23 September, 2014 / Ziqa'ad 27, 1435
I am Hazara

I am Hazara

Close to 1,000 Hazaras have been killed in targeted attacks and shootings in the capital of Pakistan’s largest province. The indifference towards the atrocities has forced this shrinking community to take escape routes and gamble between life at the promised land and death at the ocean.

I am the gravestone and the photograph

Every Friday, after the Juma prayer, people start filing into this small place at the foothills. Nobody in the community seems to miss this ritual. Other than the small mounds topped by two or three stones, a corridor stands out prominently. It is dotted with portraits of young students, ambitious bankers, committed teachers and promising lawyers on each side. Each image is full of life. A humming recitation spreads around and the sound of sobbing women can be heard clearly with the setting sun, which eventually dissolves into dusk. Welcome to the Hazara Graveyard.

Persian signboards, calligraphers and engravers are lined up along the road that leads to this necropolis. A small street turns from the corner of a marriage hall and heads up towards the hill. A few houses up, a narrow by-lane funnels to reveal an array of flags and standards that mark the skyline – a sight that beholds every observer. This cemetery surpasses any possible manifestation of tragedy. As the target killings picked up, the Hazara community decided to dedicate a part of the graveyard separately for this purpose. Before the land could be procured, this ‘section’ was already filled to capacity. Before Hazaras buried the victims of one tragedy, the news of another would reach them.

The graveyard has now expanded to three portions. After the first part, another was procured and soon it was overloaded too. Given the continued frequency of killings, the third portion is likely to run out of space at any time. All the tombstones are uniformly designed: a photo of the deceased, his date of birth, the date and place of the incident and a verse from the Quran. Each grave is a story, and a unique one. Some were killed while going to work, while others lost their lives on the highways. One Hazara was killed commuting to his business and others on their way back from university. At one corner, five graves are built in a line. These belong to five cousins who had ventured out for a friendly cricket match and were fired upon at close range.

The perpetrators of this violence have made life miserable for these Hazaras by impeding all escape routes. Caged between Alamadar Road and the neighbouring Koh-i-Murdar, the choices for expansion are very limited. For the hills are not as lethal as men with differing ideologies, the Hazaras have opted to settle towards the foothills and trust Koh-i-Murdar more than the fellow beings. Those who cross Alamdar Road are believed to have breached the limits of safety and are constantly waited for – dead or alive.

Mothers avoid sending children to school and professors now sit at home to plan their life in Australia or Punjab. Businesses have been heavily dented and Hazaras are not seen in Quetta – a city which was once their identity. After every blast or incident of targeted violence, those outside the community hastily draw a line. When a Balochistan University bus was attacked, the non-Hazara parents decided to pull out their children from the transportation used by Hazara students. Moving with the Hazaras has become synonymous with inviting death.


I am forever missed, forever loved

Zia never wanted to go to Australia. Perhaps, no Hazara ever desires to step out of these winding lanes. The small houses here buzz with care and promise the unimaginable warmth of love. Intertwined lives in inter-woven streets are known for influencing decisions and reversing stances. But then one day, a flashing ambulance halted in front of their house, a blood-stained body was taken out and it changed everything. The city where Zia grew up had turned into a port city in a far-off land – strange and hostile.

Zia had always seen his uncle dress impeccably but that day, his body was soaked in blood and riddled with bullets, his torn shirt spoke of the helplessness of a broad daylight murder. The corpse caught Zia off-guard and he changed his mind. The young heart fluttered as the bird they cage in every Hazara lawn. A jirga, similar to Qora el tai, where they decided the fate and faith of Hazara centuries ago in the vale of Bamiyan was replicated in Zia’s house. He silently left these 800,000 Hazaras who awaited death and joined those 60,000 who awaited Australian immigration. While many were privy to what may happen to Zia, no one could imagine the plight of his family.

