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Haunted by the homeland

Published Aug 13, 2012 09:31pm


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An ethnic Hazara Shia man is comforted by his relative after he arrived at the local hospital in Quetta to find a family member shot dead, September 20, 2011. — Photo by Reuters

This is the story of two boys who were forced to leave Pakistan long after the partition. The first one was so young that he didn’t know why he was leaving, the second old enough to know exactly why he had to leave, but still couldn’t stop asking: why?

Earlier this year I met a 14-year-old unaccompanied Hazara boy on a Karachi-Bangkok flight. A group of happy Pakistani businessmen were trying their Chinese language skills on him. The boy looked bewildered, he turned to me and said, in Urdu: what language are they speaking? I gingerly told the group to back off, that the kid was a Pakistani. The businessmen seemed well travelled but were quite shocked that a Chinese looking kid could speak fluent Urdu. They left us alone and started to trade the do’s and don’t of haggling in Bangkok brothels.

“Going on vacation?” I asked the boy. “All by yourself?”

“I am in class nine.” He didn’t want to be treated like a kid.

“So why aren’t you in school?”

I asked.

He told me a story, a familiar story, but I had never heard it from a kid’s point of view. “Abbu has been acting very strange lately,” he lowered his voice. He has a big store on Sariab Road in Quetta. He used to go there every day. Now, most days he just stays home. First he stopped me from going to school. Then he stopped me from going to play on the street. Then he told me that I was going to go to Bangkok.

The boy had little comprehension of the scale of the trouble his community faced. His father is one of the many businessmen in Quetta who have to make a daily choice: go out to work and risk getting killed or stay home and hope to survive another day. The kid believed his dad was just acting a bit weird.

“Have you been to Bangkok before? Do you have any family there?”

“No.” He shook his head. “I have never been anywhere before. All my sisters are in Quetta. I am the only brother. I am going to stay with Uncle Mirza.” Then with the boastful optimism of a teenager he asked me.

“Do you know Uncle Mirza? Everyone in Bangkok knows him.” It turned out that Uncle Mirza was a family friend but the boy had actually never met him. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I didn’t know any Uncle Mirza. I also couldn’t imagine what kind of life the kid would have in Bangkok.

Later in the year, a leader of the Hazara community in Quetta, Abdul Qayum Changezi, weary of attending too many funerals, told me: I have an idea. I am going to propose to the government to buy everything we have; our shops, our business, our houses, even our pots and pans.

Everything. At the market prices. And then with that money put us all onto ships and send us to any country that might be willing to take us.

That kid was the lonely boy on a ship. Uncle Mirza was the only country willing to take him.

Another boy approached me in Bombay after a book reading last year. He was curious to know about a Sindhi couplet that I had quoted. He was in his late twenties, a clean cut Bombay professional. “I am from Shikarpur,” he told me quite abruptly. I hoped that he was a visitor, or somehow had ended up there for work. Again the story was familiar. He had migrated with his parents when he was sixteen. “In the early nineties when there were lots of kidnappings in interior Sindh,” he said. Like a true Pakistani, I wanted to remind him that Muslims were also kidnapped. But he wasn’t interested in discussing persecution of minorities in Pakistan. He said he wanted to have a word in private.

We moved away from the crowd. “We came here because my parents were worried about my sisters, what would happen when they grew up.” I asked him about his life in Bombay. It was good. He was the director of a long running soap on Sony TV, had two kids and a wife. “It might seem a bit strange but I thought you might help me. For the last one year I dream of Shikarpur every night,” he told me. “I mean the dreams are different, but whatever happens, happens in the streets of Shikarpur. It’s very vivid. And the strange thing is that I don’t really think much about Shikarpur. I grew up there but that’s all in the past. I want these dreams to stop.”

I didn’t really have an answer. I mumbled something about homesickness being a universal disease. “I am not really homesick,” the boy from Shikarpur insisted. “In fact I never want to go back. I am just wondering if there is anyway I could get rid of these dreams. I can’t talk to anyone about them.”

