Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Pakistan - a personal reflection

The sky is nearly black and thunder echoes overhead. I sip orange juice as I gaze out the back door, watching fat droplets crash into vividly yellow flowers, sharper in colour because of the charcoal grey sky.

But though it's what everyone else would see, I'm not looking out at an English back garden. My eyes - and heart - are elsewhere. Somewhere where the sharp smells of woodsmoke and duputtas being dyed mingle in the summer air.

Somewhere I haven't talked about in a while, though everyone else is.

Hazel was first, followed by a slew of friends. "I've heard about the floods in Pakistan, do you have any relatives there? Do you know if they're ok?" I made vague answers; said what little I knew. Trying not to face the fact that I DON'T know how the people I really love are.

I'm not one for avoidance. In fact, my friends would probably tell you I'm relentless about seeing the worst possible option as a reality: someone I've trusted for years might be a sociopath and I could be totally wrong (almost always false); if a guy seems interested, he's either a player or gay (ok, yeah, he's staring at my chest, but he's faking it); a pillar of society is a liar/sociopath (that one is far too often true).

My favourite word? Look. Look at what's real. Look towards, don't look away. Look at the shadow. Look into the darkness.

When it comes to my world, it's one of my few unbreakable rules: things AREN'T what you hope they are. DON'T pretend. Look. Look. LOOK.

But every single one of us lacks integrity in at least one aspect of our life. Welcome to one of mine.

I should have known. Should have known when my answers were short; should have known when I felt defensive; should have known when I couldn't speak. I'm the one who always modifies the triage rule by saying that what one refuses to speak about is where one is most traumatised, that which most needs to be expressed. I, who turn my face towards everything, force myself to watch programmes on some of the darkest parts of human history, have turned my face away from Pakistan.

I have refused to look. Refused to watch its descent into anarchy. Refused to know about the daily bombings in Lahore. Refused to look at the natural disasters.

I can't look.

Why? Pakistan is...not this. Not this failed state, not this horrible mess, not this mass of suffering nor this inevitable descent into chaos. Not this, please. Not this.

Pakistan is...being greeted at Lahore by as many of my mother's brothers and sisters who could make it. Being wrapped up in big uncle bear hugs. Laughing till I'm sick at my mother's cheeky, smartass younger brother who probably had far more to do with forming my love map than my father did.

It is being surrounded by a gaggle of cousins; playing 'Pitu garam' barefoot on a hot brick backyard; time on the train; whispered conversations under the razai; cricket on the television. Sudden torrential rain; trips to Shalimar Gardens and Anarkali; blinking sleepily, then rolling over and snuggling further under the razai as the Azan cuts through the dawn sky.

7UP cubes; Enid Blyton; crap Punjabi pop music; trying on Aunty Razia's burqa. Grandpa's twinkling green eyes and white beard and sheer gentle presence. Laughter, parathas, Mom and Aunty Razia in the kitchen making chapatis. Pakistan was a trip to the Kaghan Valley, the breathtaking gateway to the Khyber and Hindu-Kush Himalayan subrange, with one room housing ten of us snuggled under razais as Uncle Javed regaled us with stories that kept us in stitches till well after midnight...and waking to the same uncle being shaved with a straight razor.

Bright sun, bare feet on dusty roads, golguppes from street vendors, the smell of Imperial Leather and sandalwood on men, the scent of food mingling with...

...woodsmoke and duputtas being dyed.

Pakistan was family. Pakistan was love. And its rawness, its place on the edge of life, clicked with its counterpart in my personality, changing me forever - meaning that I ever seek people and places that resonate with that.

That's where I want to freeze it - in that time, in that place - where aunts and uncles were young, strong adults who could carry us easily and hold us safe; where cousins were carefree and dreaming of the life they might live. Where one knew what the political reality was from day to day. Where the kids could walk down to the market without fear. Where international arrivals at Lahore airport was full of young faces shining with love and expectancy.

Don't make me look.

Don't make me face an international arrivals area at LHE that's far too empty, with far too many of those I love gone too early. With uncles and aunts who need my assistance to walk; with cousins careworn from unhappy marriages, infertility, or babies who died too early and a land falling apart around them. Please, don't ask me to look at cousins who are now strangers - in part, because of family choices I've made; in part, because of thousands of miles.

Don't make me look at the fact that the choice I've made with my immediate family means that I have no idea how people I love are doing in this time of bombs and floods.

Because if I look, my heart will break. Break for those I love; break for a people suffering and dying by inches and by the millions; break for a land birthed in so much pain. And I'm not sure it'll ever be whole again.

Yet look I must, and break it must- frozen may be beautiful, but it denies life: the life I've lived and the lives they've lived. To love them truly, to heal, means I must look. And eventually, I must go, hold them and know them again - as they are now, not as I've kept them imprisoned in my heart. Eventually, perhaps I can even take the trip that might symbolise healing for all of us - a trip from Lahore, Pakistan to Jalandar, India - the reverse of the trip they made during Partition.

But I must remember the line from Contact I quote to my friends when they're working things through: small moves, Sparks. Small moves.

First, open your eyes, turn your head - and look.

1 comment:

Kate said...

This was a beautiful post Irim, so evocative. But you should be easier on yourself. We are all guilty of avoiding pain, and especially when we have moved so far away from the people of our past. It takes both sides to neglect contact for it to lapse.xx