Kamiar Rokni by Maram and Aabroo


23rd March. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf rally at Minar-e-Pakistan.

Running background snippets: 23rd March is, in the personal category, my birthday. On a national note, it is Pakistan Day. Its historical significance is such that the day is also a national holiday. It is commonly referred to as Resolution Day in English, and Qaraardaad-e-Pakistan in Urdu. Sub-running background snippets: Overcast Lahore sky, grey clouds carrying heavy spring rain. Friendly rickshaw drivers. People on foot, people in big cars, people on bicycles and motorbikes. Men, women, children, elderly. All headed to the historical monument called Minar-e-Pakistan where their hero Imran Khan will promise them six things (in the rain) (until it gets too heavy and people go home). TV is loud and someone from PML-N (Imran Khan’s rivals in Punjab) implies that the weather is somehow Imran Khan’s fault. Even I, someone who isn’t a PTI member or a zealous fan of the man, finds the allegation hilariously typical of PML-N or any insecure rival for that matter. Note: I don’t want anyone taking this as the alpha and omega of all political analysis on Imran Khan; his manifesto on education, security, environment, health and more is online so you should see it for yourself. I am only jotting my observations on my birthday down here.

Rickshaw driver and I talk

(Annoying how most stories from this part of Asia often starts with that mysterious rickshaw driver, I know, but this is genuine because I needed a rickshaw) I leave from my house around 2PM. I wear a bright yellow shalwar kameez, a slightly old pair of chappal in my feet and a light chador around my shoulders. The first rickshaw I see is taking a left into my street and I call it over. The young man is a father of five and his name is Iqbal. I ask him about the routes if they’re open considering how the current provincial government PML-N has been blocking several roads (and taking posters of Imran Khan off). He has very affectionate and worried brown eyes. I ask him if he supports Imran Khan and he replies ever so honestly. “Is there any other choice, baaji (sister)? I know many people don’t like him and they think he’s bewakoof (foolish) but we’ve seen the others and we’ve allowed them to ruin us.” So I ask him: You support this man on the basis of giving him a chance because he hasn’t had one before and he seems more honest to you? “Yes. I won’t lie.” And what if he breaks his promises? “All politicians do. We’ll start all over again. That’s zindagi (life), baji.” I place my hand over my heart and thank him. Then I leave.

Lahore is always alive

The city is unique in its open arms for all humans from all places with all stories to tell (Karachi and Lahore compete each other in this regard). I am walking with my friend Nouman who I call Nomi with sisterly love and we have rented a rickshaw to take us to the destination. Nomi is a very thoughtful supporter of PTI; he is open to criticism, dialogue and feedback so it is very comfortable walking and talking with him when it comes to highlighting my issues with Imran Khan’s political approach. Knowledge renders a temper calm and so while we’re walking through the little zig zag lines the gaps between vans create, Nomi and I talk about Imran Khan while his friends take photos of PTI supporters driving by. We take another rickshaw from there and it’s drizzling but fans keep growing and growing and growing, and eventually we had to get out of the little auto (we were five people happily crammed in there; one woman, four men) and we began walking toward the Minar. We all had our cameras, our phones to document, record and preserve this rally (which is not-ironically called a ‘tsunami of change’ by PTI fans; it’s not the most appropriate but we can relax about rhetoric for now). Young men (politely) request me to take their photos; young women walk past the lens with a confident smile; there are families and lone citizens; diverse masses. 

Rush, yaar, rush

Because there were thousands and thousands of people in that area, navigating through cars and groups of people was a difficult but very interesting task for me. Men and women had formed groups among families, friends, people who weren’t from Lahore, and more. Chunk of images while walking: People in sunglasses (cheap and expensive; both serving the same purpose; block the damn sun out of our eyes), people from other cities and villages, media channel vans, victory signs in the air, trucks full of people blasting music, chants, young Pakistanis with opinions, and some were there to observe, to witness; you could tell them apart because of their attentive eyes, maintained silence. We reached the gate of Minar-e-Pakistan and it was a terribly small one; they closed the larger one for security purposes. Nomi stood behind me and Usman in front of me but we were crushed by other bodies and I almost wanted to run away but then I remember my time during Hajj and how Jamraat was so chaotic, so powerful and terrifying. In both stampedes, Makkah and Lahore, I lost one shoe and then got it back. It made me smile later. My strap broke off and Nomi offered his shoe. He’s got a big, beautiful heart.

