Sohail Abid

Backpacking across the world on a Pakistani passport

Topics: Personal (Page 1 of 10)

Hun Lahore Ae!

My university campus was a good few sectors away from our home in Islamabad. I had to first take a bus to Karachi Company (G-9) and then a wagon from there to F-10. The second part of the commute was interesting.

The wagons, almost always Toyota Hiace, embark from this station in G-9. And even though they were smaller than the coaster buses, it used to take a fair amount of time for them to fill up.

The conductors preferred that the wagons left the station only when full. Sometimes they did use to leave with a couple of seats vacant. They would go with the door open, in that case and pick remaining passengers along the way.

Every conductor had a signal for the driver to go full-throttle once the wagon was full. This one guy, who unlike others was always in a joyous mood for no reason, had a very particular signal.

“Hun Lahore ae!*” he would shout, informing the driver that everything was at peace, the wagon was full.

* We are in Lahore now!

In the memory of Aapa Basheeran

Aapa Basheeran, one of the four women guardians of a mohallah in Lahore called Aahata Bakhshi Ram, and my grandfather last met at a funeral. She and my grandfather were neighbours back in the village of Suniyar Heri, somewhere at the outskirts of Patiala. Before the partition, that is.

Both, now in their early 80s, were quite happy to have run into each other despite the fact that it was a funeral. They sat next to each other, holding each others hand. We even joked that it looked like they were on a date. They asked about each other’s health and learned that they have both lost their partners. It triggered Aapa Basheeran into remembering each of her siblings who had passed away.

“We are all dying one by one, Suleman,” she said in a sad voice.

“Assi te osay din mar gaye si jadon ethe aaye si,” he remarked, remembering the time they both lost their houses, village, homeland, and many relations.


I learned yesterday that Aapa Basheeran also passed away last week.

The accident

I came out of the accident like a hero.

The Khanna pull signal on the Islamabad Express Highway is always crowded. It’s a 5-lane road but the first three are occupied by people who have to take the U-turn. The rest are reserved for trucks. Where are you? Stuck in the mess of a traffic that may or may not clear your way so that you can head straight to your destination—the village outside the city where you live. You need skills to come out of that mess of a traffic.

You feel like a hero if you are the first one to cross that signal. I was the first and the fastest. The first thing I noticed after the signal was that I was the only one on the road. All fives lanes were clear in front of me. Others were still struggling with the jam on the signal. I got into the fastest lane and pushed the accelerator further.

That’s when I see two young men getting on the fastest lane from the pavement in the middle of the road. So sure that all traffic is stuck at the signal, they are not even looking in my direction. They are looking at each other! On the fastest lane! As I am fast approaching them…

In that moment I know this isn’t going to end well. I don’t go for the horn. I turn the steering wheel to the left, swishing by their side, saving them a direct impact. Phew.

But that sudden turning to the left makes the car go out of control. I turn it to the right and then back back to the left. But it’s all too little too late. I have lost the sense of direction and I see a concrete and stone wall in front of me. I brace myself for an impact and bam.

I was at 100km/h before this happened.

I gather my senses together. Turn the car completely off, open the door and come out as if nothing has happened although the front is completely smashed and by-passers are stoping to ask: “banday bach gaye nein?”

For the next two days, I actually thought nothing had happened to me. A slight bump on the head and a few bruises on the ribs that will go away. But with each passing day, the pain is getting worse. We went for the x-ray and some other tests yesterday and it looks like I have fractured a couple of ribs and damaged my left lung.

There are no heroes in life. An accident is going to damage you. Drive safe.

The Modern Man

“I wish I could work like you: not bound to an office and just working when I need to, wherever I be,” a friend who works at a reputable international development organization said today.

“This lifestyle is not that easy, neither is the work,” I tried to comfort him.

“You know we have a little patch of land back in the village,” he went into a deep melancholia, “And we have been planting some some fruits there. Some vegetables too. I go there on some weekends. Plough the land. Sow the seeds. Water them. We have two guava plants and a few orange trees and you know they were just laden with fruit. I don’t even have lunch when I am there. I think I want to stay there. Kind of getting tired of life here.”

“Why?”

“Going for the whole day to sit at a desk and coming back after dark, it’s not really very fulfilling. It seemed fascinating when we graduated but it doesn’t anymore. All these meetings and conferences. God knows what I am eating. A couple of months back, I thought I was having a heart-attack. Was hospitalized for two days. It wasn’t a heart-attack but I don’t know what’s happening. I exercise and all.”

“You should take care of your diet.”

“It’s not that. I just don’t see a point of a successful life in the city. I feel better at the zameen.”

A surreal affair

“When are you going back to Pakpattan?” she asked as we were sitting outside the Lok Virsa building where we had gone to find a book she thought I should read before venturing into Sindh. It’s been places like these where we had been meeting for the past few months: in a garden, at a festival, in a bookshop, in another garden, and at a library.

But before I could answer, she said, “Wait, what am I asking, you don’t plan your trips, you just leave, just like that.” She had started talking to herself. Maybe it was her fears talking. “But still, when are you going back?”

There was a story I had been following in Pakpattan that only she knew about. It started with a surreal meeting with someone at Baba Farid’s shrine and turned into something out of a book. Pretty much like herself, now that I think about it. I had to go back to find more. It couldn’t just be her fears, there was that story too that she didn’t want me to leave in the middle.

“I don’t know really,” I said, “I am waiting for a sign.”

“A sign?”

“Yes, like it says in the article that we read the other week about the malangs of Punjab.”

“Like how they wait for a saint to tell them where to go next in a dream?” she smiled.

“Yes, something like that.”

She looked into my eyes to see if I was just saying that. I don’t know what she saw.

That’s how it has been for us.

Surreal.

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