Thursday, March 05, 2009

Pakistan, fond memories

When I read or hear about one more evidence pointing towards the turmoil in Pakistan, it reminds me of my visit to the country in 2004. I feel so sorry that evidence has begun to come at a rapid pace. The memories of my visit leap up in my consciousness and I so much wish that the present was just a nightmare.

I had the opportunity to visit Pakistan for a month in 2004 of which I stayed mostly in Muree and a week or so between Islamabad, Rawalpindi, and Lahore. Muree, a charming hill resort, a little more than an hour drive from Islamabad has given me the gift of friendship of some lovely people from Pakistan. I have sat on its soil and watched the sun rise and depart behind the mountains for days together. Walking in the woods of Muree I would think – how do I call this leaf fallen on the ground a “Pakistani leaf” or the pine tree yonder a “Pakistani pine tree”. Silly thoughts. But the boundaries were muddled in my head.

Pakistan and Bangladesh have always been fabled lands in my mindscape. Perhaps because we were One at one time until a bloody separation tore us apart. I was not born at that time as me but I am sure something somewhere has remained from a past lifetime to make me feel the bond. The details of my stay in Pakistan come back vividly. I cannot forget the shopkeepers in Lahore who declined money in exchange of the purchases I made. I was a “mehmaan” they said. They had left behind their families in India, they told me – members of the family who could not cross over to the other side at the time of partition. Some had left behind their property, land, everything. I had come from the land they were forced to abandon. Perhaps I represented nostalgia for them, a remembrance of the good times, of togetherness with their own. I cannot forget the roadside vendor selling pistachios on the streets of Muree who insisted that I keep the packet I had picked up as a gift from him. I cannot forget the gentleman behind the counter at the Islamabad airport who waived off tariff on my extra luggage with a smile. I also cannot forget the hospitality of the Pakistani people – of the many at whose homes I stayed. Driving down the manicured streets of Islamabad or shopping in the narrow lanes of Lahore or smelling the wondrous mountain air in Muree, I remember the feeling of gay abandon – boundaries, there were none. After the visit, I never believed any jingoism against Pakistan.

Now, I worry about my friends there. I wonder whether they still feel safe in those sensuous Islamabadi-style shalwar-kurtas that showed off those lovely feminine ankles. I wonder whether they are still able to drive down anytime they wished to the gorgeous ice cream parlors in Islamabad. I wonder whether they feel safe in the work they do to empower their country people. When they don’t write for a long time, I wonder about their access rights to the internet.

With the Pakistani government doing little to help the 26/11 probes, with the shocking news of the Taliban taking over the Swat valley, with the bombs going off in the towns and cities ever so frequently, with the murder of every voice that dares to dissent, and now with the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, my heart sinks. I wish the trees and the mountains in the countryside where the militants hide would speak up. I wish they would not stand there mute watching those men prepare themselves for doom. Silly thoughts. Has the weight of negative karmas become so great that balance has tilted in favor of devastation and violence? I wonder whether I can ever go back to Pakistan and feel the gay abandon all over again. I wish people will not hate Pakistan in these terrible times. I really wish the trees would speak up.


Twisted factory said...

I just don't have much to say here. I get blank when I think of world politics and terror. All I can say is that you are blessed to experience such things in life and civilians in any country are almost the same. They just want to live peacefully and earn their bread and butter. Pakistan is slowly on the verge of becoming somewhat like Afghanistan.

Munchmany! said...

Very nice post Amrita!

This is the very perspective i have tried to share with a lot of people.

You are truly lucky to have experienced such genuine hospitality.

But as usual politics mess up everything!

Gurooji said...

I remember when my dad went to Pakistan a few years ago, he came back and just said, "It's just like India." And we were zapped--not sure what we expected.
Unfortunately, the two countries are still very much alike--politics screwing up people's happiness on both sides :(

BTW, lucky you, to have visited Pakistan. Wish that won't soon become impossible.

ambrosia said...

Thank you Twisted factory, Munchmany, and Gurooji for dropping by. You are so right in saying that people everywhere are the same - everyone wants peace - but unfortunately many of the same people fall victims to the politics of hate. I wish people can trust their instincts more for making judgments rather than believing in jingoism against the "other".