Something Missing

imageAn early morning chat with an old colleague. He is now abroad and working in a big business, making steady money, saving a bit. His family has settled and while he has old parents in Karachi, they are happy for him also.

What I sensed between the lines was a restlessness; though to be truthful, he had not voiced any discontent. Having been down this road three times, I guess I am more qualified than most to talk about it. Thrice, I had left this land of my birth, with a lot of regret and sadness, but also with a sense of adventure. And over a large tract of years -a decade and a half- I had woken every morning with a sense of ‘something missing’.

So I wrote to this gentleman the following

“I have traveled this journey a few times and know that taking away ones home is a huge displacement in life. Some get over it, some never do. Despite doing this thrice, I always felt my destiny was written in Pakistan.”

His reply was

“You have exactly echoed my emotions, I wonder how you do this everytime with me. My wife and kids are happy, parents are also happy , I have cousins here but still I want to believe and pray that my destiny takes me back to Pakistan where my home is. Remember me in your prayers. Thanks”

In my experience, while the second generation do manage to settle in lands elsewhere, very few of the menfolk who emigrate, quite reconcile to the loss of a sense of belonging, the roots. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan has described this very emotionally in his song “Tere Yaad”. It hits the nail on the head.

What is this “something missing” for most of us? And I hasten to add that there are people who emigrate and never look back. In my writing here, there is no sense of judgement, of any right or wrong. It is just the way it is. There are many people who will always be out of sorts when they emigrate.

This is home. Through my formative years it reached into my brains, subconscious and created imagery, which became a part of me. For me the flashes of cricket, bun kebab, Bundu Khan, Sandspit Beach, friends playing cards, the Eids and the Independence Day, none can be detached from me. It is just part of myself. To take it away is to wrench the heart out of a working body. That is the something missing. You can reconcile and say that was the former me, but I have moved on and now the week of Christmas Holidays is my thing. Or Independence Day July 4th is my day. But rarely, if at all, will it be your thing. It will not quite touch the depth in your heart which creates that sheer joy, reminding one of younger days. Just changing a booklet, from green to blue or red, cannot change decades of programming.

When this happened, I found that my existence while well ordered and physically stable, became mechanical. The heart was not in it. For me it became worse. As the days and years went by, instead of lessening it became more and one day I realised, I was suffering from home-sickness. So there was no answer, but reverse ones step. Think of it as my mental cussedness, that I tried it three times before finally reconciling to it not being good for me. In the end we live life, not to function but to sense it, feel it and live it. In those years abroad, I was not living it. ‘Something missing’ kept popping up in my brain. So, I finally reconciled and decided to stay here. Alhamdulillah! I just pray that this status-quo remains, as I traverse this stage of life, where eventually physical dependence will rule more than emotions.

*Picture is from Dreamstime a free picture site.

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Those who are gone

imageA friend wrote a Facebook status on the recent occasion of Eid ul Adha. She is outside Pakistan and in sending out greetings and a peace message, was lamenting the fact that we are celebrating Eid at varied times and that so many are in different places.

It was not supposed to be this way. At least not inside ones mind. As a career draws near an end and the work of ambition is completed and gone past, one looks back on life and sees ones accumulation. There is some material gain, some renown, huge learning, experiences and maybe some good deeds. But most of all are the collection of friends and family over decades. They come from early childhood and school, from college, then from work including various places in the world one has worked in. Most share one commonality, that they belong to Pakistan. However, so many of these friends and family are now settled elsewhere in the world.

One of my migrating friends, who left and went to Canada, once said to me that it is a sad time. He narrated that it’s like he sits in the car park of his house and watches his house burning. He is relieved that he is outside the house and therefore ‘safe’. But its Dutch comfort! Because it is his house and inside are many loved ones, who are entrapped in the burning. So he has really lost his essence and his preferred existence, but managed to be somewhat safe.

If you hear Rahat Fateh Ali’s ‘Tere Yaad’, it is a great depiction of what happens to us. Both inside and outside Pakistan. We have all grown up, when full families and friends would congregate and celebrate these occasions. They were warm occasions, happy and without fear. Worldly cares were put aside for these days and people bonded. We also shared each others lives and contributed towards being a community. Of course the world was not perfect at all and there were plenty of problems, but in being together one also felt a belonging and a sense of comfort. I personally would go to dozens of homes and while the stomach would have taken a major toll on one after three days, you still came out exhilarated and in one piece.

Today…Eid is spread over 3 days in different parts of the world – quite astonishing, defying science and logic and an advertisement of mans mental cussedness. We can pick up the phone and talk to friends and family, not being sure if it is Eid for them. People who one cares about are alone in different parts of the world. Some don’t even celebrate Eid anymore. They are comfortable and safe, but the essential need of all of us to be together and belong has been shattered. Also unfortunately, comfortable and safe is transient in this life and a moving goal post. It all passes, we are all headed towards the same end.

