How do you stand still
In the whirlpool of oppression
When tyranny’s rank smell
Swirls from your own soul…
*—“Tyranny”, by Shahryar Rashed*
It has been hard to find the words for this piece, and what normally takes a matter of minutes has fomented and turned over in my mind for over 48 hours. Yet the words refuse to come, and my mind’s fugue becomes the skin of my own conscience, calloused over with too many considerations, too much fear, too many silences. I have been in a somewhat catatonic state since the news of the violent assault on Raza Ahmed’s car hit the television screens: images of the blood stains against the door, the shattered glass lying on the seat next to an innocuous hair brush, just like the one I use and which rests on the counter in the relative safety of my home, haunt me as I try to go about the daily task of making sense of what has become of our lives, our beloved country, our reasons to live.
I have known Raza since before he became “Rumi”. He was a spiky-haired probationer at the Civil Services Academy when he would visit our mother’s home with his colleagues, most significant among them the young woman who would become his wife and bear his two children. I have known her, Sumaira Samad, since the time she was born, and had seen her blossom into an intelligent, passionate person with strong views on things she felt strongly about. Born into a home where books lined the walls and where every conversation with her father was an intellectual journey, it was but fitting that Sumaira should find a partner in Raza, a well-read, passionate young man for whom the sky was the limit.
I was a part of their lives when their children were born, and a friend to visit and gossip with about Lahore’s social scene, an elder sister to Sumaira when her move back from Manila brought home the insecurity of the country she was returning to, and a buddy of Raza’s with whom I would almost always converse in Cockney English, for some absolutely unfathomable reason other than the fact that it made us laugh and made us feel alright about being silly at the best of times.
But that is not how things are now, not after the fact that we almost lost Raza to the bullets of the killers who took the life of Mustafa; the young man who was entrusted with ensuring that the little ones got to school and back on time and safely; who was always there, who was always willing; who was murdered by those who only know how to hate and destroy — killed, because he was doing his duty for his employer. Mustafa left behind a young wife and nine others who depended upon him. Raza was the target, for his outspoken views on the evil which lurks among us, perhaps within us. Mustafa was the one who got in the way of the hail of bullets.
Yesterday Sumaira attended the funeral of Mustafa in his hometown of Kasur. I can hear the sorrow piercing the silence, I can smell the grief as it permeates the four corners of an ordinary home with brick walls and a brick floor, sadness now built into the edifice of that home. I can imagine Sumaira’s shock and disbelief as much as I can imagine the relief knowing that Raza has survived. But what a price to pay for believing that the state shall protect your right to express yourself without reservation; without fear of violent retribution! At Raza’s home I meet the Minister for Information and Broadcasting. I cannot stop myself from asking how many more have to be buried before reality sinks in and action is taken to stop the senseless brutality which seems to have deadened our consciousness and dulled our sensibility to what should be, what should have been? I get no answers, for all around me is the deafening sound of silence, the terrible acquiescence to tyranny, for “how do you keep/ the stitches of your soul intact/ when tyrants carry clippers … can darkness hide stains/which the night of tyranny/itself has etched into our souls?”