Pakistani with every fiber of my being
I hail from green and white – from a crescent and a star.
I live under lights that do not dim, even with electricity loadshedding every day. I walk in slums and narrow streets. I travel across shahrahs and highways that lead up to the mountains.
I cower from the sun, glaring down, staring down; I cower from heat waves — from warmth that can make you faint.
I am in awe of the sea, the beautiful vast sea that drowned a boy I knew, with long, white, foamy waves that I watch merge with one another. I recognise five rivers that have gone dry, as I do trees that grow on sidewalks and are covered in lights for the birthday of the Prophet (pbuh).
I take pride in the majestic architecture of the Faisal Mosque and Quaid’s mausoleum. I avert my gaze from mud-slung huts and garbage dumps that my people eat off.
I occasionally recall shayiri (poetry), from beautiful, lilting words of Urdu, from Ghalib and Mir. I regularly embrace Pakistani pop songs of young boy bands. I follow Urdu soaps on television that so many housewives are addicted to.
I regret burning tyres on the street, and forgetting the national anthem. I live with doubt and disillusionment, corruption and poverty. I recognise beggars on the streets, and children with rosebuds, hair clips or gajras that they sell at traffic signals.
I exist within paradoxes and confusion.
I agree with despising India in a cricket match, and blaming them for everything. I also agree with loving Bollywood, and speak Hindi words that are part of everyday discourse.
I choose apathy because I am too afraid of knowing the pain of some people. I accept inaction because I feel I cannot change the future. I possess a language I shy away from – a language with history and beauty.
I hum “Jeevay Jeevay Pakistan”, sung every August by little children on television while waving flags. I drive past multiple Mercedes on streets and honk at donkey carts. I am accustomed to employing maids with little daughters who sweep the floors and cook the meals.
I am acquainted with Sunni-Shia feuds, with the calendar of the moon, and with Muharram and Ramadan. I find comfort in fasting and praying, in gazing at the pictures of the Kaabah on my prayer mat and tracing them.
I belong to angry and sad people. I belong to crisis– to the sugar crisis and the electricity crisis and the water crisis and the energy crisis. I resent banned websites and suspended cell phone networks. I am used to confusion and exasperation.
I harbour resilience and tenacity. I am from Karakoram and Himalayas, from the valleys of Swat and the drones of Wagah. I come from a melting pot of cultures and emotions.
I identify with Sindhis and Punjabis, Balochis, Pathans and Mohajirs. I know the Line of Control stretched across Kashmir, across the heart of every Pakistani, across the pages of every high school history book, and across the conversations at so many dinner tables.
I have given up on dreaming of stability. I acknowledge the fear of the army. I pass on rumours about the ISI. I make a habit of detesting President Zardari and being terrified of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM). I do not speak of an evening when I catch a rickshaw sneakily to listen to Imran Khan speaking of hope and improvement to a crowd, desperate for change like I am.
I resort to running on streets collecting funds for the flood. I decide to pack box after box for the earthquake victims. I volunteer at a small summer school in a slum where kids in rags learn English, theatre, mathematics and dance. I pray for the little girl whose foot was wounded and infected for four years before it was treated because her mother didn’t understand how bad it was.
I remember medical camps in rural Sindh, where locals opened gunfire because they felt threatened by help.
I close my eyes to bring back a candle-lit protest against murder – peaceful and powerful, spreading across streets where pedestrians stopped to stare, admiring the verve or pitying its uselessness.
I engage in arguments about whether Karachi is better than Lahore. I wake up the morning after a riot to go to work, because this is routine. I believe I can never give up, because that’s what survival looks like. I fear suicide bombs as much as violent strikes and demonstrations that leave busy streets deserted. I try to forget a morning when a bomb went off across six schools in Karachi and killed the old guard outside a school gate.
I alternate between hating my people when home and longing for their chaos when away.
I have become used to American friends asking, “Does Pakistan have internet?”
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The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.