On Wagah…and beyond

Also published in US Magazine, The News International on Dec 05, 2014. Link: http://magazine.thenews.com.pk/mag/detail_article.asp?id=9653&magId=9

I’d like to believe that I’m standing by the window, a cup of warm coffee in my hands and seeping into a sea of deep contemplation about the event that has been on my mind ever since its occurrence…or that I am somewhere near the beach, my bare feet touching the water as it slowly rocks back and forth against the coast, bringing along with it, waves of stories untold and promises forgotten…but I am not really there. It is amazing how escapism works; you can be anyone you want, anywhere you please to be. Sometimes however even escapism doesn’t conceal the wound you’ve been so laboriously, attempting to hide.

Dan Harmon said that there’s a fine line between a stream of consciousness and a babbling brook to nowhere; intelligent stuff but…I am not found on any side of the fine line he has mulled over. Rather, I am dangling in the middle; pensive and somewhat delirious yet aware of my consciousness, like someone sick, who does know he is alive but is amiss when it comes to matters of his whereabouts.

Whenever human lives are lost, you feel as if humanity is something along the lines of a lost cause, gradually disintegrating into dirt, but when something like this happens, something so personal, something so disrespectful to a place where a part of you still lives… you feel as if it is not humanity that has failed you, that it isn’t humanity which is chipping away…but your own soul. You find yourself sucked into a vortex of shock, disbelief and emotions too intense to be true. The guilt weighs on your shoulders like a heavy brick when places like the Wagah border are targeted. What surmounts even the guilt is the admission that you are helpless in the face of adversity. And that is when we all try to find peace in escapism.

The trouble arises when it doesn’t work.

***

The little girl sits atop the barn roof, her ruminant eyes gazing ahead as the muezzin calls the faithful to wake up from slumber. It is incredibly cold for a November morning in the dilapidated outskirts of the Punjabi village, but the child resolutely keeps sitting. As soon as the first rays of sun appear at the horizon, she takes out a slate and a chalk from under the covers of her white shawl and marks the previous day’s date; the wait is over.

”Sumaira! Come down here, there’s dishes to be cleaned and eggs to be brought. Stop wasting time over there!” Her mother’s shrill voice breaks the wall of calm silence around her and she obligingly returns to her world of milking cows, feeding the hens and collecting eggs. The typical life on a village farm. This all doesn’t hurt Sumaira though, for as long as she is allowed to sit atop the barn roof every night, she is content with what life has offered her, because judging by many others around her, things could be worse. She’d seen young girls her age dealing with issues far graver than shutting cows back in the paddock. The only thing she could ask more was for her father to be near her, who worked in the city like many others. There is something peculiar about the dynamics a girl shares with her father; too hard to put into words and more intricate than the cuts on a diamond. A girl’s father is her first love; her first knight in the shining armour. Simply put, girls adore their fathers. But today isn’t the day to fuss over petty issues like these, she reminds herself; today is the day of her father’s arrival-and along with him, the pink woolen doll she’d asked for. That day however, turns out so differently from her wildest thoughts.

No one could have foreseen that the day when Aziz was supposed to come home, only a letter sealed in a white envelope would arrive instead. It was not on anyone’s mind that on the day Aziz was supposed to come back home, he’d send a letter explaining his elopement. Explaining that he’d never come back, and that he still loved Sumaira with all his heart, but sometimes fate intervenes and things change. For the next many years which Sumaira spends in this unforgiving cruel world, no one hears her utter a single word. She never learns to trust men. Or to love. Leading a bitter and solitary life as a spinster, she carried a burden on her shoulders which wasn’t hers to carry.

If only someone had told her the truth.

The flag lowering ceremony was still very much in progress when Aziz suddenly started feeling claustrophobic and decided it was time to go back. It wasn’t how he had planned the evening but his sudden change in health left him no choice. Coming outside of the stadium, he saw a vendor selling pink woolen dolls, and he stopped over to buy a pair for her ten year old daughter; he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. A few moments later, the doll still clenched tightly in his fist, Aziz lied on a hospital bed awaiting death at any moment. The doctors suggested that he call his loved ones. It is incredible how love works…Aziz could bear the pain his body felt but couldn’t see his family in pain. Instead of sending a letter which could allow him a one final glimpse of his loved ones, he chose to send a message which would forever sever the knot he’d ever had with his daughter. ‘It will better that way’, he’d hoped while breathing his last on one freezing morning.

The villagers recall that Aziz had sent a pink woolen doll along the letter as well, as for what happened to it, no one knows for sure…

***

Numbness has become the sole sensation I feel anymore; nothingness the routine I’ve become habitual of. It is a remarkable transition-and one that I am probably not going to let go of for a long time. Not until I let it all out and ease my conscience, at the very least. My first response when I hear about the blast is of denial. I know it is true but I so badly want it to be the other way around. It isn’t that I haven’t been through this before, but it feels exactly the same as the first time. It feels as if someone has punched me right in the gut; that someone is secretly keeping an eye on my each and every move, jotting down all my greatest fears and most gleeful of times in their notebooks, so that they know when and where to strike when I am at my most vulnerable.

