Monday, January 31, 2011

Two kinds of Hell

I was too lazy to go upstairs to practise my shots on the actual table tennis table, so I was playing pseudo-ping pong with our wall outside. Our water tank (tanki)’s motor was running smoothly on the other side of the terrace. Nani Ammi (my grandmother) had just had her evening chai, and she was sitting by herself at the takht reading the newspaper. All you could hear on that humid evening was the remnants of a defeated summer day, the chug-chug-chug of the motor, and my occasional sharp hits on the wall.

I didn’t realize where that loud bang came from at first. Maybe I hit the window by mistake? No? Maybe the motor blew up? Someone fell? But whatever it was, it shook the ground beneath. I remember being so shocked that I just stood there with the racket in my hand and the ball bouncing by itself... for a slow drawn out moment. Nani Ammi had a surprised look on her face. For what felt like a couple of minutes, but was exactly 10 seconds as we later found out, we both remained fixed where we were. Then it came again. This time, I was sure it wasn’t me or the motor- which was still chugging away as indifferently as only a machine can.

This time it rang loudly in my head, and shook me so badly that I almost stumbled on a perfectly level surface. It wasn’t an earthquake. They don’t come with a bang and leave a lasting echo of a whistle in your ear. You don’t smell gunpowder in the air for miles around. Your bones shake exactly the same way though, and for a moment you don’t know what has happened.

I remember Ammi walking out onto the terrace silently, as if in a daze. We listened. No sound but the motor. Even the birds were too shocked to comment. A cat was sitting on our boundary wall, one leg outstretched in mid-air. It too was listening.
“I think, we should go inside.” We went in. 

Somebody switched on the tv. It was a miracle the power wasn’t out. A channel had breaking news: 2 suicide bomb blasts outside a Shia mosque, just 2 blocks away from our house. Some part of me, deep inside, was still shaking as if it felt the explosion replaying over and over again.
The burnt smell, the small earthquake, the shock, the painful whistle in my left ear- all explained: 2 bomb blasts 10 seconds apart. Our silence was drowned out by the swift official voice of the News anchor, and our eyes were glued to the horror displayed on screen: wailing ambulances, people screaming in silence, flashing red lights, chaos. 

Only in Karachi do you change the channel quickly after such a tragedy. You switch to a foreign channel that has nothing to do with you, or with us, or anything. Another channel, another place, where this didn’t happen. Then you get up and go about your business. It keeps coming back, of course, but you push it away.

However, as we sat down for our dinner later and finally put the news at 9 back on, we learned the tragedy wasn’t over yet. People had taken to the streets in protest. Burned cars and hit policemen trying to clear the scene. People had shaken fists at the tv cameras and shouted terrible threats to their favourite punching bags. But people had done worse. There was a KFC restaurant right beside the Shia mosque (where 5 people had died due to the blasts), and people- common people- were attacking KFC. 

We later heard that the 6 KFC workers on duty had brought down the shutters, and helped all their customers escape out the back door to safety. Then they had hoped to spend some time inside the locked store until things calmed down outside. But somebody thought it was a better idea to set the building on fire. 4 KFC employees were burnt to death that night, while 2 of their colleagues, who tried to escape the fire by running to the freezer section (and by mistake locking themselves in) froze to death. Six young, middle-class, hard-working boys. Who had mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, wives and children. Who had tried to make an honest living, working at the local business. Killed. Not by a terrorist who blew himself up, but by people who were protesting.

People who were protesting what? Shias or Sunnis? insanity or inhumanity? Terrorists or themselves? People also torched shops. One of the shops actually housed an Art gallery, whose owner was a Shia and a friend of my dad. His most valuable possession-his paintings, went up in smoke that night. We went to visit him later, and he showed us the walls, as if they had been freshly painted in charcoal. He was a poor man, I was very sorry for him.
I remember I couldn’t sleep properly that night. I kept having nightmares of a burning hell and a freezing hell. I woke up to realize there was a third kind of hell too: the one we live in.

(this memory is from May 2005)

Monday, January 24, 2011

I am a rebel!

I found this poem online, and the words of the poet were so haunting, that I simply had to translate it and share it with all:

I am a rebel

From the customs of this time,
from these thrones and these crowns,
That are born from cruelty-
and feed on human lives,
That are built on foundations of hate,
from such products of bloodshed-

I am a rebel!
I am a rebel!
However much you punish me!

