.

MISAPPLICATIONS

One of the strongest criticisms of the blasphemy law pertain to its use for personal schemes of vengeance, vendettas, petty conflicts and property disputes. But rather than curtailing the blasphemy law’s use and abuse, an official invitation and initiative for its use on social media only expands the potential for them. It must also be noted that the internet and social media are murky waters where, among other things, fake profiles, harassment and stalking abound and the possibilities of framing people can easily arise in relation to both concoctions of blasphemous content in someone’s name and harming them on that basis. The numerous profiles posting blasphemous content under the name of Mashal Khan that came into view after his death only attest to this. Navigating such a territory for the government will not be an easy task and poses peril for Pakistani internet-users. 

The danger of an increasing emphasis on blasphemy on social media and the punitive measures designed against it lapsing into a clampdown on dissent and criticism of powerful segments of the country is also not insignificant. And while these developments may be attributed to the influence or strength of the religious right, the existence of draconian laws, and the age-old aversion of the political and military establishment to criticism, but the pivotal role played by the Interior Ministry in actively creating these developments can no longer be discounted.

nisarThe Interior Minister’s constant pandering and cavorting with extremists and sectarian leaders is common knowledge. Recently, however, he has also taken to stress upon a number of sensitive issues to create a case for greater internet censorship and control. His efforts have included invocation of the sentiments underlying the Blasphemy Law, warnings of bans on sites with blasphemous content, instructions to the Federal Investigation Agency to act against “those dishonoring the Pakistan Army through social media” and announcements of new rules and measures against online anonymity. These have not been without significance.

Only a short while back, some social media activists and supporters of the opposition party PTI and even supporters of the PML-N were detained by the FIA on the basis of the fresh instructions to the FIA and the controversial Prevention of Electronic Crime Act.

A report in the Guardian on the matter quotes an FIA saying that “his agency had orders from the interior ministry to interrogate, and seize laptops and phones, without warrant” and that they were “authorized to detain anyone, just on suspicion.” An allegedly official list with the names of social media users and activists who are being monitored for their comments against “national institutions” also did the rounds on Twitter.

The surging tide of these developments and the proliferation of these problematic measures and repressive acts involve dangerous ramifications upon which suggest an increasingly bleak future for free speech, public criticism and opposition in the country. They also demonstrate the weakness of the government’s commitment to public freedoms and its own democratic credentials.

This suffocation of spaces for robust debate, dissent and a healthy discourse by the cultivation of a climate of fear is certain to foster intimidation, harassment, abuse, and violence. After Mashal Khan, it seems the Pakistani government itself has stepped in to lead attacks under the cover and with the cudgel of blasphemy but for the purpose of clobbering dissent, freedom and opposition.

-Hafsa Khawaja

Ishq, Ibadat aur Pakistan


I often think about the love that this land has given birth to: Heer Ranjha, Sohni Mahiwal, Sassi Punno, Mirza Sahiba. These were tragic romances, there was separation, pain and loss.

Maybe all great romances are tragic.

I said this once previously, but I must repeat it again today: I see the loss of cricket in Pakistan as the loss of a nation’s love to foreign lands, the exile of a beloved.

This too is a tragic romance, whose pain all of us feel, the return of whose beloved all of us seek.

It has ached, it has devastated us.

But this too is a great romance, one that we refuse to give up on and vow to win over.

Perhaps that is why when it comes to our beloved, we either sink or collapse into despair or we rise to the heights of passion and audacity that stuns all.

And while there may be separation from the beloved, we have never been more in love.

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Shift as many meetings with the beloved to a nearby desert but what thrill lies in that? There is no home away from home. What beauty is there in this rendezvous with the beloved at places that belong to neither of us?

Yet every win is a promise of loyalty fulfilled for the beloved; an affirmation of our resolve that our love will overcome the pain of this exile, this separation. It will triumph.

Every single time I cross Liberty Roundabout, I wonder at the irony of the place; this is where, for years, celebrations have converged in the city to the thaap of the dhol, to the beat of the bhangra, and yet this is the place where it all ended in March 2009 by the chilling sound of shots.

This is where the tragedy began. Yet today this is where the jashan of the ishq again surfaced.

They say ishq is also ibadat, and indeed it is.

Cricket has never been just a game in Pakistan. It has been a nation’s beloved; it has been a people’s religion. This is a religion truly shared across the country, surpassing all others. Go out tonight and see how the roads and streets are jammed with throngs of its followers, from the thailay wallas to the jeep wallas, from those on the motorcycles to those on foot, from the young to the old, engaging in the ritual of joy, of celebration, of worship.

