With no words coming to my rescue, I helplessly glance down at the title of the essay: “My Father”.
Since I do not have a clear recollection of him, I can only describe him on the basis of what I have heard from my mother and other relatives. They all told me that he was caring, hardworking, a man of his word and did everything to keep his family happy. But that is it. They stop talking about him as abruptly as he disappeared from our lives. He went to work one day and never returned. We looked for him everywhere. My mother ran from hospitals to police stations and his friends’ houses to mortuaries but found no trace of him. He was gone as if he never existed.
Whilst growing up I could never understand what actually happened to him but there were times when I heard people talking in hushed tones about how he was abducted by security forces because he was conspiring against the state with nationalists working to separate Balochistan from Pakistan. I do not know how far that is true but what I would like to know is how that is possible? He was no Mengal, Bugti, Marri or Magsi. He was an ordinary man who worked day in and day out to make ends meet and put food on our table. He was least concerned about the state of affairs in Pakistan, unless they affected how frequently his family was fed.
I understand that my teachers are probably expecting me to write flowery words about him but how can I be expected to write about a man who never existed? Perhaps, it would be unfair to say he never existed. He still does in my memories. And from them, I know that he was from Turbat, one of the most beautiful places in Balochistan. He was a fruit merchant and owned a shop, known for its dates. He had raven black hair, a thick moustache, and beard that he prided upon. Every evening he would return from work with Halwa, dates or sweets, his hands were never empty. I also remember that he took me to the Koh-e-Murad once; he told me that this was a very sacred place, asking me to fold my hands and ask Allah for whatever I wanted, and that it would be granted. I remember folding my hands and praying hard for every day to be a happy day. I learnt that day that not all our prayers are answered.
Ever since I have lost him, I have been faced with a profound sense of deprivation — a feeling which is difficult for me to describe in mere words. I am surrounded by faces that strive hard to maintain an impenetrable outward façade but I know the truth. I wish I hadn’t known the truth or that my life was different and normal like the other girls sitting around me in this examination hall.
This sense of deprivation gives me heartache and fierce emotions ranging from envy to intense hatred. I loathe the girls who are accompanied by their fathers to school; I despise children who boast about bed time stories narrated by their fathers and I absolutely resent the idea of festivities. These events constantly remind me of his absence and how different my life is from other girls of my age.
Oddly, I am just as hopeful as I am angry. Every knock on the door fills me with anticipation; I instantly picture him walking through the door, a box of dates in his hands. Families get together and talk about good times but in my house, when we get together, we all huddle in front of the television praying to catch a glimpse of his face. I follow every bit of news that could be remotely associated with his disappearance. I see politicians, social workers, barristers and other influential power brokers fighting over the issue of missing persons. But what do they really know. Do they realise that my family hasn’t celebrated Eid since the time he went missing? Do they know how long and tedious our days have become under the heavy burden of this constant hope to hear news about his return? Do they care that I have spent my childhood clinging to his sweater, to pacify my senses that my father actually existed and was not merely a figment of my imagination? I don’t think they do. I don’t think that they even understand that when he was abducted, I did not only lose him but I lost my mother as well. My mother, who does nothing all day but sit by the door in wait of his return, may as well have disappeared with my father that fateful day.
Sometimes when I see people from other countries on television living lives without the horrors that we go through every day, I ask God what sins did we commit for which he punishes us this way? Why wasn’t I born in some country where people live happily and the incidents of disappearances only happen in movies? Can anybody blame me for disliking people who live far better lives than me?
Most days I wish for his safe return. But when optimism exhausts me, there are days when I think it would be better if we just found his lifeless body somewhere; so that we could finally stop searching, so that we could finally find peace.