There are two routes that lead to Australia, the legitimate route and the “frequent route”. Those who take the legitimate route have enough time and resources to wait, but the others – who choose frequent route – are normally running short of both. The frequent route starts with a Karachi- Bangkok flight. From Bangkok, they reach Kuala Lumpur via land and then board a ship for Indonesia. After a few days’ stay at Indonesia, the agents who have smuggled them thus far hand them over to the hostile waters, at the time of their choice – mostly in the dark of the night. If the immigrants are fortunate enough, they reach Christmas Island (a transit camp which serves as port of entry into Australia) and if they run out of luck, the carnivores of the Pacific feast on pacifist Hazaras.


I am the diligent optimist

After some scenic turns in the locality of Khushk Talaab (translating to dry pond in the local dialect), we reached Ibrahim’s house, guided by the kids at street-end.

In the veranda, a water tank occupied much of space alongside a homemade oven (tandoor) and a bicycle with a tilted stand. The simple yet elegant house, similar to those in Santa Fe (New Mexico), posed a question. Who would abandon such a still, laid-back lifestyle for long working hours at some metropolitan food chain in the ‘lucky country’ Down Under? The kids chased each other from one room to another. Their father was killed in Kuchlak few months ago. The question could never be asked.

Ibrahim was an employee of the police force – an organisation that promises power. One day, he reviewed his recent employments and realised that his placements were constantly shrinking and he was being restricted to areas which are comparatively safe. It dawned upon him that the city had failed to accommodate him. The vastest province of the country had no space for a few individuals who differed in ideology and features. Migration to Australia surfaced as a handy option. The decision to leave was the only difficult part. Finances came ready, in the form of his wife’s jewellery and loans from acquaintances. Within days, his passport was stamped with a visa for Thailand.

Ibrahim looked at other passengers who were Iranians, Afghans and his fellow Hazara; all they had asked for was a little space and their countrymen had out-rightly refused it. Bangkok was the high point of their journey. The Iranian families were thrilled by their new-found independence and the Afghans were excited to see life beyond killings and ruins.  Malaysia was the downside and by Indonesia, they had started regretting their decision.

From Indonesia, there are two routes leading to Christmas Island. One route features whirlpools but takes 30 hours to reach the island, subject to survival. The other route is a safer option and takes anywhere between a week to 10 days. A night prior to their departure, everyone calls home and informs about their journey the next day. They hang up the phone promising to call from Australia but the phones in Quetta are held in hands a little longer. In the dark of the night, they are bundled up in trucks and start for the beach, traversing the long dark miles cross-country and in the jungle. The worn out boats appear too fragile to tread even the calm waters and are stuffed to thrice their capacity but the immigrants, illegal by now, cannot resist.

Ibrahim was sea-sick when the boat hit the whirlpool and the captain escaped. The unfortunate passengers battled for almost an age.

For those who survive the wrath of ocean, misery awaits at detention centres. The damp rooms with eternal stink are more like dungeons. The long period of confinement ends with a few returning to their homes, while fewer make it to more a permanent place.

After months of suffering at the detention centre, Ibrahim managed to call back home. His brother had also decided to try his luck in Australia. The debate ensued for long hours but Ibrahim ran out of arguments supporting his survival in Quetta. His brother left the following week and is missing to date.

Many residents of Hazara housing society sailed from Indonesia for Australia but never reached the promised land. News about the shipwreck was followed by a complete silence – echo-perfect. Back in Quetta, half of the family members believe that their loved ones are dead and half of them await miracles. Away from their houses, these family members might accept the mathematical improbability of survival, but in their homes they live with the vacant places at dinner, for somebody who has no possibility of coming back.

Ibrahim was lucky enough to see his kids again. He tried hard to find his brother but nothing worked. Nobody was bothered about this Hazara in Pakistan and no one cared in Indonesia. The true manifestation of Muslim brotherhood dawned upon Ibrahim.

There are yet others who have never been to Australia but are living transitory lives. They are the children who have no academic routine to follow. The schools are either closed or no one is willing to teach. These kids, uniquely intelligent and congenitally artistic, spend the day either sitting in front of their houses (because the mothers are too scared to lose sight) or playing video games on the computers which the expats have sent back for Skype. The intrinsic desire of these kids to leave a footprint on time compels them to give Australia a chance, even at the cost of their life. Their sittings reinforce this ambition and the plans are made secretly. Once the secret is out and reaches their families it sparks a debate, but a bomb-blast or few killings settle the whole issue in their favour for good.