No wonder today feels like Eid before Eid.
Is this how the renewal of the vows of love with a separated beloved feels?

How incredible is it that a team that hasn’t played on home ground since 2009, that hasn’t seen home crowds since years, that ranked at the bottom of the table and were no one’s favorites; were torn by weaknesses, lack of resources, and heaps of problems, rose to become the first in the finals and beat traditional rivals and become the champions with such brilliance, with such confidence, with such class?

There has been stumbling, there has been staggering, there has been faltering, there has been fumbling, but they have shown there is always more to them than this, if they will.

I think of the tragic romances again, and I see what happened today and I know this romance will never be tragic. It will live to be told to generations. We will endure, we will overcome, we have persevered, we haven’t given up; we can, we have and we will triumph. And so will it.

The reunion is inevitable.

We come from the land of Sassi and Punno, Heer and Ranjha, Sohni and Mahiwal. And while our beloved may be exiled from home, while we remain in separation, we have never been more in love.

What happened today was ishq.

And what happened today wasn’t surreal, it was only Pakistan.

 

-Hafsa Khawaja

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*Later published on PCB Blogs.

An Old Man at Ghora Chowk


I saw an old man at Ghora Chowk late last night.

It was a mere glance, as much a glance as a moving car can afford.

There he was, an old man holding four balloons in his hand, sitting all alone by the side.

We passed him by and I turned around to look, every time a vehicle would approach he would strain his creaking old knees and legs to stand up. Balloons in hand. So he could be noticed.

So he could be visible.

The cars would rush past, and he would sit back down again. Whenever he would see another at a distance, he would stand up again.

There was something about him that made a knot in my throat; that felt as a punch to my heart.

Here was an old man, sitting all alone at 1AM in the sweltering heat on an empty road, with nothing but his plight.

107551530It was a distressing contrast; the vibrant balloons, and the grim desperation of the man who had pinned his hopes on them. I wondered if people even bought balloons these days, I thought about the utter distress and desolation that the hope for whose reduction hung by the thread of a balloon. At 1AM, at an old age, on a road in a city with stifling heat.

It was a mere glance, and yet I thought of my old grandfather who needs care, attention and comfort at the stage of life, as do all elderly. I thought of the difference between them, and the injustice inequality is. No old man should have to be subjected to the ignominy of poverty like this.

Yet here was a man, solitary in his presence on the road, hard to miss, but not solitary in his suffering.

There is a roundabout in Main Market. And on its ground lie dozens of people, every day, living and sleeping. That, is their abode. That, is all they have.

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I look at them, and I look at myself.

There are times I cannot bear Lahore’s heat. I thank heavens for the ACs and the splits and the UPS. Why can’t I bear the heat? Is my skin different from the skin of those lying in Main Market right under the sun? My intolerance is my privilege. I pinch my arm to remind myself we have the same skin, separate but by the stroke of fortune. I can’t bear the heat because I have the choice not to, they bear it as it strikes down at them, because they have no choice.

The old man at Ghora Chowk, the dozens in Main Market, the children on roads selling flowers, the young, the old, the disabled begging on the roads every day. We inhabit two different worlds behind the window from which we see each other.

The old man at Ghora Chowk, the dozens in Main Market, the children on roads selling flowers, the young, the old, the disabled begging on the roads every day.  You look at them and you remember, those residing in their palatial residences, in their Raiwinds, their villas, their flats, with their wealth and stakes stashed in places like London, Dubai and Panama. With enough wealth for their seven wretched generations, while the millions live in the uncertainty of what the other day will bring.

The old man at Ghora Chowk, the dozens in Main Market, the children on roads selling flowers every day.

These are the people upon whose bones, flesh and blood the palaces and the wealth has been built upon.  

I caught a passing glance at the old man, and I cared not one bit about democracy, justice, morals, ethics, political correctness, and wished for all this lot to rot in hell with their ill-gotten wealth.

May the shame they lack be found in their ruin. And ruin they will.

There are two worlds. What finds no fulfillment in this world, will find fact in the other.

_____________________

On our way back home, I silently prayed in my heart that the old man had gone home.

I don’t know why I did, but I just did.

And yet, as we rushed past Ghora Chowk again on the entirely empty roads, there he was. Still sitting. Balloons in hand.

It was 2:30 AM.

I glanced again and his sight seized my heart.

Yesterday, I saw an old man at Ghora Chowk and I wished the world came crushing down.

I wonder if someone bought his balloons,

I wonder when he went home,

If he had any.

-Hafsa Khawaja