October 16, 2013 | 7:54 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
I find myself talking fast and loose at a professor's house. Someone's brother-in-law who worked as a television anchor is talking about the Shia-Sunni divide and its origins. A book by Lesley Hazleton. I remember vaguely putting it down in fear after something had rattled me. It was about the burial of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). I don't trust this writer, I remember myself thinking. The brother-in-law gets a bit upset when I say this. "She sourced everything. Every source is mentioned." I don't think it is polite to get into an argument. But I hate men like him. I am a guest. I sit back in my chair and purse my lips. I am more interested in the professor. He went to McGill like me. He confesses to not liking Montreal too much.
I am in Lahore for Eidul Azha - it marks the sacrifice the Prophet Abraham (RA) was willing to make in his son for Allah (Yaweh). It is a story of near-violence and the ultimate sacrifice, layered in meaning. The ultimate sacrifice. It is the story of coming through a slaughter.
It is the night before Eid. Some friends have taken me out to the professor's house. It is a rambling old one in a planned part of Lahore I have written about. The driveway would have taken a carriage, the double doors the sweep of a gharara. The ceilings are high, the rooms full of history. A Naiza Khan hangs by the door in the corridor. I am happy to recognise the art. The rest is strange, looks not expensive as much as heirloom. Famous. I know I am meeting famous people but won't know who they are.
"Israel, Pakistan and Turkey," says someone. Three experiments with religion and they are coming apart. Islam is coming down around our ears. Turkey tried the secular way, and now. Israel... he doesn't finish the sentence. I cannot remember the last time someone delighted me like this.
I reach for a pickled gherkin; should I tell the story of AdiikaloOn? How the Russians can pack away so much vodka because they take a bite of a pickled gherkin in between shots. The salt keeps them steady. Absorbs the alcohol. When Garbacheev introduced prohibition, they drank perfume. Eau de Cologne = Adii-ka-loOn. Perhaps I am showing off. I am humbled by the professor. I do not mean to name drop. I mean to source. That brother-in-law comment on sourcing switched something on in me; I am subconsciously sourcing all the names for the stories, anecdotes, tales. The time I made the worst mistake of my career that sent my editor, Najam Sethi, through the roof. Cowasjee had called him up in the morning to ask what pubic servants were doing on page 2 of the Karachi metropolitan edition?
Perhaps I am trying to impress the professor. But, perhaps I want to open myself to get him to teach me. I want to show myself I am worthy of being talked to. I present my problem: the violence of Karachi. Steven Pinker, Susan Sontag, Mark Epstein, Slavoj Zizek. Hannah Arendt. Nichola Khan. He explains that Arendt was talking about something else. How the Germans could turn all those wonderful scientific, philosophical things into a thing for killing.
"You should read it regardless because of how well she writes," he says, as I can only best re-quote him. The only way they could unseat the landed political elite, I hear him say, is to use violence. All the parties do it. There is someone who has been in power for generations. His family always wins in that constituency. What do you do to unseat him? You slit a few throats. That is violence. The government is forced to sit up and take notice. "You level the playing field." I sit back, delirious. I have never heard this analysis. I was stuck in Karachi's urban fabric, searching for answers there. The 1992, 1996 operations subjecting them to violence that repeated itself; violence internalised after you have been brutalised. Am I wrong?
It is hot, but quite pleasant. Someone lights up a cigarette. I feel I need to get back to the bookstore and stock up. I am so far behind. I feel weak; under-read. Someone mentions the Baloch academic who studied the effects of the nuclear testing in Chaghi. She had to leave. No one knows where she is now. The Baloch websites list the number of missing. The brother-in-law feels the need to mention that there are so many different types of violence; you can't lump them all together. I make comforting and polite noises. "Oh, yes, absolutely." I don't know if stating the obvious really helps here. Am I thinking about the homicide rate? The professor comes to my aid. We'd have to look at the numbers, he says in a measured tone. But then how would you compare Karachi's numbers? With another urbanised center? Per capita? I think that we are a city of 23 million souls.
How can I compare that with anything else in the world?
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