There are many things that have become a part of me during the past 11 years since I last visited Pakistan, the country of my birth and origin. All memories. Every image, every sound remains as crisp as ever.
There was always an odd stillness in the air whenever the electricity would go out. A stillness which would be silenced by everyone in the packed household running around to either take a nap or sit outside in the garden and watch the kids pretend they were the 1999 World Cup Pakistani team.
I always wanted to be Shoaib Akhtar – my first crush as an 11 year old, following Leonardo Dicaprio and my 6th grade Social Studies teacher Mr. Haubrich.
But there is one memory in particular that I have never been able to let go of – Kashmir.
My maternal grandparents home was located in a compound in the region of Gulberg in Lahore. In 1999, Lahore was in it’s heyday. Nawaz Sharif, an unfortunate distant relative, was still in power as Prime Minister and had made his home city as beautiful as possible.
Then again, a lot of things seem more clean and modern when compared to the ever-present-dusty-dirty nostalgia that defines the streets and corners of Karachi.
Next to my grandparent’s home was the chowky-daar compound: where all the compound’s ‘security guards’ stayed. They were all Pathan, friendly and they often had their kids with them who would play around the dusty grounds with whatever toys and balls they could get a hold of.
As my cousins and I also spent a bit of time outside, we’d often hear the other children playing, laughing and screaming. They were just like us, with a thick white cement barrier standing in between. Even then, however, that didn’t stop their fulfillment of their curiousity about the kids next door. Often times, they would peer over and talk to us – sometimes. They were more often than not extremely shy.
There was one child in particular who caught my eye and my heart: Kashmir.
He was beautiful. Taupe skin, green blazing eyes which I have never encountered since, golden hair and a smile that left you in tears. And his name. Kashmir. As a Kashmiri, his name resounded with me – the beauty of his name was reflected perfectly and without hesitation in him.
He must have been around five years old. He was kind, but witty and sharp – that tongue of his was quick. He shyly smiled at the girls and was quick to get active and run around. He had not time for conversation – he had football to play and siblings to chase.
I only spent around two months in Lahore before returning to Karachi for the remainder of my six month stay. During these two months I never got to know Kashmir beyond the large white barrier that stood against us, but an irrevocable imprint was left.
Today, 11 years later and thousands of miles away, I still often wonder about what happened to Kashmir. I wonder about the sort of young man he might have become. I wonder if he’s even had that chance in a country ridden now with instability, violence and desolation. I wonder about what he’s doing, what he wants in life and where he situates himself in the slowly crumbling society around – especially as a Pathan, an ethnic group which faces much discrimination in Pakistan for being associated with the Taliban.
I wonder if he’s picked up arms.
I wonder if he’s been caught in a crossfire. Or in one of the many bombings which have shaken the region.
It’s silly, really. That a young boy of a mere 5 years old whom I met 11 years ago – and even just barely at that – still remains with me. And so deeply. These days, for some reason, he is more present than ever in my mind. Thoughts of him are not accompanied by happy memories but more so with aching speculation of his present and future.
I hope Kashmir is safe. That he is alive. That he still has that sly innocence about himself and that he, most of all, is happy.