Woke up today to the start of the holidays in Pakistan for Eid. Today is the last day before Eid. Living in a big city like Lahore you get used to the traffic, noise, pushy drivers and so on. But today started with a drive and somehow it was different. No more people and cars clogging up the roads, No more annoying traffic jams and to top it all off no more over powering sense of decay in the streets. So I decided to take a route out of DHA to Gulberg that I usually try to avoid at all costs just because of being too busy. I kept driving listening to my songs with one hand on the wheel in a slouched position. Really having all the fun a good drive has promised us in all the movies and TV shows all these years. Even my guard sitting at the back seat seemed to enjoy the peace and tranquility while enjoying a song which he couldn’t understand coz it was in English but on glancing back from the mirror i did see his fingers being tapped on his lap.
I was busy enjoying when suddenly I saw a row of very empty shops with no cars in sight. The shops were open but looked like a ghost town. For the very first time i realized that this is how it would feel like to live in Islamabad. Then I started looking past the initial joy of being the king of the road and saw a picture which I don’t think any human being would appreciate, let alone enjoy. I started to see a very different place. Some people were spotted walking on the road with a glassy look in their eyes. A sweeper was sweeping a road side at 10:30 in the morning which was very odd given the fact that by that time its covered in dust and loose wrappers by that time any other day. This being the middle of the week seemed very bizarre and alien.
Somehow feeling a bit disturbed by all this I turned my car towards Mall road. Now that was one area I knew would be jam packed with people going about their everyday life or better yet shopping for their Eid holidays. I got to the centre of it right in front of Panjab assembly where i was just yesterday around the same time and was shouting at the drivers of other cars because they were taking too long to move from a traffic light. And still I found no resemblance to the place I saw yesterday. Granted it had some more people around but still looked like a ghost town. What I missed more then the number of people around was the fact that the people who actually were around had very stern and lifeless expressions on their faces.
Drove all the way to Old Anarkali I got a craving for lassi (A local yogurt drink) So I pulled into the old food street. Parked the car in front of a shop and got out. Sat on a plastic chair and waited for the waiter to come get my order. He came a moment later and I told him to bring me two glasses of lassi (one for me and one for my guard) he went away. But looking at the place I still felt the same itch that I did since I left DHA. I just couldn’t accept that a vibrant city like Lahore can ever be this empty and deserted just one day before Eid. I was looking for those jolly people of lahore for whom I left London and came back to settle here. Till now the waiter was back with the drinks and he served them but just when he was about to leave I asked him if this was normal for a day before Eid for it to be this deserted? His reply and the events that unfolded after that made me come back home and write this article.
“No its not” he replied with a look on his face that was covering it with gloom. “We used to make much more money than this before” speaking in the local panjabi dialect. “but now all is lost and will continue to get worst as the days pass” He said with a clearly crushed spirit. when I asked for the reason for this much negativity he just looked at me with a sarcastic smirk on his face and replied “Whats left for poor people like us? Two bomb blasts have taken place in this very bazar in less the 3 months. People have died and been injured in both of them. Too many people are scared to even go to busy places anymore because of the security threat. And the ones who are left have no money to spend anymore. Everyday we get closer to our graves and no one is out there to whom we can go to, to tell our problems.” He said all that in one go and I was left there starring at his face and really amazed at the anger this one person had inside him. He continued ” I work for 200 rupees for a day plus tips. Normally I used to make 200 to 300 in tips too just before Eid.. last night I made a total of 80 rupees. I have three mouths to feed at home so tell me how am i suppose to feed them, clothe them, put a rented roof on their head, keep them safe, pay my rent, pay my bills, pay for food??? And to top it off How am i suppose to send my son to a school so he does not have to wipe off table like me for the rest of his life?”
I actually saw some moisture in his eyes while he was on this rant. And for the very first time in my life I was completely lost for words. There was nothing I could say to him which was from the heart and was going to make him feel better in anyway shape or form. I looked at the Glass of Lassi he brought for me which was on the table and suddenly i COULD NOT bring myself to drink even one sip from it. I felt like someone has literally put their hand in my mouth, through my throat, took my intestines pulled them out of my mouth and strangled me with them. My guard was sitting next to me while all this was going on. He had finished his glass of lassi and now was listening to the conversation. The waiter saw another car pulling up and was trying to decide if he should stay and chat to me or go get the order from the next car. I saw his face and told him to run and take their order. When he left I just got up I didn’t have the courage to face him again. I didn’t even know his name but I just didn’t have the strength to stay any longer to ask him. I took out whatever cash I had in my pocket which would not be more then 3 or 4 thousands in change and placed it under the glass. And without even saying good bye just went towards my car. I sat inside and started the car. All of a sudden I saw something that shocked me to my very core. I saw my guard who was calling him to pick up the cash before someone takes it, put his hand in his own pocket take out 100 rupees and gave it to him. while saying “buy something for your kid on Eid from me too” he ran back to the car sat in the back seat and we drove off in complete silence all the way back home.
I don’t think I need to make some big ending remarks about how profound that experience was or how our politicians and governments are responsible for all this. That guy does not know what dollar price is in the market or how our economy is taking a nosedive everyday. All he knows is that taking 280 rupees home two day before Eid means thats its all doom and gloom and we are all going towards our graves without having anyone there to do anything about it.
I think it says it all…. Don’t you????