My piece published in the News on Sunday yesterday –

Karta hun jama phir jigare lakht lakht ko (I seek to gather the scattered pieces of my heart)

Not long ago, say two decades ago, we the Zia”s children yearned for a country that treaded the Malaysian path for prosperity; and somehow were to transform a tolerant, inclusive society. Such were the dizzying dreams. We wanted the Hudood laws to vanish, the witch-hunt under the blasphemy laws to end and sectarian-ethnic monsters buried. We were inspired by the likes of Mohtarama, for some the charitable cricketer appeared the redeemer. The road to utopia also emerged when a bus took off from the other side of the border and landed in Lahore. The brothers Sharifov became new faces of a moderate, booming Pakistan. Mr. Vajpayee”s chant on the ancient roads of Lahore, “ab jang nahee ho gi” was enough to willingly suspend our disbelief. For many a precious day, we forgot the corruption stories, the political squabbles and incompetence all around.

And then the utopia signs dwindled as the battles on the white peaks of Kargil turned red, a VVIP plane hijacked re-invoking the sorry state of martial rule. We could not live without the dream however. So the new goals — accountability, devolution and economic miracles — weaved a new chador of delusions. Like that mythical chador, this new age of globalised Pakistan made reality invisible. We had technocratic solutions spun once again and the opening up of imperial coffers gave us a false sense of moving towards the dream-path.

Yet again, the ideal was snatched and smashed as the myriad myths of unequal development started exploding with imported and local bombs.

This time my utopia seems painfully distant, blurred. I have forgotten what it was. It slipped from the vision when the suicide bombers started visiting the idyllic Islamabad. I now suffer from a mild amnesia. I don”t know what I hoped for in those naive, uninformed days when Faiz”s Hum dekhain ge outlined its contours; and the daagh daagh ujala was destined to transform into sheer resplendence of a vibrant society future.

How do I gather the slipping grains of what was the cherished utopia. I had heard that human memory vistas theoretically are seamless and clear. But that vision of those vast green fields is now blood-stained. Suicide bombers are omnipresent and my dear friend in Waziristan tells me that the queue is long and restive. The streets of Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi are potted with excess blood choking the civilization arteries. The vacant Liaquat Bagh a haunting shrine where many come to share the loss of a vision. A vision, tainted by cynicism, slander and murder, not once but twice over.

The floating limbs of ticket-holders to heaven have created a temporal hell. First, it was the mosque, then the eid-gah and now a janazah prayer. It used to be the army post, then a bazaar and now it”s under the banyan tree where Gautama and his followers found peace; and Khanqahs thrived on its lasting shade. The paths with Ashoka”s footprints are infested with land-mines. Indus, the mighty nourisher, is mixed with suffering. Urban life has turned into a quest for personal security — the ‘ideal” existence where one is simply not dead!

But this fear of death does not bother me. What haunts me is the deeper decay of a polity that started with a high note. The old has crumbled and the new is not there. But then pessimism is useless and nihilism is nothing but the ultimate denial of being.

The recent awakening of urban Pakistan now provides the silver lining. It points towards a long road towards my utopia that will comprise a country with enough oxygen, expression and free of scary little gods. It would also mean that poverty will have to be eliminated, not just reduced, alleviated or targeted. Here inequality would be unacceptable and not a way of life (as I have grown up with it).

In this world, heritage would not be dismissed or reduced to food streets. In this Utopia, citizenry would be at the forefront and will lead the country into a new era where the bitterness of the past would be nothing more than lessons for the days to come.

And I want to walk freely. Pray in a mosque when I am required to without the fear that someone would enter with dreaming of the other-world. I want my children to grow up in an environment that is not plagued by the toxicity of consumerism and emptiness of a historical world. I don”t want those old trees to disappear taking along the music of koels and calls of enlightenment. I want my utopia to be free of de-humanisation, devoid of nuclear balances and imbalances and cacophony of jingoism.

Above all, my utopia is where the centuries of mystical thought, bhakti and love for fellow human beings are paramount. Only such a world can be free of greed, revenge and terror. This is a utopia where Mohammad”s egalitarianism backed by the hama-oost of the Sufis shall reclaim the footsteps of Gautama, Nanak and Bulleh Shah.

Is it possible to dream again when the memory has to be rediscovered and dreams re-scripted. When will those pieces of my heart gather together?