I suggested that maybe he should write about his experiences. “There is no story,” he insisted. “We still have relatives there, why create problems for them? And why would anyone want to read about my dreams anyways? As it is I feel embarrassed talking about this. I decided to talk to you because you are from Sindh and you quoted that couplet that I liked.”

I tried to change the subject. We talked about the rise and decline of Indian soap operas. He told me that all his brothers and sister were married, well settled and have moved away from home. “Where is home?” I asked. He named a small town in the Indian state of Gujarat.

“My parents are still there,” he said. “All by themselves.” Then he reverted to the subject of his dreams. “When I wake up from these dreams, I often think about my parents. Because you see when we left I was only sixteen. I made a whole life here. They were already in their sixties when they left. And they had never lived outside of Shikarpur. They never talk about it. But I worry about them. I wonder if I can’t get rid of these dreams, what must they be going through?”

I wonder when that Hazara kid grows up in some strange land, will he be haunted by the dreams of Sariab Road?

— The writer is author of Our Lady of Alice Bhatti and A Case of Exploding Mangoes.


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Comments (74) Closed

Rehan Aug 14, 2012 10:09am
First they came for the Shias...
AayBee Aug 14, 2012 11:53am
There is big problem that we don't understand and that is the fact that some agencies which are for sure non-Islamic want Muslims never to accelerate or focus on their economy and stay strangled in problems only. This makes the agencies in creating trouble in different Muslim countries. Pakistan being a very natural resources rich country and being a nuclear power is the main target of such agencies and so far are successful in achieving their goals. These agencies have created the many sects and various groups in Islam and have been working against the true Islam since Islam the religion has been there. Lastly, I am grieved to say this that journalism in the current era has also been part of the goals of such agencies. May Allah help us all and guide us in understanding and following the true Islam.
talib hussain hazara Aug 14, 2012 12:07pm
really great,i like this article more than any other article,
anees Aug 14, 2012 11:01am
Why shame on us? Does this solve the problems? Why not think about how to get rid of these menaces?
LETS FACE IT Aug 14, 2012 10:03am
This article proves that the sickness does not end with the ill treatment of hindus or christians, which is despicable, but is much deeper and includes minorities within muslims. Unless very serious steps are taken to confront and neutralize this threat, the deadly combination of ignorance and hate will ultimately prove to be fatal for all of us regardless of our religious beliefs.
Savage Aug 14, 2012 11:04am
why you indians forget the ethnic cleansing in Kashmir...why do you easily forget the Gujarat riots (killings of Muslims) and killings of Christians (read the recent history) ... and Tell me what you did with the Sikhs? You looted their Golden Temple...and the Pakistanis preserved their Nankana sahib and other religious places in Pakistan
Saba Aug 14, 2012 10:31am
I had goosebumps
Iftikhar Husain Aug 15, 2012 11:58am
Remarkable facts it is nice to read it.
John Vicary Aug 15, 2012 11:46am
Most comical message I have ever read. Literally, roaring with laughter. I love that denial mode. Cheers.
Ehsan Aug 17, 2012 03:35pm
Sorry to say, but Pakistan's constitution of 1973 is designed to protect politicians seats and there personal interests. A state should always speak of EquALity, not of MaJority & MinoRity.
shazlicious Aug 25, 2012 08:59am
This is an amazing article!
Vijay Kumar Aug 14, 2012 10:52am
This is a common dream which haunts most of us living abroad - every weekend when I am at home thinking of my homeland but unfortuntaely been a non-muslim is extremely hard to live in Pakistan and have to leave forever for good. The childhood memories will hanut me forever.