The Wagah border is one place which has always been a part of the most joyous of my memories. Memories which are etched on my heart, memories I have always cherished…memories which I’d always hoped would never be abused with. Time and again, my hopes have been trampled with; how innocent I was in thinking this would be an exception. The attacker chose to warp my heart. And he succeeded.

***

Sigh.

It’s begun.

The start to an unfruitful, wasted day; I can sense it.

For the past seven months, I haven’t been able to type down a single word. It doesn’t help when you have to submit a manuscript by the end of this week to an unforgiving, merciless editor.

My editor says that it’s all in my head. According to her, I am avoiding the huge task to sit in front of the desktop and type just to mess with myself. That my wife’s death has left me emotionally unstable and I don’t think there’s a reason to live anymore. Of course she conveniently ignores the fact that I am sick. A lack of inspiration is not a good excuse to satisfy my too-hard-to-please boss. Trust me; you’re lucky you don’t have to deal with these strong-headed feminist types on a daily basis.

I login my WordPress account to look for some inspiration and come across a poem on writer’s block which further pushes me aside from my original plan. After two bottles of RedBull, three hours of inanity (some vampire flick I don’t remember the name of) and four cigarettes, I decide it’s time I seriously put in an effort to save my job. I also try to evaluate if I’ve actually been avoiding responsibility, as per my Ed’s view. And I do not like what my heart is telling me, so I do what I do best-ignore its message. I waste another three hours on the internet, watching how my friends’ lives are going smoothly whilst I have a pile of bills yet to pay.

I am a miserable wreck-and I blame it on the block and get away with it.

I look at my watch-my Rolex watch (the only thing which proves that I am in all honesty, the same author whose books topped the bestselling list once) – and I settle that it’s time for my hourly entertainment i.e. to watch those ridiculously amusing talk shows.

I switch on the television. And find that tragedy has struck; the Wagah border has been attacked.

My heart thumps like never before. My eye sockets are nearing the rim of their edge. And for the first time in seven months, I cry. I don’t know why and I don’t know how but tears roll down my cheeks in gushes. I am wailing like a five year old. I cry for myself. I cry for others. I cry in solidarity. And I have absolutely no idea when it’ll stop.

All these seven months, I’d been evading doing something that I loved blaming it on a ‘lack of inspiration’ when my wife had especially made me promise that I wouldn’t drown in misery once she’d be gone. Pangs of guilt resonate across my heart. For seven months, I’d been mourning for someone whose imminent death I’d known of since the beginning of my marriage; she’d been diagnosed with end-stage leukemia before I even met her. For seven months, I had let myself rot in the pits of self-imposed apathy.

On the eve of the attack I realize how ungrateful I’ve become. I’d forgotten that at least I had the satisfaction of knowing that my wife’s going to be alright. I had the time to be ready for what was about to happen. I had the amenity of seeing my wife’s beautiful face for one last time; of saying goodbye. The victims at Wagah didn’t.

I am drenched in guilt and a sinister thought flashes across my eyes like neon signs. I wonder if God has finally given me something what I wanted-I realize this at the very instant I decide I want to write something regarding this incident…because I have found inspiration. The same thing I’d been searching for.

I question if I am to be blamed for this carnage, and the answer lying in front of me is too ugly to look at.

***

In the coming weeks the scars this attack has left me with will start to heal. In time, I’ll go back to my world of smiles and laughter and the only thing reminiscent of the pain I once felt will be the void which resides inside me. Every time a bomb goes off, it grows deeper and wider. Like an abscess. I’ll learn to avoid the emptiness I feel and ignore the pleas of my conscience. Until the next bomb goes off, and the cycle repeats itself.

In retrospect, I realize that I’ve been hurt so much by the attack at Wagah because of my own exalted hopes for my homeland. My greatest mistake has been in praying for something that is forbidden. I’d hoped for peace in a country where peace is a rare commodity. I beg God to show mercy for a land whose inhabitants don’t even know the existence of the word mercy; I request love for a place where love is not welcomed.

But what’s even more ridiculous is the fact that despite everything, I’ll still pray.

Despite every heinous crime against humanity committed in this land, there’s something which so stubbornly will keep the lamp of hope inside of me aflame. Love is an incurable disease; an invincible entity. It sweeps away everything which comes in its way and I realize it now that I’ve become too entrenched in its web to get freed. I am its slave. And since slaves have no choice, I’ll keep praying for my country, to hope that love will finally pour over its fields in multitudes.

And I’ll never stop.

If those who murder innocent souls and find it immensely gratifying have an issue with this reality, so be it.