In Islamic thought, economic migration is not a plausible reason. Migrations are generally allowed for reasons of education and to spread Islamic doctrine. A third reason why it is allowed, is safety. So many of my Shia and Parsi friends sit outside for this reason alone. Many others have also felt the discomfort of insecurity, given up businesses and jobs, and gone off to foreign lands. Sadly, as many of us progress towards a period of life, when (more and more) one recalls old family and friends, it sounds like a travesty that so many of them sit away from each other.

So in these celebratory days, one can only pray that those who are gone, get an opportunity to come back to this land. Hopefully, to a land where there can be peace and security and enough means that most can live a comfortable and happy existence together. Ameen.

*picture is from dreamstime.com a free picture site

God works in mysterious ways

October 28, 2012

“Have you ever lost a home? I had a home and land. 2010 floods washed away the house and spoilt the land. I left my family at the village and came here.” PHOTO: AFP

As you drive down the road connecting Zamzama with Khayaban-e-Shujaat, you come across a market, at the border of Defence and Clifton Cantonment. The road itself winds down into Shujaat and if you are of the ilk, it shall take you down to the Sunday Bazaar in Defence Phase VIII.

In front of this market are a set of fruit and vegetable thela walas (street vendors), lined up against the wall of Zamzama Park. That section of the road is peppered with cars buying fruits according to their purchasing power. Inside the park, oblivious to their proximity, a legion of affluent people jog daily, unaware of the economic struggle ongoing just ten yards away. For this is the place of squeezing out a marginal existence, with no room for error in the thela walas life.

Even in that tough environment, there are three thelas that lie vacant. Sometimes for periods before Eid, beggars occupy these thelas at night. Recently, on a late evening, I stopped to have a conversation with one such beggar. The story he told is related below.

“Have you ever lost a home? I had a home and land. 2010 floods washed away the house and spoilt the land. I left my family in the village and came here. Allah’s (SWT) great trial is on us; there are no jobs here even among crores of people. My money soon finished and I ate at the lunger (charity food shelter) and slept on the road. One day some good soul gave me food and that’s when it came to me that I can beg.  Do you understand how low one falls, to beg? Imagine how I felt the first time I spread my hands out to another human? But even in begging there is a system. I had the protection of a Dada (beggar mafia leader) and he took my money. There’s not much you can do about it, unless you want problems… but I missed my family and had no money to go back.”

“I begged the Dada and he allowed me to bring my family, if I paid daily for them. I was desperate and they came. But the Dada wanted them to beg. I said no, so he threw us out. Saeen, I could not see my family on the road. We were respectable small farmers and never without a roof. So I went back. He said all my family will beg and if I pay him enough, he will find me space to live. In the meantime, he has deposited us here. My poor family does not understand, but every day they go out to beg. My wife cries at night and my baby boy, seven-years-old, he goes and begs at a crossing. How would you feel if your son was sent out to do this? Is dignity even not my right? You eat expensive stuff and drive big cars, yet my boy makes Rs100 a day and we give away Rs50 of that to the Dada. At the end of the day, the boy gets a roti (bread) and daal (pulses) to eat. So where is the justice in this?  I cannot even pray, as I am not clean; don’t have clothes and a place to wash. So even my right of prayer to Allah (SWT) is gone! Who is going to answer for that?”

Completely distraught, I just stood there.

My mind starting thinking of what I could do to help was there anything I could do to help? There was no point in donating money because the Dada would take it and the family would be back to square one. I am ashamed to say that at the time, my mind could not work out a solution.

No place for further servants meant that I could not house them.

No immediate vacancy for a job occurred to me.

I think we have become emasculated by the norms of present day society, or maybe too absorbed in our own narrow existence! So I said,

“Wait for a day or so and I shall come back with an answer. Maybe I can get you a job so that you could move your family and once you are employed and out of the clutches of your leech, I can support you with financial aid also.”

Feeling a bit better, I went home, spoke to my family and some semblance of a plan formed in our minds. We thought of moving them back home and aiding them in setting up from scratch. Alas, our lives are full of good intentions, which never quite come to fruition.

A couple of extremely urgent deadlines meant that I could not go back till the day after. When I went back, the thela was empty and the family gone.

Such chagrin as I felt then was not comparable.

I had been tested, called on and had not come up to scratch.

How was I ever going to justify this to myself and Allah (SWT)?

I had no answers.

And so, Eid day dawned and I went for prayers.

After the Eid namaaz I saw the man, in cleaner clothes, coming out of the mosque, following a sahib. I asked about his whereabouts. He said,

“Two days ago an angel of a woman stepped out of her large jeep and asked me my story. When I told her, this woman instructed her driver to collect the family and bring them to her house.”

Now they reside in her servant quarter. His wife does cleaning work and he does gardening and the children will go to school.

Alhamdulillah, miracles never seize to amaze. God truly does work in mysterious ways, miracles do happen and good humans still exist. I wished him and his sahib an Eid Mubarak, told him to thank Allah (SWT) and gave him my contact in case he needed it.

As I walked to my car, I felt as if there is light yet in this world and that there are possibilities for everyone. Good, loving humans renew this human spirit.

May there be many such endings.

Please let’s all of us do our bit of good. This world will be a better place for it.

Eid Mubarak!

Read more by Sarfaraz here or follow him on Twitter @Sarehman

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