PARVEEZ Aug 14, 2012 11:49am
SHAME ON OUR GOVERNMENT. All they want is to keep their seat, to hell with the country, and its people. I think we as a nation are dying, and only our body is living. We see nothing, we hear nothing, and we speak nothing. Yes on 14 AUGUST, we put our flags all over the country, and pretend we love Pakistan. After that we start kiling anyone who is diffrent from us, or who we don't agree with. We say God will look after us, because we are ISLAMIC nation, we have nothing in common with ISLAM.
Savage Aug 14, 2012 11:52am
Hate is a very dangerous thing if used against the humanity, especially. In the current situation in Pakistan, such things are inevitable when there is no rule of law. In such situations any nation can be lured by extremism. I strongly believe, the day we have the true leaders serving the country, the fate of the whole nation will change. No extremism, no terrorism will ever happen in Pakistan. And why would they let it happen while they all are very patriotic and peace loving people. "Total Peace" and stability can only ensure prosperity in our society and that is only possible when we help the whole nation in ; (1) providing basic amenities, better education, business opportunities (2) changing the individual consciousness (3) Rule of law and Justice for all (4) Electing the true representatives of the people / Free and Fair Election Commission. Only then can we be able follow the golden words of the Quaid i.e. UNITY, FAITH, DISCIPLINE.
aamir Aug 14, 2012 01:00pm
I disliked your comment but I could not disagree because today Muslims are safer to go to mosques then Pakistan. This is in fact a state of shame for we Pakistanis
aamir Aug 14, 2012 12:54pm
Wah wah, kiya kehne
aamir Aug 14, 2012 12:55pm
I agree totally
aamir Aug 14, 2012 12:55pm
Agreed 100%
bilal06 Aug 14, 2012 05:50am
Many Pakistanis think that they are emotional about their homeland, I disagree and believe we are dishonest and unfaithful with our country. We do know that religious extremism is the biggest threat for our country, but still we deny this reality. Not only Hazaras and Hindus are the victims of religious extremism but also Ahmadis, Christians and Sikhs. I appreciate Mohammad Hanif for writing this article.
Muhammad Aug 14, 2012 05:56am
Shame on Us; Pakistan!!!
True Indian Aug 14, 2012 06:26am
Shame on you Pakistani Muslims....Shame on you....
Imran Azim Butt Aug 14, 2012 06:34am
Shame on the extremist elements in Balochistan who are involved in this brutal ethnic cleansing of the Hazaras there. Can some one look at the contribution the Hazaras have made in Pakistan in general and Balochistan in particular ???
Mukhtar Hussain Aug 14, 2012 06:39am
I don't know what would be the feeling after reading this article to reader, many of my brother and sister have been brain drained just because of sectarian violence from Quetta, whom i think were the true prosperous image of Pakistan, but unfortunately we haven't got the tongue to express our mumbling words which we have as a Pakistani in our hearts. Even we are a sign of question mark for the so called government as a Hazara. if this process will continue the same like my community and a story of boy from Shikarpur, than i think that coming days will be so horrific.
@amchangazi Aug 14, 2012 06:48am
Dar o dewaar pe hijrat k nishaan deakh aayen Aao!hum apne buzurgon k makaan deakh aayen Apni qismat main likhen hain jo virasat ki tarha Aao! ik baar wo zakhm e dil o jaan deakh aayen Aao! bheegi howi aankho se parhain noha e dil Aao! bikhray howe rishton ka ziyaan deakh aayen Jis se takra k giray thay kabhi arbaab e khard Aao! nazdeek se wo sang e giraan deakh aayen Waqt jatay howe kya likh gaya paishani per Aao asaftagi e ahad e rawan deakh aayen toota toota howa dil lay k phirain galiyoun main kachchi mitti k khilono ki dukaan deakh aayen Roushni k kaheen aasaar to baqui hongay Aao pighli howe shamoun ka dhuwaan deakh aayen Jin darakhtoun k talay raqs e saba hota tha Sookhay pattoun ka barasna bhi waha deakh aayen Ab farishtoun k siwa koi na aata hoga Koun deta hay kharabay main aazan deakh aayen Muddatoun baad mahajir ki tarha aaye hain Routh jaye na khandar ;aaon miyaan deakh aayen
