A collection of untouched memories and unwritten time,A tide to wash away stains from the past,
Some arrivals cease the darkness they say
Just like arrival of dawn through the grey of night
But take me to places, other than these
I reach his belongings with trembling hands, constantly under the burden of realization that I might not like it if someone tries intruding into my world of belongings only a few months after my disappearance from the physical world.
There is a relatable fear, a shared feeling of discontent; but there is this contentment surviving its paradox existence, deep in the hollows of my heart I find peace. I reason my heart that it is only to preserve that I am reaching his belongings, that some years down the lane someone out there might also want to preserve what I’ll be leaving behind.
I have multiple emotions at work in my body, I feel dejected as I reach his storage box for how his belongings lay there so naked and at loss of any meanings; and I open it. I detect all the objects one by one, in my futile try to attach any meaning that he left behind in the world for us to grab.
Few of his army souvenirs tucked in one corner of the box, all the invitation letters from his regiment and letters from his colleague and I transcend into afternoons of childhood summer when he would gather us all around and narrate stories of his adventures in the army, his eyes speaking for the pride he felt in his service, his language containing barely any hint of pride.
The memory now takes me back to summer evenings in my village house as a long row of chorpoyes was set in the center of a courtyard lined by verandas all around. Soon after Maghrib prayers he would enter the house, always at a fixed time and his radio in hand. He would set it up on the side table, tune into a news channel and rest his head on his hands.
The echoes of news on the radio still play in my head, my first ever memory of listening to anyone reading out for us in a very serious and somber way and in those fifteen minutes, everything else in the surroundings stopped as if respecting the sobriety of the situation.
Those fifteen minutes later became a part of me and took a broader span in my life years. I stood there to look at the Rome of his belongings that he built over years and from the corner of my watery eyes I can see that the ink is spelled.
(my collaboration with Lavanya Arora from India)
Why does home have to be a place (or several), or even “that feeling”, or a person (or several)? Why does home have to be anything? For most of my adult life, I haven’t felt any sense of belongingness, so I have tried to search for it everywhere. On this journey, I have mostly felt alone and dejected as if there’s no one who can understand me, yet I know I belong to this niche of people who think they belong nowhere. The kind of people Murakami writes about in his novels.
When I look at my school friends who haven’t managed to get out of our hometown, I see a common thread connecting all of them: lack of growth. Maybe they have grown on their own terms, but what is growth if it doesn’t make you appreciate something other than what it inherently yours or related to your culture or that you have been conditioned to love or appreciate? Casual sexism, racism, being jealous of people who can speak proper English and make fun of them, topped with a spoonful of hypocrisy; cooked in a pressure cooker of intolerance, masked as being polite, being curt, being well-mannered, being the personification of a privileged upbringing. All of this chokes me.
Every time I come to this so-called home, this hometown, all of these things flux through my head. In and out and in and out and in and out. How does one become idiot enough to not be able to see through this farce? How does one know of this being a farce and yet be a part of it? Doesn’t it hurt their conscience or do they not know that other perspectives exist too? Do they even spend a minute from their busy schedule on thinking about these things I break my head over for no reason at all?
And so I constructed my home in Nada, in the center of the halo of light, in the constellations on the nights of abandoned skies, and everywhere that was not concrete. I constructed a place in my heart, in my mind, in my soul and called it home. And my body became a manifestation of this home, welcoming everyone, especially ones who were not allowed a home anywhere on Earth. Because the places they once called home had borders now.
I carried my home in my mind, raising my ‘self’ from an existential crisis and thus I had more chances of leaving a place that was in shape of concrete. I wandered in jungles, in strange cities and streets, I ran into faces strange yet unknown, I witnessed 3 a.m. skies, I climbed mountains and swam the deepest oceans.
And with this home, I knew it was no more a place to go back to but a place that I always carried with myself. I am no more the part of flux. I am a creator of my own flux, I pause and play it to my own liking, I take breaks often and I ponder when I want to. I don’t think about reasons for doing anything. In the sanctuary of my home reasons are boring. I experience life, for the sake of it.
This is a story of a girl named Zainab and through this story, I want her to be remembered because no one else would keep her memory otherwise.
I am sorry that your story shall be remembered only after your death, I wish I was able to do anything more than writing about it.
As the story goes, she breathed in a poor family. Life had already figured out the difficult track for her even before she decided one for herself, something that makes you question the realities of life, of how long can we go in our choices in deciding about our life? Or just when we get to think that we are about to decide something, life leaves us alone in the hands of death.
I remember the day I visited her in the hospital. It was just another day in October. Something about October afternoons makes it very gloomy. The effect was added by shutter down shops and a shutdown city because of Muharram holidays, the city, in general, was a picture of some war trodden premises. The initial impact of the building was somewhat a relief for it had a better building in comparison to everything around.
We were received by her brother at the entrance of the hospital. The initial impact soon blurred as we entered the hospital, the inside of the building was another story all in all as if we had entered some old, abandoned castle; as if we are shifted from one-time zone of the life outside to another time that is receding. The main entrance was closed and the make-shift entrance door had a counter in the shape of a room with a man sitting in all idleness behind a desk that looked like a piece of the antique collection, few patients were roaming here and there.
The story was so obvious yet some silent corner in my heart prayed it to be not true. But every step I took, it carried me further into a state of hopelessness. There was no hospital staff in sight, no patients in its waiting area and for the first time, I disliked the quietness of the hospital.
The whole building was deserted, rooms empty, and without any equipment. There were beds in few of the rooms but without any bedsheets and unattended half-emptied IV bottles added to the horror of the place. As we entered the hall where Zainab occupied a bed with few other patients. All of them had questions in their eyes and unsung songs of suffering at their lips. We reached her bed, we greeted and prayed for her health and sat down. I was removed from the present state of affairs as long as I was in the hospital, I still can’t forget the expressions on her face; she could almost see her death approaching.
Something that I learned that day, rather a life lesson: the feeling of hopelessness and the feeling of your helplessness when combined are the worst kind of feeling to ever experience in your life. I saw that in Zainab’s eyes, I saw that she knew that there is no way this hospital could save her, I saw that she knew that she can’t afford a better hospital. I saw it all and I felt helpless, because whenever I would talk about doing something about the scenario the same people who were crying for her life would make fun of me. I saw and I silently cried.
It was a government hospital, a project by the last government regime and it started with all the hype and equipment, but as soon as the government changed so did the condition of the hospital. The equipment and machinery from the hospital were taken to another hospital project started by the present government. The staff or members appointed for the hospital never cared enough to visit it very often and handed it all over to few people with poor knowledge and practice of nursing. The elite or professional of the area, well they were mostly busy in running their personal clinics and hospitals, or never cared about what happens to people of slums.
The result? Thousand such unnoticed stories like the one I mentioned above. No one was ready to do anything about it, no hopes from the government or people. There is no reasonable hospital between Rawalpindi and Mianwali area, and people mostly get admitted to such hospitals and wait for their death to arrive or if they finally decide to go to either city after paying high rents for the conveyance, mostly they go back home with a dead body and a loan at their hand; and long before the deceased reaches their grave, the family members are already thinking about how to deal with the amount of loan.
Zainab died te next day, but she left many stories unfolded this time. She left many questions hung in the thick air of our inhumane daily living. Do you belong to any such area? Are you doing something to save the life of Zainab living in that premises? I don’t remember when did this shift happen, but I don’t like the shift where its all about money and ourselves. I am not sure if I have delivered my sentiments in this short piece of writing but I’ll end the story with prayers for her soul, and prayers that no more Zainabs would have to pay the sacrifice of life for being poor.