You and I

Quetta, of the early 1980s, was a different place – where Hazaras were one of many colours. The “Jihad Bonanza” not only deprived the country of an independent thinking stream but also shaped external and internal behaviours. In a subtle manner, compromise replaced competition and Quetta changed. Now disagreement meant disappearance and arguments ended in gun shots. The society had exhausted her patience for differences in thoughts and actions. The man of faith, a Fort Bragg graduate who prided himself in Islamicising the country, had in fact traded religion for worthless political gains. What then constituted the silent majority has now shrunk into a sane minority. His Frankenstein of commercial mercenaries (jihadis) bleed the country and the end is not in sight.

Sardar Nisar was the first to be attacked in Quetta and while he survived the assault, his guard and driver lost their lives. Most recently, the death count has touched the 1,000 mark. Safety has yet to return to the haunted city and peace remains a dream. The killers come with a confidence that defies the existence of law for killing Hazaras and the state, religion and society encourage this ‘noble genocide’ through their silence.


Hazaras are distributed into eight branches; four Sunni and four Shia clans. But the gunslingers are too busy to inquire after their target’s sect. For them, being Hazara equates being a Shia and this crime merits death. An economist cited their financial strength and dominance of local markets as reasons for this genocide. Some politicians have named the invisible “foreign hand” and the others associate Baloch separatists with these killings. Regardless of the reasons, almost everyone in the Hazara community insisted that they had informed the local administration about the suspects and the likelihood of attacks, but no measure was taken. The routine departmental slackness had cost them their lives and the fragile sense of security. The killers came with typical ease, did their job and left. Local administration, they point, is at best incompetent or at worst, in connivance.

The Hazaras are very composed but the undertone suggests that the other Pakistanis are more interested in watching T20 cricket, and the executive-versus-judiciary stand-off rather than feeling for them, their compatriots.

A painting at a politician’s drawing room said it all. The artist had painted an arm in the Iranian flag and the background in the Saudi flag. The red inscription on the painting, read “Shia is a heretic and should be killed.” At the bottom left, the footnote said “My countrymen’s perception about me.” It seemed from the disillusionment that the artist would have been in his late forties, but the answer came as a surprise: The painting was by “a teenager who had lost a close relative.”


I am the artist

The blood of Hazara christens Balochistan in ways other than violence. Like many others, a house in the community has been carved in the hill. When the sun starts packing up, Hazara kids gather here. Absolved from the expanding graveyard, they climb these stairs to sketch their hearts out. From an angle, these kids are like those sleepers who escaped the wrath of their fellow men on difference of faith and took it to a cave. They will reappear when light enters not only hearts and minds, but also illuminates souls.

The room remains without heating and lighting arrangements in the harsh weathers, but the students have no grievances. If it rains, they sit inside and talk about the philosophies of life. Sketch club is a Lyceum, where an Aristotle teaches his students how to live – and art – it comes by default.

Moosavi Saheb is the soul of this sketch club. He is a teacher, organiser, administrator and a bit of Mr Chips too. Starting his journey from the Arts Council, he had taught in private institutes for a few years and now runs this facility. In his share of violence, his son and daughter both received critical injuries in a bomb blast on their university bus. Nobody talks about this at the sketch club although everyone who comes here has a story.

The graduates of sketch club regularly secure scholarships at the prestigious National College of Arts in Lahore and this fills Moosavi Saheb with pride. Paintings from Sketch Club were recently showcased in Australia for 40 days and won over many foreign art critics.


I am the flickering light

Why would someone kill a Hazara? The question elicited different responses from social scientists, politicians, religious leaders and economists. Apart from the analytical reasons, there are others too: The organised graveyards, well-managed colonies, self-sufficient introvert people, and children who take art seriously and life lightly are among the distinguishing factors of these people. Hazaras, probably, are too refined for us to mourn their deaths, feel their loss and protest their killings. Their existence is the sole ray of light that challenges the darkness, which we have come to we love.

