Everyday when I leave for the office, I see shades of green with some yellow (sometimes white) peeking in through the trees….my street is pretty, lined with trees….and then as I sip at my coffee, listening to my favourite tunes, I reach a roundabout…I look left, I see mountains…on clear days a cloud would be floating over them…on hazy days they become the mountains I used to imagine while listening to fairy tales, with genies and fairies, narrated by my grandmother…. Past the round about, I pass in front of a park on my left and a green belt of trees on my right…at the edge of the park is a big Mcdonald’s. Of late, I have stopped taking these images for granted, I am so scared for my city, my country that I love…I just pray every time I enjoy any of these images which are my journey to my office…
Out on a Sunday, surrounded by the green, the trees at some distance and the blue of the water just slightly visible. I catch a group of teenage girls wearing brightly colored shalwar qameez, coordinated jewelry and bags of various shapes and sizes being dangled around— out on a Sunday picnic on the Rawal Lake. Somewhere I can smell rice cooking—probably, the biryani stall we passed.I make a mental note of trying some on my way back .
A few years back , I was compiling a research on women for an NGO. It meant going through hundreds of questionnaires filled by data collectors from all around the country. Filled in Urdu by the data collectors, the questionnaires had both open ended and closed ended questions. I distinctly remember one questionnaire filled with the responses from a woman living in a dar ul aman (shelter home) “My wounds are weeping wounds, they stem from a deep curse. The curse of the sanctuary of your home disappearing into darkness of madness and cruelty” Her sentiment made an impression, I wanted to meet her— the depth of her observations of life compelled the researcher in me to dig deeper and develop this woman’s story into a case study. Unfortunately, due to the time lag between the data collection and the questionnaires coming to me for collation and analysis, life itself had taken that woman somewhere else. Thus for me, she remained a coded questionnaire, yet her profound scrutiny of ‘being’ stays with me. Since then, I have quoted her in many conversations on domestic abuse; I never thought I would be able to ever empathize with her, with my own fears, my own pain.
Surely, I wouldn’t have to worry about the sunshine, the clouds, the mountains and the trees had it not been for ‘the curse of my sanctuary, my country, my homeland at the verge- disappearing into darkness of madness and cruelty’. For how else do I explain driving on streets with pickets every 2 kilometers, going into an office with 10 feet high walls, sending an sms to my friend before going to watch a play—not to invite her– but to assure myself that the fear will not captivate me to keep me from leading a normal life but actually it has. In the act of writing that sms ‘normal’ left.
What is normal? For us in Pakistan, of late, it lies somewhere between fear and denial interspersed with bouts of anger and frustration accompanied by a severe sense of loss. Every bomb blast brings a renewed sense of loss. As terror grips, it is a struggle to remember the light and not be overwhelmed by the darkness. How long, I ask, how long can we preserve goodness, nay sanity?