Of love and morality

It is unfair, how we talk of love and ethics and morality. So simply. When in reality, it is far from being simple. How can it be simple, when it isn’t even something that can be calculated on the basis of the peripheries we set? If it were that, how do you think legends come into existence? How do myths form? How do stories defy the boundaries of space and time?

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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.

Nazia’s tale.

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“There is always something left to love.”
-Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I never knew love could exist in such unique and unusual forms; forms which the common man will always fail to sense. I never even thought if it could exist in a world like ours. To me, its rightful place had forever been shelved in the dynamics of magical realism. Yet, its prime example stood in front of me, testament to the reality that such exotic forms do exist, defying all barriers which fence passion to a preset limit. More often than not, we fall prey to the belief that passion can be tamed, which is pitiful, since passion and love have never been concrete or restricted to certain lengths. Rather, they’ve always been abstract, free from any sorts of prejudice and absolutely independent from all kinds of boundaries…

***

I first saw her on my third trip at the facility. Having just lost my husband in a terrorist attack, I was seeing a therapist there. In a frenzied moment, I had taken one wrong turn and entered a room located in the psychiatry ward. She was screaming and wailing at the same time, intermittently shouting, “Don’t you dare take your country’s name in front of me ever again!” The amusing thing was that this jibe wasn’t directed at anybody; the room was empty except for the nurses who were holding her. Upon inquiry, I found out Safia had lost her only son in the same terrorist attack which took my husband from me. It left me in an uncharacteristic melancholy. I shouldn’t be meddling around this ward. A thought passed my mind. But there was something about her which intrigued me. Maybe it had something to do with her eyes; they had an opaqueness to them which was unsettling. Ours was a mutual pain, a pain which tempted me into learning more about her.

I didn’t care if others said her mental condition wasn’t stable; to me she was the most intelligent person I’d ever come across. Hers was a wounded soul; losing your parents to the merciless fires of 1971 and then your son to the fires of the present, can do that to people. We bonded over our shared anguish easily. I was the lost sailor in need of direction; she was the beacon I’d been searching for. As I got to know her better, I perceived she had an immense hatred for the country. She wanted to leave, badly. Her solemn sadness, opaque eyes and tragic story … all pointed in the same direction; to run and never come back.The only thing is, my theory was wrong…

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***

A white envelope was on my car dashboard, with ‘To Nazia’ neatly written on it. I realised who it was from, and in a fleeting moment all that had happened in the past few days came rushing back to me. I gritted my teeth in fury. A letter. Could it suffice for the tons of questions which her sudden departure had created in my mind? Dejected, I put it in my cargo pocket, to read later.

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It wasn’t until six months later when my visa application had gotten accepted that I decided to read it. It was time to close that chapter once and for all. The first page read, “I always knew you were a desperate soul; too keen to leave. You said you were ‘intrigued’ by me but you never wondered why I had not packed my bags and left after going through so much! The reason was simple: love. Love for a place which has always been my home. I have never hated my country. It was for this very country I endured everything! My wrath is for those who maltreat it. Those who rip apart the dream my country really is. I am not crazy because I have lost faith in the country; rather, I am mad because I’ve lost faith in the people who reside in it. And that is why I chose lunacy over consciousness. I never left because I wanted to fight those who ransack the promise of my homeland… and because of this slipping in the covers of madness is my only refuge, because in this bizarre world, madness is the only sane thing left. If you’re hoping that I’d tell you if I was real or just a figment of your imagination, then you’re in for disappointment. That is for you and you alone to decide. But I would tell you this: one day you’ll not need me anymore. One day you’ll decide to stay back and fight for this country. And you’ll get so engrossed in it that, you’ll end up falling in love. You’ll find love in the smiles of little children and in the breeze of the ocean. In the light of the sun and in the serenity of valleys. In the stillness of Zhob and in the songs of Thar. In the heights of north and resilience of the south. And when you’ll do all that, you would not need me anymore. Because at the end of the day, I am a Pakistani, just like you. And in loving Pakistan, you’d have found me. So I’ll bid you adieu in the hope that you’ll stay back. I hope you will embrace the love for your country which you’ve always bottled up inside you.”

And at that very moment, amidst tears in my eyes I collapsed.

***
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There are some people who’d do anything to hold on to their beliefs – who would hold on to love when in all rationality it wouldn’t be advisable to do so. Nazia, my patient, is among one of these souls. She is someone who has lost a lot. From her adolescent years to the days of her marriage, everyone she has ever held near and dear, became victims of burning hatred. Most people I know would try to run away as far as possible in such circumstances, but Nazia’s love grows every time tragedy knocks on her doors. Until I met her, I never knew love could exist in such unique and unusual forms; forms which the common man will always fail to sense. But then I met her. The vagaries of her beautiful mind have no idea that Safia is nothing but result of her own resplendent imagination. Her mind resonates with the notion that Safia’s story was something she had never heard of before. Yet, it had never been Safia’s story to begin with. It was all hers. She states it is Safia who has taught her to forgive, and to never stop loving; in reality, however, this is her feat alone. She thinks she read a letter on the day when we’d found her, half dead while she’d saved a baby girl, almost killed her abductor and got shot in the process, that it was that letter which prompted her to believe in the power of love. The truth is, no such letter was ever found. “You don’t see it with my eyes, doctor.” She had replied then, when I’d told her there was no letter there. And so the cycle of her quotidian largess continues, with each day teaching me that patriotism isn’t always about decorating your homes on 14th August or wearing green clothes on 23rd March. In fact, real love comes in simply believing. Believing that one day, everyone will open their hearts to forgiveness. That one day, hate would finally die. That one day we’d all resurrect the fire we had all collectively extinguished.

8684_8_15_2014_5That one day, the painting of our conscience will brim with the strokes of love.