We have also conveniently chosen to look the other way because we are not Hazaras and our kids will never be killed because of their facial features, dialects and faith. The perception prevails that this persecution is for Hazaras only – but the areas of Sola-acre, Nasirabad, Syedabad and Nauabad remind us that these were once safe places too.

Legend has it that the title Hazara is derived from their grouping into battalions of 1,000 men which fought Genghiz Khan. Now, with the killing of close to one thousand Hazaras, this title has been redefined.

Hazara Killings in Quetta, Balochistan

2001

2003

2004

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2001

A vehicle was ambushed near Poodgali Chowk and eight Hazaras were killed.

2003

Eleven police officials were killed when two armed men opened fire at a van carrying police recruits to their training school in Quetta. Several officials were also injured and the incident was believed to be an act of sectarian violence as most of the officials in the van were Hazaras.

2003

Two people attacked a Hazara mosque on Mechangi Road in Quetta during Friday prayers, while a third person blew himself up, leaving 47 people dead. The police also defused two bombs.

2004

An Ashura procession was attacked in Quetta, which left 42 people dead, and many injured. The attackers first threw a hand grenade, followed by firing as the procession reached the main business district of the city. It was reported that most of the victims were Hazaras.

2009

Unknown assailants killed the chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP), Hussain Ali Yousafi.

2009

Engineer Ahmed Ali Najaf was killed at his workplace by armed men. He was pulled out of his car and shot dead, according to eyewitness accounts.

2009

Walayat Hussain, a Hazara lawyer, was killed while on his way from work after unknown men opened fire on him.


Mohammad Ashraf, the chief inspector of mines in Balochistan, was gunned down while he was going to work in an official vehicle.

2010

Mehmud Ali, a young Hazara boy, was killed by armed men on the Quetta-Karachi highway while another boy Mohammad Yousuf was injured in the same incident.

2010

Ghulam Rasool and Muhammad Ali, who were day labourers, were killed near Akhtarabad.


Shabbir Hussain, a shopkeeper, was killed by armed men while he was working in his shop in the Hazar Ganji area.


Muhammad Ali, Ghulam Raza and Ramzan Ali who were vegetable vendors were killed in the Hazar Ganji area.

2010

A young Hazara boy, Ali Murtaza, was shot dead on Sirki road.

2010

A suicide bombing during a Shia rally in Quetta killed around 50 people and injured many others. Later, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.


Mohammad Ali Hazara, was kidnapped for ransom and later killed even though the amount had been paid.

2010

Four Hazaras were abducted and killed for ransom. Haji Ali Akbar, who was the owner of Al Abbas store was captured along with his son, bodyguard and an employee and later killed.

2010

Haji Idrees, the owner of Barkat medical store was kidnapped and his bodyguard Mohammad Ali was killed.

2010

Three people, including a four year old girl, were killed in a terrorist attack on Arbab Karam Khan Road in Quetta.

2011

Eight people, including children, were killed in a rocket and gun attack which targeted Hazaras in a park. After the rockets were fired, armed men on vehicles shot at people and fled. Banned outfit Lashkar-i-Jhangavi claimed responsibility for the attack.


Two Hazara policemen, Mohammad Musa and Ishaq Ali, were shot dead on Sipni Road while on their way home.

2011

Former Olympian and deputy director of the Pakistan Sports Board, Abrar Hussain, was shot by armed men on motorcycles as he was returning home.


Armed terrorists attacked a bus carrying Hazara pilgrims from Iran, killing three and injuring 11 others in the Hazar Ganji area of Quetta.

2011

Eleven Hazaras, including one woman, were killed when a Suzuki van was attacked on Spini road inQuetta.

2011

Thirteen people, including four women, were killed in a suicide bombing attack on Eid day. The target was the Eidgah, however, the vehicle carrying the suicide bomber exploded a few yards before the target due to a collision.


Twenty-six people were killed when a bus carrying pilgrims from Quetta was attacked by armed men in Mastung. The attackers stopped the bus and shot the victims one by one.


Three Hazaras were killed when gunmen attacked a van. Three others, including a child, sustained injuries.

