Some thoughts for end of the year
Now we have a democratic system in place or perhaps just another democratic 'interregnum' waiting for the time when the next army strongman decides to save Pakistan from the Pakistanis The last week of the year is a mixed bag or me. It is a time for introspection, of contemplation about what happened and hope for the future. So, I often vacillate between the maudlin and the manic. That I made it for another year without any overt serious physical problems is always a plus. But then as a wit once said about birthdays and what equally well applies to New Year celebrations, what is there to celebrate about closer to the end of your life. However, the end of this year is also an end of a decade - a decade that was without doubt a 'game changer' for Muslims in the US as well as in this part of the world.
It all started with the election and inauguration of George W Bush as president of the US, a matter causing me considerable anguish since I had supported Al Gore. The prolonged fight for vote counts in Florida made it all the more saddening or perhaps maddening. Then there was 9/11 and the collapse of the Twin Towers; this happened just a few miles from where I was on that fateful day. In a matter of a few hours everything changed for Muslims in the US. The consequences of that day are still unfolding and so far the best that can be said is that things did get bad for American Muslims but not as bad as many had expected.
From the time I left for my medical training in the US and then stayed on to practice medicine and raise a family, I always had a hankering to return to Pakistan. In its own way, the election of George Bush and 9/11 somehow jelled these vague thoughts into a more concrete desire. A few years later I finally decided to come back to Pakistan. Of course there were also personal and professional reasons for taking this step. Yes, it has been a difficult transition but in the balance I feel that I did the right thing.
For Pakistan the decade was a mixed bag. It might well be called the 'Musharraf' decade. It started off as most military dictatorships do on a high note but then predictably ended in a long drawn out whimper. And now we have a democratic system in place or perhaps just another democratic 'interregnum' waiting for the time when the next army strongman decides to save Pakistan from the Pakistanis.
The decade also saw the passing away of many important people. Of these in a way, one that touched me at a personal level was the death of Ahmed Faraz, the poet. Faraz and his poetry were a part of my life. As I grew up and reached adulthood, his lyrical love poetry was a source of inspiration and then when I ended up in the US, he soon went into self-exile and his poetry of longing for the land that he had left behind resonated with my personal sentiments and kept my desire to return to Pakistan alive.
However, the most touching loss was that of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. Her loss is something that at least for the foreseeable future will affect how things happen in Pakistan. If she had lived and contested the elections, would things in Pakistan have been different and perhaps much better? That is a question which of course can never be answered but it will linger on in the collective consciousness of Pakistan for many years. Another sad thing that I saw over the last few years was the rise of religious obscurantism and an escalation in terrorism aimed against civilians and religious minorities. The causes of this are well known and well discussed. However, it is something that has made life difficult for all Pakistanis due to its direct effects as well as the indirect consequences, including a collapse of foreign investment in Pakistan. The recent floods added to the misery of ordinary people as well us undermining whatever economic activity that was going on. Less said about load shedding, the better. But as is my wont, I did try and find something to look forward to as the New Year comes upon us. Well we are having the sesquicentennial (150 year) celebration of King Edward (KE) Medical College/University. Friends and colleagues are visiting Lahore from all over the world as well as the rest of the country. On Sunday I will have a chance to meet my classmates at a 'class reunion', see old friends, some that I have not met in years and re-live a part of my youth. KE is under a lot of pressure and things are not as well as they should be, but more about that another time. Right now it is time to celebrate the grand history of this old lady, whom I once called in a college magazine article "the aged matriarch subsisting on tradition". Perhaps the best part of these celebrations is the wonderment expressed by many of my medical colleagues from the US who have not visited Pakistan and especially Lahore for many years. They are indeed surprised that Lahore is not a battleground and that people are actually going around doing their 'thing'. More interestingly, they are impressed by how much better Lahore actually looks compared to the time they were last here. And that is what gives me hope. Those of us who live here keep forgetting that things are perhaps not as bad as we think they are. This of course does not mean that they could not and should not be a lot better. But then one of the visitors said, if we do not watch TV, we would not know that things are falling apart in Pakistan and after attending two medical conferences he remarked, wow, they are almost like conferences in the US! I suppose it does take an outsider to put things in perspective.