KNJ Aug 14, 2012 06:54am
What about the killing of sunni's in Quetta? This is not a one sided affair!
Ahmed Aug 14, 2012 07:45am
Yes, there are killings of moderate Sunni Deobandi ulemas by Takfiree Taliban and LeJ. Let's hope the government takes action against the killers of them, and Shias.
Manto Aug 14, 2012 08:15am
This is a very touristy type of an article. Disappointed in Hanif's lazy attempt at journalism. What will be his next topic? Some quotes from a taxi driver who turned out to be an Ahmadi? Conversations with a pagan from Kalash while smoking up in a Islamabad cafe? Hanif sahab, we expect the best from you. This article isn't one of them. Sorry to sound so harsh.
Amna Aug 14, 2012 08:24am
The main issue is within our mind sets. All of us need to shake out of passively accepting genocide, whether literal or cultural. We must act now rather than hoping the government will take action. 'Shames on us' will not help either. I propose a systematic and intelligent vigilante force that will shake Terror to its core. Remember, nothing is impossible- it just needs to be planned & executed efficiently.
sardar Aug 14, 2012 08:32am
we admit our mistakes but what the indian do with their minorities??killing of muslims in asam and your government officials are involved in these acts.extremist hindus are not ready to give rights to muslims of kashmir.not only the muslims are the target of hindus but also other communities . india starts blue star operation against sikhs and destroy their temples.
sajjadchangezi Aug 14, 2012 09:07am
Thumbs up for Ustad Mohammad Hanif, the voice of the voiceless !!!!!
@89Syeda Aug 14, 2012 09:08am
very nice and heart touching indeed.
azhar Aug 14, 2012 09:10am
i m 100% agreed with u
janjuah Aug 14, 2012 09:13am
Shame on politicians who are celebrating the independence their levish style ... we have a land (country) but without any kind of frredom we must cry today as we are not free from any fear......... wait for that day.....
Lakshmidhar Malaviya Aug 14, 2012 09:14am
My dear Changezi sahab, I am not a Pakistani, nor a Muslim and have been living in Japan for the past four decades, yet the pathos in your gazal brought tears rolling down on snow white beard of this 78 years old! I thank you for your poem. Lakshmidhar Malaviya Kyoto, Japan
Aziz Ali Aug 14, 2012 09:21am
On the day of independent where everyone is busy congradulating each other the independency, There are several Hazara and other suppressed community youth who silently whisper with himself. Homeland: we have been persecuted and slaughtered, we have been forcefully converted We have been forced to leave our businesses, offices, schools and universities.... I have no other option but to leave you...
amjad Aug 14, 2012 09:26am
the problem not only lies with the govt but also we all r resp for all what our country is going through. we all must look into ourselves and think that what we r contributing to our country. we always only crib & crib but do not think about our own mistakes
aaa Aug 14, 2012 09:27am
Everyone writes only whatever they find negative about pakistan. Good that one finds these things and points them out but i really wish that the normal everyday life should also be protrayed to an extent. People from all sects etc do live together work together. If one is hired in a bigger institue one can see all sorts of people. Noone ever mentioned that majority of the nurses in pakistan are local christians and work in all sorts of places. If i only talk of one place i worked in pindi there were all sorts of people there was even a chinese who later on got married to a colleague. They are still married. And yes she was a pakistani girl married to chinese man. A very typical pakistani girl not from some very ultraliberal family. Nepalese students came yearly to our professional institutes as they have seats on quotas and they get mingled up with everyone as if they are pakistanis and yes they are from different religions. For once highlight something positive.
