I can’t write another column about dead people. Every columnist in Pakistan has wasted enough ink lamenting the inhumanity of our political leaders. They do not care. For them, Karachi is a treasure hoard for which they will slaughter us all. We can type in anger, write caustic creeds and use up all the metaphors involving slaughterhouses and rivers of blood, the killing will not stop. Innocent lives will continue to be smashed by greed and there is nothing that will change that. The PPP, the MQM and the ANP, their every member has blood not just on their hands but dripping from their chins. They pray not to the same God as you and I. Their ablutions are conducted in entrails and they bow their heads to greed, avarice and murder. Theirs is a deity fattened on sacrifice and he is currently obese. So I won’t waste any more time writing about them or their crimes. It matters not a whit what I say anyway.
So what can I write about? My skills only allow me satire and that is useless when the targets don’t even care. So instead, let me offer up a smaller story of humanity.
I am writing this in the departure area of Lahore’s airport, on the day that Karachi was brought to a halt by a political party that felt we needed to be forced to mourn the dead. Apparently, without the threat of fierce reprisal if we dare to continue living our lives, we might not notice the bodies piling up around us. My return flight to Karachi was due to leave in the evening. However, upon reaching the airport, PIA informed me that all flights to my city were cancelled “due to the situation there”. Apparently, the strike extended to cruising altitude as well. Or maybe there are tires being burnt on the runway. My alternatives were to take a flight the next day or to try my luck with another airline. Apparently, Airblue wasn’t as intimidated by the MQM and their flight was leaving (albeit with the mandatory hour delay). I chose to try my luck with the private airline. Unfortunately, my credit card wasn’t working. It used to work fine when it was an ABN Amro card and continued to work when they got bought out by RBS, but the staff at Faysal Bank, the current owners of my credit line, consider convenience an unnecessary feature of credit card usage. Given that I had spent the last week being harassed by their collection agents with the ferocity of a horny crank-caller, despite having made my payments, I had little faith in their ability to work now. My ATM card, of course, didn’t work because the “Issuer link is down”. At least when you punch a teller in the face he feels it. Machines have yet to make my life better. I counted out all the money in my wallet and came up Rs300 short. I begged the lady behind the Airblue counter for mercy but found none in her unyielding glare and blue shawl. And then, just as I surrendered hope, an elderly gentleman stepped forward. “Beta, here”, he said, handing me the money. I refused and he relented. Finally, embarrassed, I accepted. He waved away my gratitude and walked off into the crowds. The plane has yet to take off and I don’t know what challenges await me once I land. But for now, a moment of kindness has given me hope for us all. It is silly and naïve, I know. But it is also moving and sincere. This man represented a time when maybe we cared for strangers. Now we just kill them. So to him, thank you.
There will be time for politics and sarcasm later. Tonight, I will be home because of a stranger’s kindness.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2011.