I let the airport security cop, who feels you up, take his time with me yesterday, just so I could experience a connection with another human being. I let him pat me down with the intensity of a teenage boy being allowed physical contact by his girlfriend for the first time. Was it weird for him? Probably not. To him I was just one more in a near infinite parade of travellers upon whom his hands must roam. But to me, it was the first time I actually felt uncomfortable in a long time. There is a moment, when the security officer feels for the shape in your pocket, and both of you are praying it’s just a cell phone, that is one of extreme emotional discomfort. But I welcomed it for once, because it was the first time in years that I actually felt afflicted. It was a rare feeling. We have become so insulated from any actual emotion that to feel anything now is a rarity.
I envy the British, their panic. The riots in London have made them feel genuine fear and anger. It is something we hardly ever experience anymore. The BBC has been full of interviews with residents who are watching buildings burn and are consumed with fear. Everyone in London is frightened because teenagers have decided that online gaming and reality TV just don’t provide the kind of adrenaline increase they crave and so took part in some old-fashioned looting and pillaging. In Karachi, where I live, over a dozen people die on a daily basis. To me they are just a number scrolling by on the news ticker. In Balochistan, a province of the country I belong to, uncountable many have been killed by the intelligence agencies. To me they are a news story I skim over in the daily papers. I have passed by burnt tires and rock-pelting protestors repeatedly in the last month and my only reaction has been to find a more convenient route home. It used to be that when a bomb blast occurred in the city you live in, you would call everyone to make sure they were safe and then sit staring at the television while mouthing a silent scream. Now, we change our dinner reservations to a later hour.
The only news story that actually affected me on a deeply personal level recently was that of a donkey being killed. The details, if you allow me to summarise, are that last month in Sukkur a man found himself enamoured with his neighbour’s mule. Maybe it was the come-hither looks, maybe it was the way that tail so seductively swished. Regardless, it wasn’t long before the owner of the mule walked in on this man and his donkey in the throes of passion. One man’s bestial rape is another man’s forbidden love. Predictably (in Pakistan) a jirga was called, the donkey was declared kari and the man karo and the donkey was killed. The man, of course, absconded. A million jokes present themselves in this story. Yet, all I can think of is about that poor animal. It led a life full of cruelty, the penultimate moment of which involved rape and then was finally killed. When I heard that story, I was — for the first time in ages — overcome with rage and sorrow. Tribal cruelty towards women has become such a regularity that it often goes criminally ignored. But this story hurt me by being so unpredictable. By catching me without my emotional defences up. I felt like crying for a donkey in a country where humans live and die in worse ways every day.
‘But if you change your way of life, doesn’t that mean the terrorists win’ is a common refrain. Let them win, I say. Because we certainly aren’t winning anything.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2011.