On days like this…


On days like this, even I question my decision to return. Few days match up to today in terms of sheer perfection. The day started with a trip to an orchard in New Jersey. The day was hot. Sunlight streamed in through the windows of the car as we sat in the cool perfection of air-conditioned drafts. Music played in the background and the conversation was perfect – nerdy policy issues ranging from women’s health to organic farming.

It was a leisurely holiday day in the way that only holiday days can be – the morning and afternoon stretched out before us with no deadlines or assignment looming in front. The possibilities for adventure were endless and the crew that accompanied was laid back and fun.

The morning was spent snooping through the orchard and their amazing array of fruits, vegetables and bread. The afternoon was spent over delicious brunch and discussing the merits of Ben Fong’s suggested business idea – training dogs as babies and marketing them as an alternative to children to people who do not want to or cannot have children.

I returned home to a deliciously chilled room, an episode of Coke Studio and a nap. A few inspirational songs and blissful hours later, I was back with the orchard crew making dinner with farm purchases. The fruits, veggies and bread, tasted divine in a way that only organic food can and the dinner and music stretched over many hours in which we reminisced about good times at grad school, admissions to colleges and movies we wanted to see. It was a day spent with good friends, over good food and meaningful conversation. It was tinged with the sunny notes of Summer, and liberally sprinkled with laughter. There was intellectual rigour and intelligent banter. And uninterrupted air conditioning.

I ended the night with my nightly routine of catching up on news from home by going through my standard list of news websites. And, I felt that it was maybe possible to keep one foot on the eastern seaboard of the United States and one in Pakistan. Maybe it was possible to have it all.

Good food and drink with good friends and good conversation are the key ingredients to a happy life and today I realized that if I wanted to I could have all of that here, without any one judging the length of my shirt or the depth of neckline. And in my community of friends, there are people who are truly knowledgeable and sensitive about the world, whose interests like mine are not confined by whats around them but fueled by a desire to see and create change for the better. A deep sense of tolerance and respect for difference that I do not find anywhere in the world – I find here amongst my friends who have not only respect for but an interest in learning more about what they do not know or what is different to them than their own beliefs.

Finding this in Pakistan is hard. We are a country that has been hardened by bigotry. Change is repulsive and difference is abhorrent, we deal in violence and trade insults with guns. We care more about the model and make of our cars and phones than the malaise and apathy that eats at our souls. We pay such deference to appearances as we cover our sins in layers of cloth placed all over our heads and around our bodies without any care for what lies beneath the layers of those dark morbid shrouds. Sometimes, I think we suck. And sometimes, even I wonder why I want to return to such a dreary and soulless place.

Am I crazy or is there still something there that can be salvaged?

13 Responses to “On days like this…”

  1. Fraz July 5, 2010 at 2:38 am #

    i find it difficult to compare a largely unstable, illiterate, dirt poor, and violence-ravaged territory with one of the largest consumerist economies of the world. Once you get the ‘chaska’ it’s hard to let go, and why should anyone? We deserve it. But maybe the rest wouldn’t be so bigoted or short-tempered if we lived on orchards, with divine “organic” food, ivy league education and not a care in the world…especially if we had air-conditioning all the time. ah… air-conditioning…now that’s important. you said so yourself, in fact you mentioned it twice!

    but i remember a fair share of bigotry (thats putting it lightly), hate and violence post the collapse of the twin towers. that was just one event… things that happen here on a regular basis, dwarf 9/11 into insignificance. It takes a toll on people. till the point they can’t take it anymore, and while Marie Antoinette enjoined people to eat cake, they stormed the palace and guillotined the royals.

    it would be tough to recruit terrorists, if people had a semblance of peace, basic medical care, relevant education, reasonable jobs and the promise of justice. It’s not asking much, and for a meaningful existence, hell…even 2 out of 5 will do.

    I like those odds.

    • Mackers July 5, 2010 at 9:09 am #

      Fraz, there are many countries poorer, less-forunate than Pakistan that are not plagued by terrorism.And many Western countries, too, have their home-grown terrorists. The common denominator seems to be extreme ideologies.While the problems you listed certainly help with the recruiting, there are not the cause.