2011

Fourteen vegetable vendors were killed when gunmen attacked a van going to a vegetable market inQuetta.

2012

Walayat Hussain, inspector of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), TV artist Abid Hussain Nazish and Mohammad Anwar Hussain, a government official were gunned down near Mecongi Road, Quetta. The three were going home in a car when assailants on a motorcycle opened fire on them with automatic weapons in a street.

2012

Ejaz Hussain and Ali Asghar were killed on Sabzar Road when unknown men opened fire on them.


Seven Hazaras including women were killed when unknown gunmen opened fire on a passenger van.

2012

Two Hazaras, Ali Akbar and Ali Raza, were killed when unknown men opened fire on two shops on Meconghy Road, Quetta.


Mama Karim, Mohammad Hassan, Saeed Ahmed, Qurban Ali, Nadir Ali and Shabir Hussain were killed when armed assailants opened fire at a shoe shop on Prince Road, Quetta


Three men were killed when armed men on a motorbike opened fire at a tea shop.

Six Hazaras were killed when armed men ambushed a taxi on Brewery Road, Quetta and opened fire. The victims were on their way to Killi Ibraimzai from Hazara Town.


Unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on a tyre shop situated at Quarry road, killing a business man, Salman Ali Hazara.


Two Hazara brothers, Baban Ali and Hussain Ali, were gunned down on Brewery Road, Quetta while they were on their way to a bazaar from Hazara Town.

2012

Mohammad Ali was killed by unknown gunmen while working in his tyre shop.


Two Hazaras, Mohammad Tahir and Mohmmad Qadir, were killed outside the passport office on Joint Road when armed assailants opened fire and fled.

2012

Fourteen people, including two policemen and a woman, were killed and many others injured in a suicide attack on a bus carrying pilgrims returning from Iran. The suicide bomber was in a private car which hit the bus in the Hazar Ganji area of Quetta.

2012

Three people of the Hazara community were killed and three others injured when gunmen opened fire on a taxi going to Marriabad from Hazara Town on Spiny Road in Quetta.


Three people going to Hazara Town in a rickshaw were killed when gunmen on a motorbike opened fire on them and escaped. Out of the three, two were identified as Ghulam Hussain and Khadim Hussain

2012

Gunmen on motorcycles shot dead seven Hazara Shia Muslims in two separate incidents.

2012

Four Hazara men were shot dead in an attack on a scrap shop. Men on motorcycles opened fire on the shop in Kabarhi Market on Sirki Road and fled after killing Ata Ali, Muhammad Ibrahim, Ghulam Ali and Syed Awiz.

2012

A man was killed and his brother injured when they came under fire on Airport Road near Askari Park.

January 2013

As many as 81 people were killed and 121 injured in suicide and car bomb blasts in Quetta’s Alamdar Road area on Thursday night.

Earlier in the afternoon, 12 people lost their lives when a bomb went off near a vehicle of the Frontier Corps at Bacha Khan Chowk.

A cameraman and a reporter of a private news channel, a computer operator of a news agency and nine police personnel, including two senior police officers, were among the dead, while 10 army and FC personnel were injured in the blasts.

A majority of the people killed in the Alamdar Road blasts belonged to the Hazara Shia community.

February 2013

At least 84 people were killed and over a hundred wounded when a large blast ripped through Quetta near a market at the Kirani road, which is close to Hazara Town.

Police sources confirmed the attack was targetting the Shia community for which Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility.

Credits

Written and Produced by

Miraj


Assistant Producer

Hafsa Adil


Filmed and Directed by

Nadir Siddiqui


Editing

Zehra Naqvi

Nadir Siddiqui

M Umar


Music by

Bilal Brohi


Production Coordination

Mechid TV, Quetta


Executive Producer

Musadiq Sanwal

Hazaras – my neighbours in Quetta

By Vaqar Ahmed

A Dawn file photo of Quetta.

A Dawn file photo of Quetta.

If you go down on Toghi road in Quetta, away from the town centre, past Delite Cinema, past the quilt shop (that also sells kites), past “Friends Kiryana” and finally Tataa’s and Karbalai’s shop, and turn left just before the road ends, you will find a house with the enigmatic address [6-10/12 (15)]/24] Toghi Road, Quetta. No one has been able to decipher the house number. This is our house, where we lived happily for eight years.