AHMED Aug 14, 2012 09:33am
I nominate AAZ , Raja Ashraf and Rehman Malik for Noble Prize, PPP government is a true revolutionary democracy like many others govt before it, it has successfully made everyone leave the country just as PM GIlani had suggested. Now we have no problems to solve. I reckon now half of Indian and Pakistan population is living overseas. Indian are staying home. However, Pakistan must continue on this path because this is only way to control the exterminating or exporting our people.
TruePakistani Aug 14, 2012 09:39am
i hope KNJ got his answer! I salute the Hazara people, first they were brutally killed by Talibans in Afghan & now the same people are killing them in Pakistan!
Hassan Hakeem Aug 14, 2012 09:39am
Come over to Punjab, where like the five rivers, Balouch is a Punjabi, Pathan is a Punjabi, Kashmari is a Punjabi, Gujjar & Jatt are Punjabi, Arian, Rajput, Awan, Mirza & Syed are Punjabi & Shia / Suni are also Punjabi. And we all Punjabies are PAKISTANI.
Muhammad Aug 14, 2012 02:29pm
There might have been Human rights violations in Kashmir, or Gujrat Riots. But Karachi Burns everyday, Ahmadiyas, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Shias all suffer in Pakistan. Look at the genocide Pakistani army committed against Bengalis.
Sachcha-Hindustani Aug 14, 2012 03:31pm
Tooba Aug 14, 2012 04:18pm
very sad indeed......
Sam Aug 14, 2012 04:49pm
Sabir H Aug 14, 2012 05:08pm
Nice article,
sattar rind Aug 14, 2012 05:07pm
it might be short story for many of us. but both communities are really in trouble.
dhk Aug 14, 2012 05:27pm
so what is your solution ?
Azaad Freeman Aug 14, 2012 05:44pm
Wonderful!!! Wonderful!!! Wonderful!!!
Jehanzeb Idrees Aug 15, 2012 09:03am
Shame on Indians for what's happening to Muslims in Assam ...
AAP Aug 14, 2012 06:30pm
The only way not to solve a problem is by blaming it on others
Aaqil Aug 14, 2012 07:05pm
I really like this poem and please share the name of the poet/poetess?
Nasir Abbas <HURR> Aug 14, 2012 07:45pm
Ris Raha Hey Jo Lahu Najaney Kis Ka Hey? Ho Jis Kisi Ka meri Zameen Ke Sapooth Ka Hey Hey Jis Kisi Ka Bhi Hey Woh Nasl-E-Insaan Sey Tapak Gya Jo Lahuu Wo Bani Adam Ka Hey Hey Sub He Maaou'n Ka Rishta Faqat Ek Mamta Sey Mere Khayal Mei Wohi Rishta Lahuu Lahuu Ka Hey Wo Jiska Beta Thha.. Maa Meri Zaban Na Bolti Thhi Najaney Phr Bhi Kyu Mujhey Andazaa Uskey Dard Ka Hey Huyi Hey Raat HURR Ab Subhi Thhak Haar So Chukey Hongey Kuch Ghro Mey Bapa Matam Magar Yeh Kiska Hey?? The point to ponder is that why we are getting intolarent in Pakistan. I should accept others with whatever religious ethnic cutural background he belongs to similarly I expact that others will accept me for who ever what ever I am. I mean whats the point if we all become same in all respects? Think of a garden where each and every flower is of the same color size and scent??
Adnan Aug 14, 2012 08:13pm
I sincerely wish and pray to God that one day you come back and visit and live in Pakistan safely with your kids. Please pray for this land. I am so sad.....
H L Aug 14, 2012 08:27pm
What are you saying dude? I don't get it.
H L Aug 14, 2012 08:28pm
Stop finger pointing. You do what you are supposed to do. Prove by actions. 2 wrongs don't make a right. You are sounding like our corrupt politicians. You did this.. so what .. you also did that.
Makhdoom Aug 14, 2012 08:36pm
Thank you amna, I totaly agree, I think and suggest every to start practically to build this country, and lets get rid of corrupts
kamran Aug 14, 2012 09:23pm
i salut to dawn, for raising voice over these issues, other media groups are just money making machine. but i will like to say, dawn is revealing the disease , but they should have columinst, who shows us the cure. because we have about 50 % literacy rate. they should reveal the truth about , who is financing,to terrorist in pakistan, they should have a courage to write the name of any brother or so called sister country giving money in waziristen.
shaheen ali hazara Aug 14, 2012 11:29pm