      Dealing with those problems, that are common to all third-world nations, is a gradual process. It is not a case of “panch mein se doh hi maslay solve ho jain”, or any other imaginary odds;the severity of these predicaments lessens in concert.

      Meanwhile, our focus, to deal with terrorism, specifically, should be on forces propagating sectarian tensions and intolerance- notably the radical salafi madrassas, the lashkars, the sipahs and you know the rest. It’s not alright to declare anyone wajib-ul-qatal, period.

      By the way, you got your history wrong and Mary Antoinette did not ‘enjoin’anyone to eat cake, much less utter the phrase, “let them eat cake.” That was fabricated much later.

  2. Ali Q July 5, 2010 at 2:55 am #

    The choice between a bubble and reality is always a hard one, but bubbles are everywhere and bubbles can be made to grow. The question is can a bubble grow big enough and fast enough so that it becomes reality; in the case of our good old you ess of ay, the place with all the creature comforts and delusions of wonderland, unfortunately it seems as if reality will catch the bubble by surprise some day soon, and the consequences will not be desirable; what’s more is that one is powerless to affect the requisite mindset change in you ess ay. Pk on the other hand, now that’s an interesting experiment.

    • Mackers July 5, 2010 at 9:18 am #

      What is this bizarre analogy you are making and don’t you think you went a little over-board with the bubble thing.

      Also, how can you- in one sentence- admit to being powerless to change American foreign policy, and assume self-importance, in the next-as if it’s your own little experiment. You a member of the Zardari family?

  3. JK July 5, 2010 at 7:53 am #

    Im sure there are places in Pakistan where ample peace and quiet are available. But till the day you find them, here are a few more things to keep you busy:

    http://www.wikimir.com/fraudia-list

    JK

  4. Mackers July 5, 2010 at 9:33 am #

    Sehar,

    this storm too shall pass. I know the sense of alienation, fed by the barrage of negative news, from Pakistan. However, take heart in the fact that ignorant voices are the most vociferous.

    There are many that think like you. If you don’t make an effort to change the order of things, have you really earned the right to complain? Don’t become a part of the liberal-brain drain

  5. R Alam July 5, 2010 at 10:02 am #

    I appreciate your introspection.

    Two things that have made me think along similar lines:

    1) My friend, the writer/columnist Mosharraf Zaidi, once remarked in conversation how he wanted his kids to grow up knowing what a public library was.

    But

    2) In the one scene where he appears in Graham Green’s celluloid version of The Third Man, Orson Welles’ character Harry Lime talks about why he’s doing grim business in post-war Vienna: “Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.”

    Give me my hot and dusty Lahore and descent-into-chaos Pakistan any day. It’s the one place in the world where I know I can be part of a change. The prospect of that excites me. That and the spectrum of wonderful loonies that live in these parts.

  6. Sinan Pasha July 5, 2010 at 11:16 am #

    All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, …, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin. John F Kennedy

  7. Naush July 5, 2010 at 11:31 am #

    It would also be beneficial to meet that side of america that hasn’t been to ivy league colleges, or any college for that matter. The side that barely makes enough to pay it’s rent and has no health insurance.

  8. Saleem Shady July 6, 2010 at 12:02 am #

    Why you’ve assumed the author hasn’t met that side of America, despite her many years there, only you know. How will it be beneficial in the context of this piece, though? Do tell.

  9. Sam July 6, 2010 at 3:07 am #

    I’ve been on the hunt for something constructive to do this summer and had a very hard time finding anything so I have a vague idea of how this place can be difficult- dreary and soulless in ways that make me crave my tiny dorm room back in New York. For all the dreary weather and bad food, there’s life, there’s opportunity there.

    But then I think back to a certain someone who came back to Pakistan to teach a group of little A level kids how to *really* read IMF reports, how that monumentally changed at the very least my own life, and how one person can soften bigoted hearts and help scratch away at apathy. I don’t know what other great things you’ll do, but inspiring a group of kids, each of whom I know are paying it forward in their own way, is kind of mad awesome.

  10. majid July 12, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

    USA needs improvement in some areas ,Pakistan needs improvement in many more spots. You go to help in change and do not look back.Wish I could have.

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  1. Things Come (Almost) Full Circle | Sehar Says.... - March 1, 2016

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