Or at least this was the way it was when we left Quetta for good in 1968.

In 1968 the most famous person who lived on Toghi road, a hundred yards from our mathematical expression, was General Mohammed Musa, Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan army from 1958 to 1969. He was a Hazara and the neighbourhood was almost entirely made up of the Hazara community. There were a few non-Hazara families living there and we were one such family.

As a six-year-old boy my first impression of my new neighbours was rather negative. Most of the children my age did not seem to go to school, they looked a bit Chinese, they spoke a language that I could not understand and cuss words flowed easily from their tongue.

They seemed free spirited, rough and tough; real street children, who I did not understand and feared. For these children and young adults any non-Hazara was deemed to be a Punjabi. Sometimes, a gang of children would follow us chanting “Punjabi, Punjabi….” in a good-natured way. Somehow they had heard about the British phenomenon of the 1960s, the “teddy boys” and for them anyone not wearing shalwar kameez was a ‘teddy boy’ or a ‘teddy girl.’ Even my mother who wore a sari sometime heard ‘teddy girl’ shouted behind her back as she went out of the house for shopping.

Our initial impression rapidly changed as we settled down in the new neighbourhood. Our first direct interaction with the community took place when a miss-hit cricket ball went flying into the neighbouring plot that belonged to an old man who we simply called Burhay Sahib” (old gentleman). The plot had a boundary wall with a rickety gate that was locked. I fearfully went and knocked at the old man’s door (he lived just a few houses away). When Burhay Sahib appeared I very respectfully stated the problem.

Without a word he pulled out the key from his pocket and gave it to me. I went and retrieved the ball and returned the key. This was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. The cricket ball flew into his plot with annoying regularity, sometime more than once a day, but Burhay Sahib would give us the key without a murmur of complaint or a hint of frown on his old brow. Burhay Sahib had many goats and my mother would give us the green pea peels in a bucket to give to Burhay Sahib. He always accepted these peace offerings with a gentle smile on his face.

Our neighbours were genuinely kind and caring people. Once our car broke down in the morning when we had to be transported to the school for the annual examination. Panic ensued in the house. Finally, my father walked over to Burhay Sahib’s son’s house and told him our problem. The son, Mohammad Ali, promptly went inside and fetched the key to his car. Burhay Sahib also arrived at the scene. My father explained that the school was not too far away and he would bring the car back soon. Visibly upset, Burhay Sahib spluttered out, “tum kiyoon is ki parwah karta hey, tum issko London ley key jao!” (Why do you worry about this, you can take the car to London if you so wish!).

 The author (second from left) with his siblings in Quetta, 1965.

The author (second from left) with his siblings in Quetta, 1965.

My siblings and I had one special privilege living in close proximity of the army chief. When there was a marriage in the community, an army band would turn up and play day in and day out. The greatest show took place when the daughter of General Musa wedded the improbably named Flight Lt. Sharbat Ali Changezi (who went on to win a medal in the 1965 war). Since this was such a high-profile marriage, the celebrations continued for a week.

For the first three days the very popular Baloch regiment band entertained us, then the highlight of the spectacle happened on the fourth day. The Baloch regiment band was playing to a wide-eyed audience when a military truck drove up and out came another band who quickly assembled and started playing and marching with such alacrity that the Baloch band that was ruling the roost so far was completely over-shadowed. The Punjab regiment band was led by a tall alert bandmaster, sporting a handlebar moustache, strutting about like a prized cock. Quickly, a competition ensued with the bands trying to outshine each other entirely to the advantage of the spell bound children.

The other times when there was a special atmosphere in the neighbourhood was during Muharram. Everyday, processions, large and small marched on the streets. We know most of the participants and would worry about them hurting themselves too much. Me and my five siblings (although we are Sunnis) were so fascinated by the electrifying atmosphere created by the chanting, chest-beating processions of mourners that we formed our own little procession in the courtyard of our house and went around beating our chests and reciting the tragic story of Karbala in Darri! I don’t recall any rioting or fights during Muharram in all the years we lived in Quetta.

