Out of sight, out of mind

Published: April 5, 2013

The baba jee seemed to be in his 80s; white beard, frail frame, thick spectacles, and was holding onto an old walking stick. PHOTO: AFP

Arsalan’s mother had cooked his favourite dish today: kalool (red beans) with lamb mutton. The beans were from the mountains of Dir, and were special, the reason being that the archaic methods of agriculture are still in practice there.

These methods resulted in a low yield, but the taste of the produce was unrivaled. The mutton was from Namak MaandiCharsi Tikka Shop made sure that the lambs that they slaughtered were young and their meat was left in the freezer for a week or two. They wouldn’t sell raw meat to anyone, but then Arsalan was one of their regular customers.

He took the dastarkhwan (cloth) and set out for the tandoor. Four rotis were enough; one for his mom, one for his dad and two for him.

He wrapped up his rotis and in a scurry paid the tandoor wala. When he turned around, he saw an elderly man sitting on the foot path.

The baba jee seemed to be in his 80s; white beard, frail frame, thick spectacles, and was holding onto an old walking stick.

Unlike the people around him, Arsalan paused for a moment to take a look at this feeble and helpless man. Baba jee was breathing heavily and would break into a loud cough followed by a spit of mucus.

For some reason, Arsalan felt guilty for baba jee’s condition; it was as if he had something to do with the old man’s misery.

He shrugged these thoughts off and quickly took a roti out of his dastarkhwan. With a big smile on his face, he handed the roti to the baba jee.

The old man looked up at him and without even acknowledging his gesture, took the roti and shoved it in a white shopping bag that already had four or five more.

Arsalan knew that the baba jee needed more than just a roti.

What can I do?

He thought to himself; a voice inside him replied with a plan.

Take him to the hospital first and when he gets better bring him back home. The drawing room has an attached bath with it; baba jee could live there.

How much could he possibly eat? It will be a big sawab, and it will make Allah (SWT) really happy. People will talk about it and the whole family will become famous for this good deed.

It sounded like a win-win situation, but if only he could convince his father.


When he got back home his mother had already laid the dastarkhwan. She always took extra care in her presentation. There were clay bowls and clay plates as well as wooden serving spoons. There were salad leaves, carrots and onions splashed with vinegar in one bowl, mint chutni made from homemade yogurt with added crushed walnuts in another, spicy tomato chutni along with mango achaar from Shikarpur, and the luxuriant red bean and lamb mutton curry.

The white dastarkhwan resembled a luxuriously sprawled out canvas.

But Arsalan still had baba jee on his mind.

His mother was waiting to hear her son appreciate her effort.

Khwand e nishta?” (Not good?), she asked in a worried tone.

“No, no, it’s awesome… it’s just that…”

“What’s wrong?” asked his father.

“Well… I… I saw this old man…”

He continued with how he felt about the condition of the old man and how he wanted to bring him home.

“If this was America, he would have ended up in a senior citizen home. But this, this is PAKISTAN!!! Everything is so messed up here!” exclaimed Arsalan, getting worked up,

“Ah! Well, why don’t you help him out then?” smiled his father.

“You mean we can bring him here?” he beamed excitedly.

“Well no, I mean you. Why don’t you help him out?”

“Huh! What can I do? I don’t even have a job! You have all the money. I can’t even…”

“Here’s the deal”, said his father, “Sell your motorcycle and give me the money, then that old man can live the rest of his days here. Deal?”

Arsalan gulped.

His father peered over his glasses with a wry smile.

“You don’t have to make a decision right now, you can tell me tomorrow.”

Arsalan stopped eating, and his mom cursed her husband for ruining her son’s dinner. Arsalan was oblivious to this one sided altercation between his parents. The guilt that he felt outside the tandoor shop was back, gnawing at his heart again.

Soon enough, his thoughts took over.

My motorcycle could generate enough money to help the baba jee live his last days in peace, not like that of an unwanted rabid dog on a footpath.

But then the motor cycle – I loved my motorcycle! I got it after so much convincing! All my friends also have the same model and the same colour. Every chaand raat and every Independence Day, we take out our motorbike silencers and race down GT road and do wheelies in Hayatabad.

He couldn’t think of any friend of his who didn’t have a motorbike. Losing it meant he would completely lose his current social standing.

But then the baba jee….

Caught in this internal struggle he picked up the remote and turned the TV on.

