By: Sheniz Janmohamed
I’m no political commentator, nor do I wish to be. However, the fact that I am sitting on the beach in Aruba while my good friends are in the midst of a national crisis makes me cringe. I’m the first to admit that I know very little about Pakistani politics. I’m more in tune with the musical legacy of Pakistan: The timeless qawwalis of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the revolutionary songs of Junoon, the unmatched voice of Abida Parveen.
Although the recent unrest in the country has prompted my desire to know more, I’m still blissfully ignorant of the specifics. However, a brilliant musician friend of mine, Yousuf, is quite entrenched the topic and has often made his opinions known through his emails and messages. Saima, his wife, is a painter and artist in her own right, and often shares her insights about art and life with me.
They are currently on vacation with their children in Pakistan, for Yousuf’s younger sister’s wedding. When I first heard the news of Bhutto’s assassination, I panicked. The riots had already begun. Buses and train stations were being set ablaze, frenzied Bhutto supporters took to the streets, and madness was ensuing. Or at least the BBC made it seem like it was. Were my friends safe? I had no way of reaching them, no number, no internet connection.
And so I said a quick prayer on my way to dinner. During the meal, I couldn’t help but feel helpless and guilty. After coffee, my family and I browsed tourist shops brimming with jewelry and souvenirs. Watching my fellow tourists flock to spend dollars on fake designer purses brought on a sense of nausea. How could I be so insensitive to the issues at hand? How could I stand in front of a stall and choose which glass pendant I liked better? I realized my hypocrisy. If the crisis occurred in a country where I didn’t have familial/friendship ties, I would’ve forgotten the whole issue by now.
Annoyed with myself and the situation, I retreated to the hotel room, my mind reeling.
What are Yousuf and Saima doing right now? Are they trying to allay their young children’s fears? Is Saima helping her sister-in-law dress for the mehndi ceremonies? Is Yousuf smoking a cigarette with his cousins and friends, discussing the political upheaval of his country? Is Saima wishing she was back home in New York, away from the impending danger that elections (or no elections) bring? And who the hell am I to speculate!?
Being a privileged child of the “West”, I have never felt uneasy in my birth country, Canada. The idea of our fellow countrymen taking up arms and trashing Bay subway station seems ludicrous. We Canadians are mild mannered, resolutely cold. There would be no assassination. We don’t matter that much. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. To keep your head above a violent, political maelstrom is not something we’re used to- unless we’re guests in another country. But for someone like Yousuf, who was born in Pakistan, who has struggled to make a life for himself and his family in America- the return home is a bittersweet journey. I recall our first discussion, when Yousuf expressed his love for his home country, for its spiritual magnetism, “You know why the flowers smell so sweet in our desh (country)? Because our soil is rich with the bodies of Saints.” And now, to witness the marring of his land outside his doorstep, through his window, instead of on a TV screen, or through a grainy voice on a phone line.
I can’t reach Yousuf or Saima. I can’t apologize if I’ve invaded their minds, or ask them to forgive me for not representing their thoughts with accuracy.
Yousuf once said, “I believe that music is energy, vibration. It has the power to create positivity, in every fibre of your being.”
I drink my tea in a glass (the South Asian way). Perhaps he and Saima are drinking sugary chai too- Perhaps they will know that I’m straining my ears to hear them, and sending them the positivity that their art brings me.