This wonderful chapter of my life closed when my father decided to move to Rawalpindi after 12 years in Quetta. He loaded our life belongings, his wife and five children into a Volkswagen Beetle. All the residents of the street gathered around the car. They were all sad; some were crying. Burhay Sahib’s back seemed even more bent than it was usually and I could see tears in his eyes. There were embraces and shouts of Khuda Hafiz. The car moved forward. I saw through the rear window that not a person moved and then I lost sight of them as it turned at the end of the street.

I never went back to the city of my childhood. To visit it now would be too painful. I read about killings of the Hazaras, some taking place on Toghi road. Some of the kids that I said goodbye to that day in 1968 may have been the victims. I would never know. I mourn them all. I hope they are in a better place than this killing field they thought was their homeland.

The fruit basket that reeks of blood

By Sajjad Hussain Changezi

A childhood memory
Baabi (father), if Karachi is the city of lights and Lahore is the city of the lively, then what’s special about Quetta?”
Bacheem (son), all these fresh melons, grapes, nectarines, watermelons, and these almonds, walnuts, chilgozas, apricots, peaches and apples, did you forget all those, silly? Quetta is famous for its fruits. Mangoes, bananas and yeast are exported from here to Afghanistan and beyond…”

A joke of adolescence
Speaking to a girl from Wazirabad in Punjab, “We are scared of you Wazirabadis.”

“What for?”

“Because you belong to the city of knives and forks and we come from the fruit basket.”

The fruit basket
The city of Quetta was truly a fruit basket where people from different social classes, races and languages lived together with semi-tribal, semi-urban fraternal values.

Quetta’s Jinnah Road holds the same level of importance, if not more, as Lahore’s Mall Road. The oldest two-lane road has colourful, lighted shops on both sides and in the centre, plants planted by the municipality. A private bank is situated on the same Jinnah Road where Father, after military duty in Bengal and imprisonment in India, worked as a security guard. Sometimes I used to accompany Father to the bank and watched him water the municipality plants. I can never forget Father’s friend Khaliq Dad Kakar Chacha’s loving face. He affectionately translated my name ‘Sajjad’ to ‘Shehzad Khan’ just for himself. He had an apple orchard in Muslim Bagh and every year we used to receive crates of apples from his orchard.

The city of turbulence
Then one day, the stock exchange of religion opened up in the market of fruits. The price of humanity kept falling lower and lower in proportion to beliefs. Instead of exporting more mangoes, bananas and yeast, exports of ‘jihad’ began to increase. Even the attitudes of sweet-smelling fruits of the fruit basket became bitter. During those days when the US and the Nato troops were trying to attack the Taliban hundreds of miles away, I remember Father telling me not to get involved in any political discussions in public.

After the US captured the Afghan market, the injured and rotten fruits of jihad returned to the fruit basket to take refuge there and no one knows better than the inhabitants of Quetta that one rotten apple in a crate spoils all the other good apples.

Distances and doubts began to grow between the brotherly people of the city and the mourners of Quetta had to erect sabeels on their own. Then, bomb blasts were introduced to the city.

During those years, a dictator’s personal and institutional arrogance actually killed a leader of a tribe in such way that it still remains a mystery. In the following years, sometimes political leaders were gunned down and sometimes it was comedy drama writer Hussain Ali Yousafi who was shot down or another time, the earth was coloured with the blood of invaluable teachers like Professor Saba Dashtiyari.

Over the years, Quetta received wound after wound. In the completion of the city of sorrow, the phase where buses were constantly stopped on the way and the Hazara vegetable vendors bringing fruits and vegetables from the Hazar Gunji Sabzi Mandi were offloaded from the buses and shot dead one by one.

What has been lost and found on the journey of Quetta from being the city of fruits to becoming the city of turbulence is a long debate. Just consider that the previous generations of Quetta enjoyed fruits and now the orphaned son of the poor vegetable vendor Ali Baksh tells his mother, the widow of Ali Baksh that “Mother, I don’t want to eat fruits. They reek of blood.”