ARY NEWS: There was a report on a recent addition to the Pakistan Navy; an Agosta-class submarine.

Agosta?, he thought. Sounds good. The Pakistan Navy sure is getting better!

He smiled and changed the channel.


CNBC: Mujahid Barailvi was engaged in a heated argument with Imran Khan.

“Jamhooriyaat! Haqiqi jamhoriyaat!” demanded the passionate Khan.

(Democracy, real democracy)

Yes, Arsalan thought, Musharraf is the root cause of this strife. Democracy is the only solution. No wonder we are such a pathetic nation!


GEO TV: Amir Liaquat Hussain was going on and on about the importance of namaz – how essential it was and how sad it was that people missed this imperative ritual. One of Amir’s guests spoke about the importance of building mosques and how one would be rewarded for such a deed.

Hearing that, Arsalan made a promise to himself – before he died, he would have to build at least one mosque.

Ah, heaven!

That would be the life.

He smiled again.


GEO News: Hamid Mir was showing the destruction of Lebanese apartment complexes. He showed some half burnt Qurans as well as a totally demolished mosque.

Arsalan gritted his teeth and clinched his fists.

One mushroom cloud over Tel Aviv and all the problems of this world will be solved!


PTV: A respected intellectual of yesteryear was explaining the difference between a Kafir and a Muslim in their propensity to be bayhaya (lewd).

“Kafir”, said the old sage “is like the joti (shoe), it doesn’t matter how muddy a joti gets. It is destined to be like that. But the Muslim is like a Pagri (head gear), it is to be placed on the head, and even a little bit of mud on it would be a source of shame.”

SubhanAllah! Wah wah!


B4U Music: The song was Ishq Kamina. For the next two minutes Arsalan could not take his eyes of Aishwarya’s navel.

Shahrukh just melts into the background in this one, he thought.


Qureshi Springer Show?!


Indus Music: Fasi Zaka and Nadeem Farooq Paracha were lamenting the rise of the Cola culture in the Pakistani pop industry.

Hmmm, thought Arsalan, is there any Pepsi left in the fridge or did dad drink it all?


Khyber TV: A girl was dancing around in a man’s clothes, wielding an AK 47.

“Beware of me”, she sang. “I have a blood feud. I won’t kill you with my eyes but instead with my machine (AK-47)”

Arsalan cursed himself for buying that wretched shotgun. It doesn’t matter how loud it is, it just isn’t as sexy as an AK-47 with a folding butt.


BBC FOOD: Rick Stein was taking a baking dish out of the oven. The meat looked awesome as it crackled under the weight of Rick’s knife.

“Roasted belly of pork with rosemary potatoes” said the beaming chef.

“Aakh, thoo!” spat Arsalan, as his stomach gave a loud growl.


BBC PRIME: Jeremy Clarkson was test driving the Ferrari Enzo,

 “Orgasmic! Divine! I am a god!” screamed Clarkson.

Arsalan had never felt more like a mere mortal.





Arsalan dozed off….

When he opened his eyes he stood in a beautiful mosque; one that he had built himself. He knew he was dreaming.

At the front of the mosque stood Amir Liaquat Hussain who was leading the congregational prayer – strangely, they were the only two people there.

As soon as Amir said the final salam, Arsalan heard footsteps behind him.

It was Aishwariya and she had an AK-47 slung across her shoulder. She bit her lip, and suddenly a song started playing in the background. For some odd reason the lyrics were main kamina, main kamina!

The two of them stepped out onto the veranda of the mosque and started dancing.

In a corner Rick Stein was making chapli kababs.

“Minced Israeli meat, with a splash of American bone marrow” he said proudly.

“Jazak Allah!” said Arsalan as he wrapped his arm around Aishwariya’s back and pulled her close.

The two of them started walking towards the exit; he could see his Ferrari Enzo, parked right outside the gate. Suddenly baba jee appeared at the gate of the mosque.

Arsalan felt uneasy.


And baba jee was gone.

