Have you ever heard of those stories when a bride gets jilted at the altar? Then, a few months later the sheepish groom returns, and they get married but there is a nagging distrust between them? My relationship with Pakistan is similar. We are still together, yet, at the end of the day, there are many nights spent wondering what surprises tomorrow will bring.
Pakistan and I were introduced 30 years ago and the relationship has been mostly torrid, sprinkled with innumerable highs and lows. Incessantly violent outbursts and military coups being cancelled out by joyous Basant celebrations and 14th August pride rallies.
Throughout my childhood, people were kind and traffic was crazy. It was home and it was mine. An example of Pakistani tolerance in the 90s always sticks out in my mind. My grandfather, along with my sister and I, were on our way to a friend’s place when we got stuck in the midst of a heated protest rally. I remember my grandfather getting out the car, both of us watching fearfully, as he approached a demonstrator and demanded to know the reason for the blockage. The demonstrator was aggressive but not rude. He peeked in the car and then explained the cause of the rally. He then requested my grandfather to turn the car around in order to ensure our safety and went back to protesting. No harm came to any of us.
I moved away at the age of 18 and a blurry haze overshadowed my memory of the lows. All I could remember was a being a 7 year old, on the back of my uncle’s motorbike, the fresh air playfully tossing my short hair as we took new detours on the way back from my school. I remember feeling safe and proud. There was nothing more beautiful then Seaview beach and nothing more delicious than Karachi Broast on a Sunday afternoon. My love for Pakistan intensified.
Then, 7 years later, I returned to Pakistan. I was stunned at how much everything has changed. People had become impatient and scared. Muggings were considered quite routine and weapons; as common as cell phones. But everything can be ignored, as long as you hold on to the feeling that this relationship is old and time-tested. It’s my Pakistan and I needed to love it unconditionally.
I would have continued feeling this way if something had not happened that day in 2012, on a major street in Defence. My sister and I were driving home, happily nodding to music, as the sun prepped for it’s evening retreat. Suddenly, right in front of our eyes, two men on a motorbike screeched by and fell, their white shalwar kameez drenched with blood oozing out of multiple gunshot wounds. The motorbike slid to the front of our car as we watched in horror and disbelief. But it wasn’t over. A man holding a large gun came running out of a street and opened fire onto all the shocked drivers. We ducked, unable to fathom the horror of this scene. It didn’t seem real. But it was. And it changed everything.
My 30-year relationship changed that day. The mistrust that had simmered under the surface was now a significant part of each and every day. This was a country I could not understand anymore.
Now, I felt unease. And, I felt lost.