Away from the ‘homeland’

In the past one month, my friends and associates from across the globe have reached out. I am grateful to them. Now that I am out of Pakistan I am safer. This is a trade-off. Choices. Again. Security versus identity. Belonging or choosing a migrant’s life. I have yet to think about these issues and hopefully the mist will clear itself.

I was deeply touched by what the eminent poet and my friend-muse Fahmida Riaz wrote in her commentary on the recently held Islamabad Literature Festival:

…It is no ordinary city or town, our capital. Only weeks ago there was a blast here that killed many people; and just last month, one of its prominent citizens, Raza Rumi, barely escaped death in a car attack. Last year Rumi was the life and spirit of the festival, moderating many sessions, but this year he was nowhere to be seen.

And then this email that pierced into a corner of my being:

Yes, I heard about it. Yes, I also read about it. Quite honestly, I didn’t know how to react to it. Should I pick the phone, say a few words of concern and take a sigh of relief? Or should I sit back, grim and bear it? It took a long time to sink in despite the fact that it sounded familiar. I’ve lost friends (we all have lost friends at some one point in life or the other) but I really can’t afford to lose another. Each time I hear the sound within earshot, I am shaken. I feel weak in the knees while writing this!
I called you today – your number was powered off. I was looking for you at the ILF 2014 but couldn’t see you anywhere. Where are you? How do I connect with you? …
Meanwhile, take everything easy. I can’t stop thanking God for returning you to us. Looking forward to hearing from you.
Best, ….

And this week Mira Sethi wrote:
My friend the journalist Raza Rumi narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Lahore in late March. He threw his body on the floor of his car, and the attackers, mistaking him for dead, finished off his driver. The night Raza was shot at, I went to a shaadi. I arrived late, at 1 am, to a house glittering with beautiful people. Shehrbano Taseer, the assassinated governor’s daughter, stood in a corner talking to friends. When I saw Bano, I broke down in her arms. “It’s so ugly,” I cried, surrounded by a few perplexed guests, and trees strung with fairy lights. Bano hugged me tightly, silently. A few weeks later, Bano and I were talking on the phone. She told me that she had been taken aback by my tears, because, she said, they reminded her of how numb she had become.
It is late here. Through twitter, I stumbled upon this old recording of Begum Akhtar – Koyali’a Mat Kar Pukaar…! This is a wistful thumri with longing. In May, koels sing (some would say yell) all day long. They love mango trees and the blossoms.

I had promised myself not to be sentimental. Here I am.
Virginia is quite beautiful in late Spring. The blossoms (notwithstanding the Hay fever attacks) have kept me alive and happy.

Blossoms – Virginia

As Sylvia Plath says, “Cheers for spring; for life; for a growing soul.”

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  • Usman Rafi

    Hello Raza,

    I’ve thought quite frequently of you in the days after you were attacked. We did exchange comments and a couple of phone calls after you came back from the ADB. I won’t add to the gloom and sadness that pervades me each time I hear of a new attack here in Pakistan, by dwelling on my belabored thoughts that get heavier by the day. Only today, Dr. Faisal Manzoor, a shia, who was also my senior in school and later King Edward Medical College got murdered. And again my mind went back to you.

    I am now unsure whether identity comes first or security. I have always believed identity takes priorits, and that is why I have stuck to Pakistan in the belief that a life without identity is death anyway, in more ways than one. But am I right? Perhaps not. Perhaps I am. I cannot answer. You can. It is an existential question, and reminds me of Shakespeare, “seeing that death as a necessary end, must come, when it will come.” I have not written the first line of this verse, which speaks of courage, since as I said before, I am now unsure of the equation.

    I wish you well in Virgina. And I hope you write some day about life in exile.


  • Aslam khan Tanoli

    Dear Raza Rumi Sb.
    In USA when soldiers return from Overseas their family friends welcome warmly , But in your case don’t know how to welcome you in Virginia warmly or sadly because no one want to leave his motherland happily if person already settled and serving his country with honor and dignity people’s who work for media press are respectable , indeed professional and great countribution to their motherland and I respect that .
    You guys are assets and hope soon thing will get better with the blessing of All mighty Allah , May Allah make living and things easy for you and keep others in his safeguard Amin .
    It’s will be honor if I could any thing for here in Virginia .
    We warmly welcome you !
    Best regards
    Aslam khan Tanoli
    571 338 1747
    Arlington VA
    Ex. President PTI VA.

  • Aasem Bakhshi

    Last week I was driving in front of your home in Lahore with my wife and kids and really missed our exchanges. I too endorse Usman Rafi’s comments and last night when I received the tragic new of Dr. Faisal’s murder, who was a college senior, my mind kept went back to you, thanking Allah almighty that you were saved. Lets see when we are able to see each other again and where.

    Wassalamu alaykum

  • Raza

    Tanoli Saheb: Many thanks. I will get in touch.

    Aasem: Inshallah we shall meet when I am back- after a few months or so.

    Usman: Thanks for a wistful message. Love those lines by Shakespeare.

  • himani

    Raza!!!! be safe.. Here in India we are awaiting our fate. lets see what happens in the next few days…. changing times .. lets find good things to keep us going. yes, koyals are incessant!!!!!

  • Ali Kazmi

    Jahan bhi rahain khush rahain…

  • Naveed Siraj

    Every time I am on Facebook, I hope to see an update from you. Coming back to brings back pleasant memories. May the good Lord keep you from harm’s way

  • neelaum, a, basheer

    dear raza, its so sad .you are in my thoghts always,, sad to see you leave pakistan,,i dont know what to say, neelam

  • Cubano

    Good to hear that you are safe and well.

  • Wasif Mumtaz

    May I suggest here to read and write about Cosmopolitanisim and the concepts like citizen of the world and universality. It may help you overcome your uprootedness dillema. We love you and wish you well. Take care

  • Omar Mukhtar

    o sirgee, ab meri kitaab ka kaya ho ga? On a serious note, I called and talked to u the next day of attack but didn’t know what to say but it is good to see you safe. And I was also sad to day coz of murder of Dr Faisal Manzoor who was again a senior in HasanAbdal and i can see your from the message chain that you are loved by Abdalians. Anyways stay safe and keep writing. Take care