The author has chosen to stay anonymous because of fear for safety of their life.
It’s the tenth of Muharram today and while that may or may not be acknowledged by many, to some of us, it holds some significance. Not that my own activities have been even remotely ‘religious’ or ‘mournful’ for the past week, because, well, college has a way of making you forget you have a life outside your books.
But the coming of Muharram isn’t what I want to bring to anyone’s attention, rather an incident that gave me a good sense of how grave the situation in Pakistan is, with regards to how we blindly perceive a community and people we really have no idea about.
A couple months back, I was working on a project with two of my team mates for a course at my university. As mundane and cliché as the idea sounds, we were to make a documentary on ‘child beggary’ in Pakistan and explore just how bad things are here- nothing out of the blue obviously. And yet I fervently believe my personal experience to be an anomaly, something I really didn’t wake up at 8 am for.
Interviewing Kashif, an 8 year old boy who sold coloring books outside a big grocery store in a posh area of Lahore, the camera rolled and I sat on my knees super excited to speak to this child who was ready for his paparazzi moment on the silver screen (obviously). I ask Kashif what he wants to be when he grows up, and he replies as if all his answers are rehearsed.
“Meine toh pilot banna hai”, he tells me.
To keep the flow in conversation, I ask him further, “ pilot kyun banna hai?”
Kashif looks straight into the camera and says without a second’s pause, “ kyunke meine hamlay karnay hein na”.
Let me pause and tell you that Kashif and his little brother, who sat next to him, neither wore white topis that you wear to a mosque, nor attended any madrassa ever, so the theory that they may have been indoctrinated by the “bad guys” will not hold. In fact, they attended what sounded to me like a really good government school which taught them not only math and English, but also Karate.
To Kashif’s response, I asked with a chuckle, “oho bhai aapko kispay hamlay karnay hein?”
As was expected of an 8 year old boy in Pakistan, Kashif told me he wanted to attack India, simply because they were horrible people and because they sometimes don’t let us win at cricket- beautiful motives, I must say. This wasn’t what struck me though. As he listed the reasons why he hated the horned devil that was India, his brother added in a matter-of-fact tone , “haan aik toh India pe hamlay karnay hein, doosra woh.. kya kehtay hein un kafiron ko? Haan, shia. Aik hi cheez hoti hai na? shia matlab kaafir”.
I, being one of the ‘kaafir’ brethren myself, was not sure how exactly to respond to what had just been shoved in my face by this 7 year old. Was I supposed to argue with him and try to convince him otherwise? Or was I to scold him. Or perhaps I could have brushed the comment aside. The latter is exactly what my team mate did. She changed the topic- wise move, I believe.
What spoke to me was not the fact that maybe it was me who was being attacked, but that this poor child, who barely had any conception of the five pillars of Islam, who hardly had any grasp of religion, had such extreme beliefs about a community he didn’t even know.
These children didn’t have doubts about what they spoke; they told me all this in casual conversation. They knew for a fact that this particular group of blasphemous Muslims “don’t even believe in Allah”- something I couldn’t help but laugh at. The child was innocent, he was adorable, and he was my friend for that one hour, yet had I told him that I myself was one of those people he hates so much, he probably wouldn’t even have agreed to speak to me.
At a time like this, one can only pray for coexistence, for tolerance, for Pakistan.
Cover image via: Reuters/ Fayaz Aziz