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.

7b06748f48606c16bb038b70cd1576c2.jpg

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

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25 comments on “An Old Man at Ghora Chowk

  1. Qaiser says:

    You are right, I myself have seen the live scenes of Main Market Round About many times passing by it and I wish I could do something for them but unfortunately I didn’t have yet. But one thing come into my mind every time when I see them, how could the rulers of this country will face Almighty Allah on the day of Judgement and how they will be able to answer at that time?

    • Thank you for reading. I do hope all of us can and will help these people, whenever and however we can.

      I know not the answer to your question but I look forward to the day when these rulers and leaders stand in front of Him for accountability.

  2. Imad says:

    Painful. Running out of emotions……

  3. Nadir Hashmi says:

    A grim and painstaking moment, beautifully captured. I feel grounded and grateful. It’s easy to overlook and forget the plight of an ordinary human when living a privileged life. But noticing, remembering and writing about them is definitely a step in the right direction. Thanks for doing that!

    I feel that highlighting such moments , and bringing them into greater public consciousness does help with the change we so desperately need in society. It’s little, but it helps. Wish more could happen to ease urgent pains.

    Hope that poor man finds some comfort and solace.

    • Thank you for reading and these words of appreciation, Nadir.
      It is truly very easy to become blind to all that lies beyond our bubbles of privilege; a bubble that also comes to shut us off from empathy, sensitivity and humanity.

      Your words and thoughts are valued. I deeply believe in what the late Fatima Mernissi said about the act of writing,

      “Writing is one of the most ancient forms of prayer. To write is to believe communication is possible that other people are good, that you can awaken their generosity and their desire to do better.”

      I wrote this post to make sense of what I felt, to give vent to it and now I sincerely hope that this post can, somehow, lead at least one person, if no others, to see those beyond our bubbles with empathy and compassion, and to treat them similarly too.

      May all those suffering in Pakistan find solace, and may we have the heart and the will to help them.

  4. Mir Sana Ullah Khan says:

    Moving piece Hafsa. Along with the elderly, I see scores of children on the roads of Lahore; some are begging, some are selling toys and flowers and whatnot to fight their affliction; my heart shatters into a thousand pieces at the sight. I cannot see kids suffering because they were born into the wrong household but I feel hopeless, there is nothing I can do for them. The signal turns green and we pass in our air conditioned cars, I wonder what must they be thinking of this gross inequality. I wonder what keeps their faith in God intact.

    • Thank you for reading Mir! I relate to each word you’ve written. It is greatly distressing and heart-rending to see children, the disabled, women, the old and even the able-bodied on the roads, knocking on cars for a window of mercy to open. Only because they are poor, only because, as you said, they were born in the “wrong” homes, and that marks the only difference between us. It is a sobering and frightening realization.

      Since this incident, I pray to God that he gives me the wuqat, the taufeeq and the wasail to help those in need. May He listen to us.

  5. Saima Iqbal says:

    Why didn’t you buy the balloons?
    Surely if every driver bought something from someone which is so ridiculously cheap, the world would be a better place.

    • Hi Saima,

      Thank you for reading. I will be honest with you, due to a few reasons including, among others, our rush to get home for Sehri and my family’s deep-seated apprehensions about being on the road at such a time at night and the ugly possibilities it could bring, I could not ask them to stop the car. I deeply regret it. We went to look for him the next day but unfortunately couldn’t find him. I hope and pray we do see him again so that we can help him.

      On the other hand, while I do agree with your assertion that purchasing from poor vendors on road would help them and we absolutely should, I do feel that such a way of earning livelihood is highly precarious, uncertain and still quite meager in the gains it brings to them – probably just provides them with day-to-day survival and something to eat. For this situation to better, much more is required considering the extent of the problem in Pakistan. The state needs to own up its responsibility, as do the parties and leaders, and while they do that, we must do the same in forging individual and collective initiatives and engagements, such as the ones many NGOs undertake, to help those we can. And if nothing else, contribute generously to Edhi Foundation and other foundations.

  6. Bilal Ahmad says:

    Good write up but how to help such old aged people suffering miserly in the courntry?? This question needs to be answered

    • Thank you, Bilal.

      A lot is required, but I do believe it is largely tied to the eradication of poverty and unemployment in the country. That is obviously a huge issue and clearly not easy to resolve, but at least the attempts towards it must begin, as opposed to doing nothing at all.

