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Life is a journey

Archive for December 2016

Once upon a Christmas in a Town called Hussain D’Silva

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I was introduced to Christmas for the merry-christmasfirst time as a four year old when we moved to Karachi. I was put in a ‘Christian’ (NOT Missionary) school, and lived in the upper portion of a house where a Christian family lived, whose daughter was my classmate. Being a diffident newcomer, I tailed her in school, and recall being gently led out of the chapel where she had to go for her religious class. I can’t for the life of me remember what we non-Christians were taught at that time.

So that is how i experienced my first Christmas, saw a Christmas tree, and exchange of gifts. But my real, and most memorable Christmas experiences were when we moved to a small housing colony (not gated, Thank you!) in North Nazimabad, known as Hussain D’Silva Town.

Strange name, but very apt; it was a joining of the names of two friends who were architects and developers, one of whom, Mr. Hussain passed away a few years ago while Mr. D’Silva moved to Canada. Little did they know what a little intellectual oasis they were forming.  Some big names of the country in journalism, arts, in the armed forces, advertising industry, poets, writers and television personalities trace their roots to Hussain D’Silva Town.

This little housing colony developed in the late 50’s for the new upwardly mobile middle class was where I got my first taste of pluralism and diversity. Our house was next to the one housing a Church. In those peaceful, trusting times, few houses had gates and most had waist high walls that were no barrier to children visiting their neighbours. I of course was intrigued at the stream of people coming to the church in the evening, yes, every evening, not just Sunday, and would watch over the wall.

The neighbourhood was dotted with houses belonging to Muslims of all sects (though we didn’t know what that word meant at the time), Christians, a lone Hindu family and I think there was one Parsi family.  We as children had no clue why some neighbours had open house for Haleem and others for koondey. Everyone went there. Come Moharram, and all of the children would be part of the sabeel group. On eid we knew there were some familieid-mubarakes who went to somewhere other than the mohalla masjid  for their eid prayers because they were from the Ahmadiya community, but that only meant that we had to wait for them to return so the children could get together to go around on the eidi collection mission.

It was here that I learnt what Christmas was. It was a time when the Christian schoolmates and neighbours would decorate their houses, go shopping for new clothes, and presents, and ‘do up’ the St. Jude’s Church, which had moved from the neighbouring house to a proper premises; a premises which had been ‘financed’ by those living in Hussain D’Silva Town, Muslims Hindus, Parsis, alongside the Christian residents,  by way of generous contribution to making the annual fete in November a success. Everyone dug into their pockets.

Of course this does not mean we were passive watchers of the Christmas preparations. Oh no. Just like they would come visit us, in all their finery, over both eids, on which the sawiyan and the meat from the sacrificial animals used to be sent to their houses too, minus our Hindu neighbours to whom we went fruits and mithai, Christmas was a busy time for us too.

After all, if we were hoping to consume the delicious melt-in-the mouth almond toffee or kur kurs or the divine cheeselets that were the staple Christmas fare, we had to do our share of the hard work. More than a week before Christmas, we would be at our friends, helping them unpack and string up the decoration items on the tree, help their moms in the arduous task of stirring the toffee or frying the other goodies. Other party of the ‘must be a part of Christmas rituals was seeing our friends go Christmas carolling… how can one forget the groups of carol singers moving through the streets in the cold winter nights. No one really snuggled in the beds, as how could one not listen, to the final ‘product’ after their weeks of practise.

Then of course on Christmas day, it was our turn to play the visitors, and we too would don our fine feathers and go for the Christmas visits, armed with presents, and devoured the goodies which included the ‘non-Christmassy cake’ especially plated up for the Muslim visitors as it was sans rum which was part and parcel of the Christmas fruit cake.

Those who had special friends among the Christians, like I luckily did, would receive a plateful of goodies on Christmas eve. The older and more adventurous ones joined their friends in the midnight mass at the Church. This was a norm, across Karachi, not just in Hussain D’Silva Town.

But imagine what proved to be the icing on the cake! not just metaphorically but literally! In 1974, Eid ul Azha and Christmas fell on the same day! The entire Town wore a festive look and the difference between visitor and hosts was no longer there. Every greeting elicited the answer of ‘same to you’ and ‘khair mubarak’ in a perfect display of coexistence.  I miss the Christmas in Hussain D’Silva Town. I wish my city of Karachi had many more such oasis.









Written by afiasalam

December 25, 2016 at 4:09 pm

Getting through December 21

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For almost a quarter of a century, getting through 21st December had been a difficult task. To cope with it, I deliberately kept myself busy. This was the day I lost my bulwark! The one person who allowed me to be what I am went out of my life, and for many years after that, it became a conscious exercise not to instinctively look for him to share my joys and achievements with, because he was no longer there.

Unlike many fathers, he never really encouraged, or discouraged me. He was that one constant, dependable presence who would be the fallback in case my mad escapades with career choices or hobbies wouldn’t work out. Thankfully they usually did, so I didn’t really have to be dissuaded from much. The emphatic NO was something I do not remember experiencing, because of the clearly defined boundaries.

The suddenness of his departure was the real reason of difficulty of dealing with December 21, until years later, another influential person helped to divert the thoughts because of the happiness associated with him and this date. My father’s death anniversary coincided with Little Master Hanif Mohammad’s birthday, which always merited a celebration.