Uncle with the big mustache/Aunty who offered me mospel and hugged me

We’re walking into the park and it’s easier to breathe but lord, Lahore is full of people, and they’re all so alive which probably explains why Lahore is called the Heart of Pakistan and its people: Zinda-dilaan-e-Lahore. Nomi and his three friends are walking ahead while I take photos of flags in the air, some people sleeping on the grass and villagers in their pagris. We reach a swarm of people and they’re the only mass blocking us from an enclosure that will allow us a better and closer view of the monument and the people who will speak today. Behind me I hear a man talking to a woman and they’re overwhelmed by the number of people but they’re happy. I tell them to follow me without thinking: Where on earth will these two sit? But we walk and by the time we’ve asked a few dozen people to “please thora sa rasta de dain” and “thank you, buss thori si jagah” we reach a spot and take a few chairs and sit down. The sweet lady told me to apply Mospel on myself lest I die of dengue. The uncle insists that we young kids do not pay for the kulfi ice cream but we insist that young people should be paying for their elders (this insistence is a sign of respect and love in Central/South Asia) and so we eat kulfi together while the breeze turns even better and the clouds look a lot heavier.

Qureshi talks a lot, Hashmi is still admirable

Shah Mahmood Qureshi is a man of charisma (apparently) and big hair. While he talked, I took photos of the monument, of people, of this dude who couldn’t stop cracking cheesy jokes that made me angry and laugh at the same time. Javed Hashmi, however, is someone I respect. Despite his health, he took several minutes to commend the crowd for supporting Imran Khan and PTI; he remains one political figure I do not mind listening to with tavujo (attention).

Imran is here

Six promises. Manifesto unable to be read out due to rain. But he stood there as long as he could and he was mindful that there were people in the crowd who couldn’t stand under the rain for too long so he wrapped up but there was no feeling of dissatisfaction in the crowd. People were passionate, people were happy, people were roaring. In the rain, I took photos of men and women cheering for their leader with plastic bags over their heads, umbrellas as well, flags in the air. People listened. The respect in that quiet focus is something that made me smile. The sweet aunty held her umbrella over me while I quickly typed his vows into my phone. Then it began to pour.

Spatial politics of gender in Pakistan

This is something too huge – literally – to discuss so quickly here. And like I said, this isn’t a political analysis of anything. This is my understanding of the human emotion in these spaces that I call my homeland. It began pouring from the sky, and my clothes started to cling to my body. Most women began to leave and you could tell the difference of ease of mobility in public between men and women. While women were very happy, they didn’t relax their own constriction of bodily movement in the form of dance like the men did. Most of us women were busy trying to pull the fabric away from our skin so it didn’t show our bodies. And before someone pins a thesis on how backward Pakistan is (that evil looking country in “Middle East”), realize that this has nothing to do with liberal or conservative politics on the human autonomy but that some of us – men or women (pardon the limited gender binary I use here) – really don’t enjoy sharing a public viewing of our biology with the world. I hinted at Nomi about how I wanted to leave since people were already on their way back. I handled my chadar and my shalwar and kameez with the tricks my mother taught me. It was at that moment I realized that male friends and family and even strangers had formed these subtle but protective walls around their female friends, family and even strangers to shield them from any possible sexual harassment. While I walked in the rain (and this is what was pleasant and intriguing), Nomi and his three friends made a circle around me holding hands while walking. In a way, it was a very blunt manner by these four men of telling potential assaulters or your ‘casual eve-teasers’ that they knew what sexual harassment was and they knew that if police officers couldn’t reach on time in the case of anything, they’ll take matters into their hands. I saw the same circle a lot larger around a bigger group of women. The young women were walking with a circle of young men holding hands around them, and they all were chatting and laughing. These little acts of occupying space and claiming control of circumstances is what always fascinates me. What is also very important to mention is that these men – in my case and others – seemed to be friends of those women and their act of protecting women was not because of honor (Nomi and I are not related; the quoted-out-of-context, oft-complex politics of ‘honor’ do not apply here) but because they realized that sexual harassment happens in these spheres, in these spaces and that they were/are vigilant to make sure movement of both men and women goes without being harmed.

This old part of Lahore

Laxmi chowk is in old Lahore, not the relatively new one where I live. It is like the beautiful lover you assumed you forgot but you never did. She will always mesmerize you, she will always welcome you. We had biryani, soda, yogurt and mint, chicken kabab, and more in Tabaq restaurant and I couldn’t help but think: This city dances its way into my vision, serenades me with its sounds, pushes me forward with a curiosity to know more, to remember more, it will always live in my heart. What a memorable birthday.

Acchay Waqton Ki Tamanna Mai Rahi Umar-e-Rawaan
Waqt Aisa Tha Kay Bus Naaz Uthatay Guzri