ATP contributor Mast Qalandar is a chronicler par excellence of ‘All Things Islamabad’ (here, here, here, here, here). His writings on Islamabad constantly reminds us – even those of us who have lived long in the Capital city – that Islamabad is much more (and also much less) than what we think it is.
Indeed, like any other city, Islamabad is a city of many faces. That, in itself, is not unusual. What is unusual, and worthy of note, is that too many of these faces of Islamabad are totally hidden from the public discourse on the city. Including from the discourse of those who live there. This post is about one such face.
The particular face you see above is that of Masoom Bibi. It is captured here by photojournalist B.K. Bangash of AP. I have written about B.K. Bangash before and I know him from the Zia-ul-Haq days when I was a school kid writing on sports for The Muslim in Islamabad and he was already capturing amazing human sentiments on film like the ones he captures here.
To understand this face of Islamabad look also at the other photographs in the series. They all relate to the cost of living in Pakistan and how the poor in Pakistan are coping with the recent hikes in the price of everything in Pakistan. The AP caption reminds us that "in the recent months milk prices go to Rs 42 per liter from 30, prices of rice sky rocketed to double, a 20 kilograms bag of wheat flour jumped to Rs. 350 (US$5.80) from the usual price of Rs. 230 (US$3.80) and also flour became a scarce commodity."
What is immediately striking here is that this, too, is Islamabad. This is not the Islamabad of politicians, of bureaucrats, of foreign dignitaries, of buzzing streets. This is the Islamabad of Masoom Bibi.
This is an Islamabad that we ignore. An Islamabad we deny. An Islamabad we would rather wish away. Just like we would much rather ignore, deny and wish away Masoom Bibi. But here is a reality that we cannot ignore, cannot deny, cannot wish away. Masoom Bibi is real. Her challenges of daily survival are real. And so is her Islamabad.
At the end of the day, it is not just about this other Islamabad or even about Masoom Bibi alone. This reality is everywhere around us (here, here here, here, here, here, here). There are Masoom Bibi’s everywhere around us. It is all too easy to get worked up about politics. About ideology. About religion. But the lives of and the survival challenges of ordinary people are too "ordinary" for us to get excited about.
Today, we will look at Masoom Bibi with a tinge of discomfort in our heart, and we will look away. Waiting for her – or at least this post – to disappear. Tomorrow will be another day. A day without Masoom Bibi to haunt us. Tomorrow, our passions will return and the firebrand pontificates of various political and religious and ideological ilks will invade this blog again telling everyone else just how right they themsleves are and just how wrong everyone else is.
Tomorrow, we will all secretly wish, Masoom Bibi will be gone. Except, she won’t!