A fortuitous encounter proves a much-needed reaffirmation
In an unprecedented turn of events, I moved back to Pakistan almost eighteen months ago. Friends and family were surprised, perhaps a bit shocked too.
Have you weighed the pros and cons carefully?
Don’t you think it’s a hasty decision?
Why are you relocating to Pakistan after having established yourself well in England?
It might come across as an intrusion into personal life, but I knew they were worried about me and how my teenage son would settle in the country and culture. It was not easy to leave the work I loved, colleagues and friends who had become my family over the past decade and a half, people and country who embraced me with open arms, freedom and openness of a multicultural Britain. However, I knew instinctively that things would fall into place nicely – after all, I was coming home.
Admittedly, it was going to be a big change. I had lived abroad for over seventeen years, and so much has changed since I had left Pakistan. The interesting discovery for me in the last year has been the change in the social fabric of the society. People seem to be busier (God knows doing what), more impatient and less tolerant – meekness is weakness and the louder you are, the greater are the chances that you would be heard. Humility and dignity are the virtues of a bygone era. Dedication and skill set don’t guarantee success; money makes the mare and lets it go. Driving on the roads is a nightmare; everyone seems to be in a real hurry, honking the horns, not ready to wait or give way to the other vehicles or pedestrians. Most of the time, it’s just complete chaos.
A technology onslaught, considered a boon by many, has transformed everyday life. On the one hand, with a smartphone in your palm, the world is your oyster; on the other hand, the relentless use of social media provides extensive information, which isn’t always correct. It is neither needed nor useful besides, not everyone has the tools or the time to effectively process or verify this avalanche of data. This, in turn, provides a fertile medium for spreading false news/ propaganda, which can be tricky in intrinsically volatile communities. Thanks to the media handles, we now have hundreds of thousands of celebrities, political analysts, armchair activists and philosophers who feel that their status (mostly self-proclaimed) has given them the carte blanche to do or write whatever they think is right, considering themselves immune to public or regulatory scrutiny.
In the last eighteen months, we have seen the rise of the Taliban, a change of government in Pakistan, political turmoil, massive inflation, a flailing economy, a worsening law and order situation and much more – it is a rather long list. I have taken a break from my physician duties, and my father has been urging me to write something. However, fortunately or unfortunately, none of the aforementioned issues would fascinate me enough to put my pen to paper. Prose, to me, is like poetry; it comes naturally and only when a situation, topic or incident resonates with the writer.
One cold morning, lost deep in thoughts, I was sitting idly in a café with a steaming hot cup of coffee after having dropped my son off for his mock exam at school. Most of the shops were closed, and there was minimal traffic on the road; the guard outside the glass door looked bored and had lit a cigarette, probably to keep himself warm and kill the boredom. Suddenly, a shabbily dressed young boy appeared outside the glass wall. He wore a radiant smile and did not seem worried about the world. His eyes shone bright and he waved sprightly at me. I came out and asked him gently what he was doing on the road instead of going to school and why he was on his own. He said that he was one of eight children, didn’t attend any school and came there every day with his eldest sister and other children from his street to get free meals from a small restaurant around lunchtime. His friendly demeanour and positive energy were contagious. I bought breakfast for him, and he accepted with the condition that I would get some for his friends, too. We talked and giggled as he ate it.
Soon, other kids from his neighbourhood joined him and he started playing with them.
There was something surreal about our encounter. It did take me back to the carefree days of my childhood, but there was definitely more to it. Gradually, I began to realise that it was his resilience in the face of adversity, his communal spirit which made him put his friends and family first, and his trust in his support network and his conviction that everything would be alright. He represented us as a nation: optimistic, enthusiastic, resilient and kind. Despite our flaws, we are generally good people. I had been looking for reassurance that things would fall into place nicely; perhaps this was it. After all, I have come home.
The writer is a consultant family physician and assistant professor at Health Services Academy, Islamabad