One twitch upon their lips-
One glance of their eyes-
can cause the laws to change,
and let criminals run free-
from such masters of theft and treachery,
from such "guardians" of justice-

I am a rebel!
I am a rebel!
However much you punish me!

from those who make women dance,
and sell them out on streets,
and then upon that fallen Honor,
they march out in protest-
from these tyrants and miscreants,
from these buyers at the markets-

I am a rebel!
I am a rebel!
However much you punish me!

from those who cry at the country's fate,
then steal from the nation shamelessly,
from those who dwell in palaces,
and talk about poverty,
from these tricksters and these thieves,
from these Feudal Lords and Chiefs-

I am a rebel!
I am a rebel!
However much you punish me!

from those in the 'business' of religion,
who are a major disease and affliction,
fond of labeling others as god-less infidels,
as if they are the last word on Faith-
from these liars and cheats,
from these enterprises of religion-

I am a rebel!
I am a rebel!
However much you punish me!

where breaths are severely measured,
where fortunes are eternally ruined,
where caste and race are a complicated mess,
and the noose of hatred hangs low-
from such lowly thoughts and ideas,
from such lands of Oppression-

I am a rebel!
I am a rebel!
However much you punish me!

I hold the flag of Truth,
and the threat of tyranny is upon me,
But when was I afraid of death?
I live, but for the sake of death-
when the rising sun shall shine in my blood,
then every living soul shall say-

I am a rebel!
I am a rebel!
However much you punish me!
I am a rebel!

- Unknown poet (most probably Habib Jalib or Javed Hashmi)

Monday, January 17, 2011

January happenings

My favourite month... it's like starting a fresh page in a new crisp notebook. It's brighter than last year, there's a skip to one's step (reasonably caused by the heavy snow we get in Jan), and an upbeat outlook on life . It's also my Birthday so January has been something I've always looked forward to. 

I've been reading a lot in the past few days, and watching several things on youtube and/or TV, so much so that my memory fails to register the information as visual/textual, imaginary/factual, did-you-type-it-in-Youtube/did-you-flip-channels-randomly-to-come-across-this-info/did-you-read-it-in-print? 

(Warning: a Lament on Language follows)

The book I've been reading is in Urdu, written by Quratulain Hyder, who is seriously Awesome. The story is thoroughly entertaining, and I'm beginning to improve my Urdu vocabulary as I ask my aunt for help whenever I get stuck. Which makes me sad about the fact that Urdu (real, true, beautiful Urdu) is slowly on the decline. There are so many words and terms, sweet as honey, deep as the ocean, that can never be found in another language and many among my generation do not know them. They can't even be translated, some of their glory, their sweetness is lost. Translating Urdu is like trying to sketch a perfect cube on a piece of paper in 2-D. It is nothing but a shadow on a lower plane of dimensions. Bleak shadow with a paper taste. Not the warm light, and honeyed beauty of the language - something I hold most dear. 

I also watched an Urdu TV drama called "Ankahi" (entirely on youtube) and I found how much our spoken Urdu has deteriorated in just 30 years. There are words, that we know the meaning of, and how to use, but we choose to speak an easy English every day word in their stead. Over time, those alfaaz (words) recede in our memory gathering dust. Since they are never used, we begin to forget that they ever existed. The next generation is completely oblivious of the alfaaz. Readers may wonder, why am I lamenting the loss of those words? Maybe they were unnecessary or inconvenient? fact, choosing English terms in place of an Urdu term is again like choosing a 2-D cube sketch over an actual cube. Bleak shadow with a paper taste. What is gone with these words, is the warmth of knowledge, the light of our culture, and the sweetness of our polite and humble behaviour. That is lost. 
More and more often I feel, that this zubaan (language) is doomed. But as long as there are people who realize its importance, and as long as people love Urdu, it won't be so bad. Someone forwarded me this clip of an American who came to love Urdu, and learnt it, and speaks it wonderfully. I am ashamed to say, even I can not use such pure alfaaz in my day-to-day guftugu (talk). Here it is:

I hope you enjoy, if you understand Urdu. If not, I can translate upon request. What I already have translated from this interview, is John's recital of Allama Iqbal's poem at the end of this video: Iqbal's Message