Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Being here makes me think about fear a lot. I tried putting it on a scale to see which is the worst kind. The time we were teaching at summer camp and heard gunshots but didn't get hurt? Didn't really care. The time your students didn't show up to class because so many kids were shot dead in their neighbourhood? Gut-wrenching, but not frightening. The time you saw your old school half blown to pieces on TV? Soul-crushing, but it happens. The time, every single day, when you call someone you love to check if they're at work yet, left work yet, home yet, stuck in a riot yet, safe yet? That is terror, every day, twice a day. The bogeymen who no longer occupy my nightmares are out to plague waking life and their imaginative strength seems to feed on my fear like a parasite. Hear a door slam and you think "bomb blast." See two guys on a motorcycle stopping for a cigarette and you think "shit, we're getting mugged."

You can call me a bourgeoisie pig, but in the past year I have spent enough time venturing into Karachi's seedy underbelly and the schools it houses for it to haunt me forever. I feel like a coward for even thinking it, let alone writing it, but I don't ever want to make an "Are you okay?" call again. It's made me fast forward to thinking about kids, and how I don't want to have any if it means sending them out to a warzone every morning, or raising them with a psyche as insanely messed up as mine seems to have become.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


The news bores me to death sometimes. Not because the content is boring, but because every likely comment, debate, opinion, conclusion and recommendation that comes out of it has been beaten to death, resurrected a few months later and beaten again. Hell, if it wasn't for this blog I would have forgotten half the bad news I've heard in the past year or so. What is frustrating is when even feelings become redundant. "Oh wait, I've already felt that before," is the worst possible reaction to news-unless of course it is the kind of good news we have been hungering for for so many months.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter at all who is behind anything, or whether we win or lose. What matters is how many people defend the disturbing minutiae of injustice in defense of a greater good. I've heard a new world is coming and that her arrival will be punctuated by minor skirmishes. I've heard apologetic statements about bomb blasts and blasphemy laws and getting worked up over an Ahmaddi calling his mosque a mosque and not "place of worship." I've heard that all countries go through hiccups and burps and teething and various other infant-related analogies, and that Pakistan will develop kneecaps and stumble into toddlerhood soon enough. Oh well. Oh well. Oh well. Life goes on.
I used to analyse everything, but now I don't bother. At traffic signals and on street corners, I look at people and perhaps instinctively like them, but second-guess myself and wonder what filth may be found if I peel away the layers of normality. Hello, I love what you're wearing, are you a closet racist, classist, homophobe, Nazi apologist, imperialism-lover or Blackwater spy? I rather like the way your spectacles make your face look, I've always wanted frames like that. But I worry I won't like you once you start talking. You see, I am a bit bored of hearing cliched opinions, including my own, regarding the news. Because the news is all we will talk about, if I roll down my car window and make friendly conversation. Oh, you won't roll it down? Well, neither will I, because I am afraid of getting mugged, as are you. God, it happens all the time.
It amazes me that I can write when there is nothing left to be said, or thought, or felt.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Here you are again, blank page, asking me to write about bomb blasts and death and wedding errands. I don't want to, because things will keep changing and things will keep staying the same and what is left to say about any of it? All I know is that life and death keep on happening. They don't give you warnings or a friendly wave or look both ways before crossing the street. They crumple up fear, mine and yours, like failed attempts at origami and throw it in the wastebasket, and miss. They wear faded lawn prints and the kind of shoes everybody owns. Sometimes they try to be profound, but end up creating mediocrity, waiting for an artist or poet to mould them into what they should have been. That's all there is to it.

That is why, when a blast rattled my window this morning, my first thought was simply "Blast."

There is a routine for things like this. Once the panic has subsided and all family members have returned home, shared stories and have been accounted for, you can start making calls to everyone else to establish how many degrees of separation are between you and this one. Three. Two. One. None. And then you switch on the TV and see your old school with its familiar walls and windows and parking spots replaced by six foot craters and ambulances. You spot the school van driver and your face lights up and you say Hey, that's Riasat Bhai! because it is always nice to see familiar people on TV, before you stupidly realise why they are on TV. And then you think what do they mean eight people are dead, who are they? And then the calls begin again. Throughout it all is a vague sense of guilt, of knowing that if it had been a big one near the city center, or the other side of town, it would have been easy not to notice. Then you console yourself and say well, if life and death are going about barreling into your soul without giving polite road signals, there is only room for so much care.

And later, you run wedding errands, because of that habit life has of keeping on happening. And while you choose the right shade of yellow, you check your text messages to find out which of your old social studies teachers is in the hospital. Part of you thinks two years ago I would not have been out shopping for yellow linen if this had happened, but most of you thinks two years ago, this would not have happened anyway. Between meals and naps and phone calls and work and sorting out student timetables and putting your files in alphabetical order and planning the welcome party for incoming students and giving advice on studying for the SATs, you check the news. Why news websites think it is in good taste to discuss how well-known socialities "tweeted their grief today" is beyond me, but I have worked at a news website, so then again it isn't.

And you think there will be no memorials, there will be no ten-years-later services, there will be no names attached to the security guards who died, there will be no TV specials or emotional Reader's Digest features about how someone's clairvoyant puppy saved them with photographs of smiling blond children and their healthy pets. There will be no special school assemblies and tomorrow parents will drive their kids to school like masochistic but level headed adults and enquire at the half-demolished gate whether the guard is alive and if he is, send them in and go home and perhaps run wedding errands for another child, or perhaps sit and worry, or perhaps give extra sadqa. And you know they are the ones who really matter, when people say "Ha it finally happened in Defence" and when people say "Let us mourn for those in Waziristan" and when people say "We are reaping the seeds we sowed" and when people say "When America leaves it will end" and when people say "I was right there when it happened" and when people say people say people say people say people say but life and death go on either way.