This post originally appeared here

Read more by Imran here, or follow him on Twitter @iopyne

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    Click ! Click! Click!………………someone please explain……………I’m lost.Recommend

  • Me_too


    A lot of clicking has dazed my eyes. ET Eds are seem to be lost!Recommend

  • Uzair

    I think it is a very well written article. At some point in life, we all experience this feeling of doing something great for poor we see on the streets….somehow we want a magic wand that can change their lives quickly and we can move on with ours. The best we all do is take out some money and hand it over to elderly ppl (since it is quick and money can buy them a meal for one time). I really wish Allah gives us the courage to do more and commit on a longer helping period and communicate with this class and understand their problems.Recommend

  • Uzair

    @Parvez, this is exactly what the author is trying to point out….you started reading out about an old helpless man and maybe at that time you were expecting something great was done for him….but then you moved on to Arsalan’s (or anyone of us) typical day and watching tv by changing channels one after another…soon are mind is busy with news and entertainment and that guilt of helping out poor dies down with time and we forget the “naik khayal” that was present once in our brain earlier that day. Recommend

  • Nadia

    Lamb mutton is like saying Hen chicken? Recommend

  • Maxwood


    We therefore need to have Imran Khan as the Premier of this country so that, Express Tribune would be able to Click – away the unused Cliks.

    How romantic I am while writing….. Don’t I?Recommend

  • masoodah

    Absolutely well-written! Really touched a nerve. May Allah give us all hidayathRecommend

  • Sher Ghazi

    Really Touching peace for reading. Recommend

  • http://syedaabidabokhari.wordpress.com The Only Normal Person Here.

    These days, Out of facebook, out of mind.Recommend

  • Stranger

    Errr too many clicks. The main plot is all hazy.Recommend

  • anony

    Very well put, but there were 2 blaring sentences that the character Arsalan thought – which I feel are begging to be cleared. 1) “People will talk about it and the whole family will become famous for this good deed.” That selfish vanity in reality is the last thing that makes a deed worthwhile or accepted by God. 2) “If this was America, he would have ended up in a senior citizen home. But this, this is PAKISTAN!!! Everything is so messed up here!” That is seriously so messed up! The only reason we don’t have old homes is because we are not YET as messed up as America, because we still have an inkling of love and concern left for our parents enough to not dispose of them the moment it becomes inconvenient to us. The only cultures that need senior homes all over the place are the ones seriously lacking humanity and family values. However, Pakistan is certainly on the way to that stage of moral decay too, as this Arsalan character aptly portrays. sigh. may Allah open our hearts to truth and guidance and grant us success.Recommend

  • Parvez

    @Uzair: Thank you.
    I understand why ET in its brilliance calls this section ‘ Poetic License ‘.

  • Point

    Point of this article is how the dumbfounded youth are too willing to to lose themselves in false realities and fiction (t.v as an example) instead of actually doing something to make a difference, thought provoking. Maybe if the boy in this article had a better mentor to show him how to help the Baba Jee he would grow up not to click his life awayRecommend

  • gp65

    @Author: Well written.

    @Parvez: Jusl like we switch a TV channel to move away from what we don’t like, the protagonist also switched his thoughts away from facing inconvenient truth about himself.

    @anony: The 2 points you ‘clarified’ did not need clarification. It is the protagonists’ mindset that is being demonstrated not a lesson in ethics. The protagonist realized that Babaji was in need of help. If his parents were willing to take him in and he got all wah wah for that, he was all for helping him. If the state would take care of Babaji in an old age home also he was all for that. But when it came to him giving up something personally so that the Babaji could be taken care off – suddenly it was too uncomfortable a thought and he switched that thought out of his head to focus on Aishwarya.


  • Parvez

    @gp65: I did figure it out but the need to talk in riddles in something I’m not comfortable with……….. my shortcoming I suppose.

  • gp65

    @Parvez: “@gp65: I did figure it out but the need to talk in riddles in something I’m not comfortable with……….. my shortcoming I suppose.”

    You are entitled to your preference. I do not see it as a shortcoming in any way. I only responded to you because you said “someone please explain……………I’m lost”. Maybe that was sarcasm which I failed to get.Recommend

  • Zareen Gul

    @Nadia: Lamb meat is different from other mutton types very distinct in taste and smell chicken meat is almost sameRecommend

  • I am a Khan

    Nice article. It accurately explains the mindset of young pakistanis…Namaz Apni Jaga, Aishwarya se Dance apni Jaga…Babajee pe Taras apni Jaga….Ferrari apni jaga…. Recommend

  • aisha shahid

    well written articleRecommend

  • Zeeshan

    Barebacked Aishwaria with AK47 in a mosque and two guys dancing in the mosque veranda???