A life’s constant fear

Published: February 27, 2015
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The writer is a freelance journalist and an editorial consultant for The Express Tribune

The writer is a freelance journalist and an editorial consultant for The Express Tribune

My first memory of sectarian violence is from February 1995. At the Mehfil-e-Murtaza Imambargah in Karachi, 16 people had been lined up and shot dead as they were preparing for a funeral. Sipah-e-Sahaba gunmen had stormed in and killed them point blank. The imambargah was one that I had a particularly close association with. It was our place to go every Ashura. There was a fixed pattern on the 10th of Muharram for us. We would attend a majlis early morning at Nishtar Park, watch the juloos start its course and then go to Mehfil-e-Murtaza in the afternoon. There were times when we didn’t make it to the majlis in the morning, but the afternoon plan was never missed — Mehfil-e-Murtaza had the best haleem that would only be served on the 10th.

I have a faint recollection of when the news of the attack came in. One of the dead was a family friend. There was a lot of crying, a lot of shock and a lot more panic. I don’t remember exactly all that followed. I was eight then. The details are murky, the feelings, however, are not. We went to the imambargah the day after for the soyem. I remember most vividly the leftover spots of blood on the white walls next to the azakhana, where the alams and taziyas would be placed. The stench of blood was still there. Maybe I was too young for memory to be trusted. But for me, that smell of blood and spots on the wall are most real.

At that age there was no understanding of sectarian differences. All I knew about sects was how much I dreaded the question ‘Are you Sunni or Shia?’ some kid in class would inevitably ask at the beginning of the school year. I hated the look of shock that followed and desperately wished I was more like the rest. Over the years, sectarianism has meant different things. It has meant more attacks, four in the first two months of this year now, of relatives dying in the Ashura blast in December 2008, of family and friends shot dead over their last name. It has meant going to the Muharram juloos not for religious or cultural ties but only so if something happens, I am with my mother, so in case it’s the last time, we are in it together. It has meant reducing hope to outliving my parents, reducing hope to not ever having to identify the body of someone I love; to never have to be identified by the birthmarks on my body.

I have now become part of the people many feel morally obligated to sympathise with. It was easier empathising with the Baloch, the Ahmadis, the Hazaras and the Shias of Parachinar and Gilgit-Baltistan. But now I am on the side, where friends, some directly, others between the lines, try to tell you it’s time to go. They tell you that you are now added to the number of people Pakistan does not have space for. Every time a sectarian attack happens, whether it kills three or 60, it takes my home away from me. “There is going to be a time when they will come into our homes and kill us,” my father says. He believes it will happen. He insists we should leave the country before it’s too late. Each time such an attack happens, some friend texts to suggest immigration to Australia, another suggests going to the US. My brother messages me to say I should leave the country, I tell him it’s time he should leave. Strange kind of love this is when you want people you love most to be far away from you. Our love is now hinged on separation.

This impending parting, this partition, is a consistently piercing part of everyday existence. I do not yet have the courage to accept that my city, my land, may only become a place of memories. But every attack, from Shikarpur to Hayatabad and Rawalpindi, is a reminder that it may just be memories that we are forced to live with. It’s a harsh realisation that keeps reasserting itself that one must go before it is our blood that stains the walls. But to leave your country for better opportunities is bearable; to leave because the doors to your home are closing in on you is wretched. Some kinds of love are irreplaceable — love for the land is one of them. With every attack, I fearfully imagine that soon I may be mourning a lost love, and searching for the sights and smells of the beloved in alien places.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th,  2015.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • Toticalling
    Feb 27, 2015 - 1:50AM

    What a sad story telling. “I do not yet have the courage to accept that my city, my land, may only become a place of memories. But every attack, from Shikarpur to Hayatabad and Rawalpindi, is a reminder that it may just be..”
    Yes it was not always like that and every year it is becoming worse. I see no trend of going back to yesteyears. In fact more and more people show sympathies with killers and trouble makers. I may be a pessimist, but I am scared of those silent sympathisers in our midst. And yet the sloution is simple: Teach your youngers the value of tolerance. We can say our beliefs are right, but others are not evil and have a point. Accept other points of view and shun taking law in your own hand.Recommend

  • zaigham ali
    Feb 27, 2015 - 3:38AM

    This country is as much yours as mine or anyone else’s. INSHALLAH those cowards will fail miserably and shamefully and they themselves won’t have a safe haven in this life and the life to follow.Recommend

  • John B
    Feb 27, 2015 - 5:06AM

    Love of (for) the land is a myth.

    We only love what is dear to us. The dearness of the land is gained manifested by the land (people, government, neighbor, cultural intellect) that makes one come alive to enjoy the life to the fullest without fear or retribution in arts, education, knowledge, opportunity, intellectual discourse, laughter and creativity. If one does not find these in a land, then that land is barren. What one will miss most is not the barren land, but their friends and family who cannot cross the barren land.

    No one is a slave to any land or government. Every one is born free and will die free and we live in a bonded life due to dearness around us and not due to indebtedness to an obtuse land. No land should hold anyone’s desire for peace and happiness.

    The land must deserve the people and it must yield what you sow or desire. One should however remember why they come to a new land and must not yearn for the barrenness in the green pasture. Recommend

  • Arsalan
    Feb 27, 2015 - 10:59AM

    Some kinds of love are irreplaceable — love for the land is one of them. Recommend

  • BlackHat
    Feb 27, 2015 - 5:57PM

    Seriously depressing. Fortunate are those who can move out, but those are lucky few. Vast majority of minorities have to get used to having fear chase them like shadows. A sense of resignation helps cope with the stifling air. I have lived in different countries and understand how it feels to be a minority (though I must say I lived among decent folks to whom race and religion mattered not, and I never experienced any discrimination). But still home is home. Now we can empathize with those who were subjected ethnic cleansing. Sometimes, looking at these things makes me feel religion is a curse on mankind. Beasts are so less beastly. Hope you find strength and peace.Recommend

  • Feb 27, 2015 - 10:52PM

    Terrorism was always present pre-2001. Only difference then was that it was less frequent and targeted the minority mostly while the majority looked the other way in denial or dismissed it with conspiracy, which in truth is still the same situation today. Recommend

  • Zain
    Mar 2, 2015 - 2:18PM

    Sad, but so true!!Recommend

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