He and his gracious family would always invite my children and me to the celebrations and despite the mind drifting all day to Dec.21 of 1990, the evening would be filled with laughter, music and celebration.

Today is the first December 21 that he too is not there, so i guess the day must be of mixed emotions for his family too.

Guess that is what life is all about.You move on.. memories remain.

Written by afiasalam

December 22, 2016 at 3:39 am

That date.. December 16th!

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16th. December should be a date seared into the psyche of Pakistanis right? But is it? Twice this date has brought immeasurable grief to Pakistan.Grief, ignominy, shame, pain, loss, and a lingering question of why it happened and could it have been prevented.

I am of course referring to the two cataclysmic events in our history; events that led to the fall of Dhaka (Dacca as it was known as in those days) on 16th, December 1971, and the murder of our innocent school children and their brave teachers in the Peshawar Army Public School on the same date in 2014.

What do you remember about December 1971?  I was still in school, but old enough to remember the 1965 war, which just brushed by the Karachiites, so the sight of tracer bullets in the sky was something strange on that cold December night in 1971 when Karachi was attacked. Because of 1965 and the the belief that was fed to us post 1965, until Air Marshal Nur Khan busted the myth, we were sure that since  we had won the 1965 war, we would overcome the enemy in this one too.

After all, weren’t we holding out in East Pakistan despite great difficulty? Didn’t we just hear our President Yahya Khan say we would defeat the enemy? It was all over the newspapers too and of course the contrarian news on BBC was just plain lies and that Mark Tully was anti-Pakistan anyway!

Even when the entire city lit up due to the missile strike on the oil tanks at Karachi’s shoreline, where my father worked; even  the shaking of the ground due to the bombing by Indian Aircraft which led to loss of life in areas like Agra Taj colony, it didn’t really shake us out of the belief that ultimately we would prevail. Despite the immense sadness at loss of precious lives in the missile attack on our naval ship Khyber in which a dear neighbour went down, the enormity of the situation was lost on us because of the narrative we were consuming.

And on December 16, that sanitized narrative spoke of a ‘ceasefire agreement’  and laying down of the arms by ‘Tiger’ Niazi in Dhaka. We didn’t understand the ashen faces of our elders, many of whom wept like children. Fall of Dhaka was a term coined much later. The attention shifted from us schoolgirls going house to house collecting for the defence funds to collecting stuff to make packets for the POWs. That became part and parcel of the school activities which had resumed soon after.

Fast forward many years to when I was working with a leading channel of the country. I was responsible for the content of our morning show that was 180 degrees opposed to the kind of shows aired these days. It handled important subjects sensitively and intelligently through the @Ayeshah Alam and @Faisal Qureishi duo.

We did special programmes on special occasions. When I suggested that December 16 should be dedicated to this unfortunate chapter in our national history, there were raised eyebrows, but only because some in the team, the generation that grew up after 1971, were not aware of the significance of the day. They however readily agreed.

However the initial reaction had given me another idea.. to spur the discussion, we sent a reporter, @Huzaima Bukhari to an elite school to ask what the significance of that date was. The answers were too embarrassing to even narrate here. The reporter called back to say she had not been able to get one correct answer. We told her to go to the history teacher to ask why none of the children knew the answer and no marks for guessing what she said!

We, a nation of  ostriches, just buried our head in the sand, and moved on as if nothing happened from which lessons needed to be drawn. True to the saying that ‘we learn from history, that we never learn from history,’ we kept alienating our own, we kept on a path of discriminatory development, making the wrong friends, creating enemies right left and center, and nurturing snakes in the backyard.

Fast forward again to another 16th. December, in 2014, when these snakes hissed and bit us, at the Army Public School in Peshawar. The heart kept sinking lower and the entire atmosphere bore a pall of gloom as news of the attack trickled in. Not just Pakistan but everywhere those images of brutality against the innocent students and their brave teachers went, people recoiled in shock and horror. There was not a dry eye when the parents bid farewell to their beloved children. Toughest of journalists broke down when they went to APS.

The State seemed to suddenly wake from its slumber and resolved not to forgive, or forget. while offering the salve of ‘martydom’ of these children, who had been brutally murdered. It launched the Zarb e Azb. The shock and awe treatment was supposed to have wiped out these barbarians. The National Action Plan was supposed to ACT against all those elements who were perpetrators of horror against our soldiers, our children, the ordinary persons in the street going about their business in bazaars, the people in masjid, mandir, imambargahs and churches.

Today, two years after APS, we again remember those innocent souls and pray for the families who lost their loved ones. There are promises of never forgetting them. But in between there are many others who jostle for a place in our collective memories. Shirakpur reminds us that the NAP was perhaps napping, the large gatherings of the proscribed organizations, the threats hurled by sectarian organizations, the targeting of ‘minorities’ (the word I hate to use, because for me constitutionally, there are none); the glorification of killers like Mumtaz Qadri, the intransigence of Lal masjid mula Abdul Aziz, and the deep deep sorrow of the people of Quetta like the Hazaras, families of police cadets and its entire generation of young lawyers indicate inaction rather than any action or a plan.

After what recently happened in Chakwal to the Ahmadiyya community, can we really say that there is a NAP? Even after what Justice Qazi Faez Isa has put down in the Quetta Inquiry Commission Report?

Can we really claim that we will never forget December 16?







Written by afiasalam

December 16, 2016 at 10:18 am