Graphic by Dorothy Lam/The Gazelle


Graphic by Dorothy Lam/The Gazelle “Chiragh jalana tou poorani rasmein hein, Faraz, ab tou teray shehar k logg insaan jala detay hein…” “To light ...

Mar 10, 2014

“Chiragh jalana tou poorani rasmein hein, Faraz,
ab tou teray shehar k logg insaan jala detay hein…”
“To light candles is an old tradition, Faraz,
Nowadays, your city’s folks burn people.”
It was post-Maghrib, and the skies were neither blue nor black, but somewhere in between. We drove through the street where we lived with houses aligned on either side, a small park with swings and a walking track somewhere ahead and a mosque on one end. There were cars — hundreds of them — with fogged up windows. There were men — thousands of men — hunched together in coats, their shalwar qameezain billowing in the freezing wind. It was a chilling scenario, but the chill had nothing to do with the two-degree Celsius temperature of Decembers in Rawalpindi. Houses that rang with laughter and smelled of rich post-Friday prayer food just a few hours ago, each of them now housed a canopy, a tent, a funeral and a death. No, not a funeral, but funerals. Eighty-six of them. It was December 4, 2009, in Parade Lane, Rawalpindi, and we mourned the 86 soldiers: 86 men who swore to fight and die for peace.
We sat hunched in homes across the country and grieved the 105 deaths of Alamdar, where the Hazara community of Balochistan had refused to bury their murdered because they demanded security and peace. When they finally buried their sons and brothers side by side, they used cranes to dig graves instead of sweaty palms and spades. It was January 2013 and we mourned for one hundred and five.
We watched the television in horror as two blasts destroyed the poor settlements of Abbas Town, Karachi, and 50 families lost houses, homes, fathers and husbands, and came to roads without food, clothes, parents or children. We mourned yet again. It was March of 2013.
I was sitting in the dining hall under the purple NYU torch with notes for my literary interpretation class when BBC reported a suicidal attack on a church, and we mourned again. That was two weeks ago.
We hang rose garlands outside the Armed Forces’ General Headquarters every year for soldiers that leave homes and never return. We pray outside hospitals and graveyards in Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi. We mourn blasts in mosques, in churches, in markets, in hotels, in primary schools. This is the tragedy of our lives. This is the chilling story of the country that fought for peace, of the people that died in the name of a religion that revolves around peace. We have lost, buried and mourned over 40,000 men, women and children since that one unfortunate incident in 2001, which killed around 2,000 people and shook the world.
We are dying. Every day we are dying. We have become somewhat immune to it, as if we are still living in concentration camps of Auschwitz, Dachau and Buchenwald. We have gotten used to it, as if it is still 1947 and trains, expectedly, arrive with slaughtered bodies, just like buses in Gilgit do now. With every day that passes, another story is gone, another city burned. First it was people in distant cities, then it was your city and now it is people you know, and you wonder, who’s next? You? Or him? Or them? Or all of us? When will this chaotic madness end? When will lives, stories and families stop becoming numbers in the death count, names on the news ticker?  When will we stop identifying people by the wallet they left, the blood stained ID-card that was found or the memories, photographs and promises they left behind?
This is supposed to be an article about the concept of peace. It will be published in a publication initiated by peace-loving people in a peaceful country to be read and critiqued by people who are striving for world peace, but how do I write about peace, or what do I write about if, where I hail from, peace is denoted by much more—or much less—than attending air conditioned U.N. conferences, painting posters with white doves and considering John Lennon’s “Imagine” as the anthem of your life. It is difficult to concoct something, especially in words, that does not spring from emotional stories of trauma, uncertainty and death. Google defines the word peace as a state of harmony characterized by lack of violence, conflict behaviors and the freedom from fear of violence. Lack of violence, freedom from fear of violence … What do these words mean? Explaining peace to me or to a vendor selling corn in the sweltering heat of Karachi or to a gate-keeper of a primary school in Peshawar is like trying to explain the colors of the sunset in the Pacific to the blind. How exactly do you explain sweet dreams to the insomniac?
Peace can also mean security. Security is another alien phenomenon altogether — security is not when you frightfully scan new death tickers for names of people you might know, or when you are scared to pick up the phone because you have received terrible news on the phone countless times already. Security is not when you have to wake up to the sounds of grenades showering like water-pellets in Quetta, Balochistan. Security is not when you go to school in a warzone, and a rocket crashes across the road. Security is not knowing how to decipher the sound of a canon from that of a gun-shot, the sound of a bomb blast from that of a tire-blast or the sound of a grenade blowing up a building from that of a rocket crashing into a building. Security is not knowing if the windows broke because of an earthquake or an explosion.
Peace, for me, is fleeting. I feel secure and safe only for seconds — seconds that are far too rare and occasional, that float away from us much too soon. Peace and security are not constant, not something we can easily relate to or even understand in their entirety. These concepts are fragile and unreal. Security does not exist, except in the warm comforts of paratha-chai breakfasts on freezing Sundays or in the aroma of evening teas. Security does not exist except when I am away from home in cities and places that are nothing, nothing, nothing like home. Peace does not exist except in monsoon downpours of Lahore when there is no electricity and we watch the rain wash our troubles away and sometimes wish it would wash us away with it. Peace does not exist, except when the sun rises across the yellow fields of mustard and from train windows covered with graffiti you witness peasants working, struggling for tomorrow. Peace does not exist except when you see God, witness His presence somewhere between the colors you cannot exactly define as He splashes them across the skies of Skardu. When you see His reflection in the turbulent waters of Sindh and you realize that despite the war, this ongoing series of tragic events, there will be beauty somewhere, somehow to hold on to—things will be like what John Lennon sang one day, InshaaAllah. Peace is hope, struggle, faith and belief.
Peace is when nothing else matters except the fact that your country is still standing tall and proud despite bleeding everyday, and it is living and breathing just like you are — every day, on cups of Lipton and small pocketfuls of hope.
Khadeeja Farooqui is deputy features editor. Email her at Original article published on October 19, 2013.
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