  7. Huda Sheikh says:

    You have seen reality of life full of irony… in that one glance
    Well written & heart-wrenching.

  8. Jodat says:

    Next time just buy the balloons so he can go home

    • Not that we shouldn’t but that’s quite a cursory and casual reading of the problem and how it can be resolved, Jodat.
      Thank you for reading anyway.

      • Jodat says:

        For what its worth, I do agree with your comment here.

        ____________________________________________________________________________
        On the other hand, while I do agree with your assertion that purchasing from poor vendors on road would help them and we absolutely should, I do feel that such a way of earning livelihood is highly precarious, uncertain and still quite meager in the gains it brings to them – probably just provides them with day-to-day survival and something to eat. For this situation to better, much more is required considering the extent of the problem in Pakistan. The state needs to own up its responsibility, as do the parties and leaders, and while they do that, we must do the same in forging individual and collective initiatives and engagements, such as the ones many NGOs undertake, to help those we can. And if nothing else, contribute generously to Edhi Foundation and other foundations.
        ____________________________________________________________________________

        I just found the blaming all the rich people for not helping while you were infact doing the same aspect funny.

  9. Ahsan T. Anjum says:

    Writer has a heart to see the pain of others.. This breed is dying fast . People don’t care no more ? I ask myself this question every time I see Pakistani News and stories on my friends timelines… sitting abroad I hope each Pakistani can atleast eat three times a day with dignity …

    May Allah do something with our top elite because once their palaces will shake only then poors of my country will have some life..

    In the end I was hoping the writer had purchased all the balloons from the old man ..

    • Thank you for reading and for commenting, Ahsan.

      May Allah give us all, those who are fortunate enough to have been born into privilege and comfort, the wasail and taufeeq to help those we owe; those in need.

      As I wrote to someone earlier here, due to a few reasons including, among others, our rush to get home for Sehri and my family’s deep-seated apprehensions about being on the road at such a time at night and the ugly possibilities it could bring, I could not ask them to stop the car. I deeply, deeply regret it. We went to look for him the next day but unfortunately couldn’t find him. I hope and pray to God that we do see him again.

  10. This is a beautiful description of the two worlds on the same land; both are hell for some and heaven for others. Who will undo the injustices and the wrong in the society and when? Our society has become too hypocritical and self -centered! We are concerned more about religious beliefs of others than problems faced by others. Where is the Messiah?

  11. Awan says:

    I follow your blogs for a longer time. This was one was different but I liked it. Anyway I understand the struggle that comes with poverty. I belong from a family that stuggled from low class and then after years of hard work we reach the middle class. I have witnessed the struggles with my own eyes.

    One has to struggle, strive and thrive. One has to sacrifice a lot including friends, family and infact everything. The reality is that no one will be with you when you are poor. Anyway the world is not based on equality and that is a fact.

    The world needs empathy, but unfortunately abundance of apathy is more obvious when I look around.

    • Hello, thank you for reading this and thank you for considering my blog worth following.

      And thank you for writing about this very difficult personal experience. A struggle must indeed be the word to describe it. And it has to be unimaginably tough to make such sacrifices, and to be exposed to the isolation that comes with the abandonment of friends and family.

      Absolutely, the world needs empathy, as does everyone around us, in one way or another. Yet unfortunately, apathy, ignorance and insensitivity are much more common and convenient for most people to adopt.

  12. Fahad Mukhtar says:

    i just love the way you have quoted famous places here especially main market roundabout. i have read your previous articles but it seems something have got better of you after this historic win. and looking forward to read more on cricket from you. and i would suggest you can be a good Cricket analyst too.

    • Thank you so much Fahad!
      I have only recently come to write posts that are more deeply emotional and personal, as opposed to the op-eds I usually write. There is something very rare and genuine about how one feels and sometimes that just does a much better job of saying what cannot be said in an analysis, in jargon and or in a formal socio-political commentary.

      I doubt I would make a good cricket analyst, especially when we have many around us who are writing exceptionally well on the subject, and since I usually just tweet my frustration and joy during matches like every other cricket follower and consider my technical knowledge on it very limited. But your comment was pleasantly surprising in its suggestion and I really appreciate that you think I could make a good commentator nonetheless 🙂

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