nice article,i missed my 2 best friend from last year,they r now in australia,they travelled from indonesia to australia by boat for asylum seeker in friends r the students of balochistan university,they leave their studies incomplete.
jasus Aug 15, 2012 01:13am
Adnan: even the God has gave up on Pakistan!
sajjad Aug 15, 2012 02:31am
Every Pakistani holding a Pakistani passport should have equal rights.You come to foreign countries and once you get their nationality they treat you as their first class citizen.We have so much to learn from democratic western world and I am talking about basic values like equality , justice , respect and tolerance for others .These were supposed to be our values
Raza Aug 15, 2012 02:51am
Couldn't control my tears to come out, being from the persecuted Hazara tribe your poem really reflects my emotions. Heart touching poem
WiseIndian Aug 15, 2012 04:32am
Recently, 300+ Hindus migrated to India due to security issue in Pakistan. Pakistan should at least help Hindus to leave Pakistan in peaceful manner.
Optimistic Aug 15, 2012 06:04am
I hope and pray that you will live with us in your homeland secure and happy...dont let this be just a memory
Ghinva Raza Aug 15, 2012 06:41am
Likes Mr.Changez!! fondness, humbleness and a hint of patriotism..its just enduring..
deepak Aug 15, 2012 07:04am
so beautiful and touching.
Swapnil Aug 15, 2012 09:25am
well i totally agree with u that religious extremists are the biggest threat for pakistan not only for the minorities muslims like hazaras, ahmadiyas but also for the non muslim communities like hindus, sikhs and christians.....they are also pakistanis.......but unfortunately these are committing atrocities on their own people.......while in india the population of minorities especially muslims have been increased to 24%since 1947 while in pakistan population of non muslims (especially Hindus & Sikhs) have been reduced to 13% to less than 1% now.......its time for u to think about the dream that jinnah saw about todays pakistan is same what jinnah dreamt about?????
Swapnil Aug 15, 2012 09:27am
well i totally agree with u that religious extremists are the biggest threat for pakistan not only for the minorities muslims like hazaras, ahmadiyas but also for the non muslim communities like hindus, sikhs and christians.....they are also pakistanis.......but unfortunately these are committing atrocities on their own people.......while in india the population of minorities especially muslims have been increased to 24%since 1947 while in pakistan population of non muslims (especially Hindus & Sikhs) have been reduced to 13% to less than 1% now.......its time for u to think about the dream that jinnah saw about todays pakistan is same what jinnah dreamt about?????
Kumail Aug 15, 2012 09:38am
ShaukatFarooq Aug 15, 2012 03:56pm
My head hangs in SHAME.I hope the heads of the rulers will also hang in shame.I hope the heads of judiciary will also hang in shame.I hope the heads of Armed forces will hang in shame.I hope the heads of civil and police will hang in shame.I hope the heads of civic society and so called intelligencia will hang in shame.We need solidarity and justice.Unfortunately our ruling class does not stand for these principles.In fact they feel so unsafe in the country they rule that they are surrounded by gunmen all around.How can they protect all their couhtrymen.
Zafarullah Al Baksh Aug 15, 2012 04:02pm
Shame on Congress on whats happening to Indians (Hindus and Muslims) in Assam by the Bangladeshis
Zafarullah Al Baksh Aug 15, 2012 04:03pm
Is that your justification for killing Hazaras??
Nish Aug 15, 2012 07:13pm
You are saying this because of lack of knowledge and pre assumption. First get the real facts of the situation and then comment.
D Azad UK Aug 16, 2012 01:11pm
I hope one day our Hazara brother live peacefully in Pakistan. I have given up hop though...
Pessimistic Aug 18, 2012 06:49pm
after looking at Rinki Kumari Case and Salman Taseer - I don't think any non-muslim wants to live in Pakistan.. I will work like a servant abroad then live in Pakistan like a King.