A Tale of Two Migrations

Posted on February 6, 2009
Filed Under >Muslim Rizvi, Pakistanis Abroad, People, Society
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Muslim Rizvi

I am traveling through a tunnel towards a source of white light. I have no control over anything. I just keep going faster and faster and then there is a dazzling flash and an explosion of blinding light. I close my eyes.

I am in the courtyard of our old house in Gulberg, Karachi. I see my grandfather in his white kurta and those wide wide pajamas, stepping off his namaz kee chowki (a wooden stand for prayers). He calls my name and I run to him to help him slip on his chappals (slippers). I am probably 7-8 years old. I look at him and ask “Baba, you promised me that you will tell me a story”. Baba smiles and pulls his huqqa (hookah).

He takes a kush (inhales) and says:

“First go get me some water, but not from the fridge”.

Baba never liked the water from the fridge. I run towards the clay garha (earthen pot) and pour some water out in the silver katora (bowl). I would run all errands happily for Baba just to hear one of his stories. His stories were about three things: the one were stories about Hazrat Ali, the super hero of Islam, the second were about Agra, his home town in India and third were about migration to Pakistan. I didn’t like the stories of migration. They were too sad and the whole thing never made sense to me. These stories haunted me.

Today’s story was about Agra. I was fascinated by his tales of India. He worked as a forest officer and loved animals, He still had one dog, despite being meticulous about being pak (clean) for his prayers. The dog was named Jimmy (I learnt later that he was named after Jimmy Carter). Baba goes on and on about Agra, how wonderful it was and how Hindus and Muslims lived peacefully before the partition. I stop him:

“but baba, Hindus are kafirs (infidels), how could we live with them?”

The expressions on Baba’s face changes and he replies:

Na beta (no my son) you don’t call anyone kafir, it is a bad word. Only Allah decides who is kafir or not. A person who prays five times but cheats and lies is not a Muslim too”.

I look at him puzzled thinking but that’s not what the ‘maulvi sahab’ said. I don’t want the story to stop though so I don’t argue. Baba goes on with his story and I keep listening to him, walking the streets, smelling the air and seeing the wonders of Agra through his eyes.

There is reverence

Another dazzling flash of light

I see myself in the school bus. The bus is packed and I mean packed like a tin full of sardines. You have to wiggle your feet through a sea of dusty brown school shoes to find a place to stand. It is late afternoon and we are off to go home. I am terribly excited and I am so anxious to get home. The journey from Maulvi Tamizuddinn Khan Road to Gulberg is a long one. The bus keeps driving through the city, dropping off children at their homes. All the standing children are waiting for the seats to get empty so that they can pounce on them. Sometimes fights breakout but getting a seat is as simple as the principle of ‘survival of the fittest’. On a regular day I would be one of the stalkers as well but today I couldn’t care less. Finally my stop comes and I get off hurriedly. The bus drops me off at the corner of our ‘gali’ (street). My mom just stands outside our gate and waits for me. I see my mom and unlike a regular day I run towards her and as soon as I get close, I scream:

“Amii, mein class mein first aaya hoon”. (Mom. I’ve stood first in my class).

My mom kisses me on my cheek. I felt the warmth of her lips on my cheeks for years.

There is love

Another dazzling flash of light

I see myself outside of my house in Nazimabad number 2. It is almost midnight and everybody is outside. The men, the women, the kids, everyone is busy doing their own bit. The whole gali (street) has been blocked and there are eight or ten huge degs (big pots) on makeshift stone stoves. It is our mohallah’s haleem cooking night. It is the night of 7th Moharram. Khaala (auntie) the elderly lady who lives next to our house, is the chief chef for the night. From the beginning of Moharram, the boys have been planning this event and have collected money from every house in the gali (street) to cook the haleem. It is our annual ritual and everybody in the mohallah (neighbourhood) is involved. We live in a Sunni majority area and we are one of the only two Shia families in our gali (street) but no one cares. There is no shia sunni issue ever.

There is peace

Another dazzling flash of light

I see myself outside on my bike racing away to the library through the intricate network of streets in Nazimabad. All I can think of are the thrilling adventures of Inspector Jamshed with Mahmoud, Farooq and Farzana. I reach the library. It is actually a small bookstore with a makeshift library that rents out Ishtiaq Ahmed novels. I have to get a hold of the new Khas number (special edition) today. I have been coming everyday but they never have it. Mamoo (uncle), the library’s owner has promised me that he will have it for me today. As soon as Mamoo (uncle) sees me, he smiles and says that if I hadn’t come for another fifteen minutes, he would have given it away. I thank God and as he writes my name in the register, I wait anxiously for the novel. He hands out a four or five hundred page novel to me. I hurriedly grab it, hop on my bike and am on my way home.

There is joy

Another dazzling flash of light

I see myself in a train. We are in the 3rd class compartment and it is full of my friends. We are going on a college tour to the northern areas of Pakistan. It is almost 2:00 a.m. Most of the people are asleep. The train stops at some small station and about ten men with white shalwar kameez, white and black pagrees (turbans) and guns (and I mean big AK-47 type guns) come aboard. Most of them sit together in the front of the compartment but one of them couldn’t find a place so he comes and sits next to me. Being the fool I am, I start chit chatting with him.

“Nice gun?”, I say and he replies:

“Yes, and it kills shias too”

I am a little taken aback and being a Shia myself, am intrigued by his comment. I ask him who is the elderly gentleman with them and he replies:

“He is Maulana Akbar Butt, our region in-charge for KTDSP. He has 27 murder cases on him but three of them are bogus”

“Ah so you are from KTDSP” I murmured.

One my friends, who knew the dilemma I was in, jumped in and asked him:

“So where are you going?”

“We are on a mission!. Allah Tabarak O’ Talla has assigned us the task of cleaning up our land from those Kafirs. They disrespect our khalifas (caliphs) and sahabas and think that we will let them live. We plan to wipe out each and every one of them”

He is going on and on with his sermon of hate and I am sitting there listening to him. I had never sensed so much hatred in somebody’s voice before. What if he finds out that I am a Shia? He might let me go or he might throw me off the train or might just shoot me. They get off at the next station.

There is fear…

Another dazzling flash of light

I see myself in a classroom in my university. I am sitting in the second row and the teacher is explaining some silly logic for integration and differentiation. A bunch of guys from a political party’s student wing storm into the classroom and one of them says:

“Where is Muslim Rizvi?”

I raise my hand and he says:

“bahar aao” (come outside).

I look at the teacher and ask him:

“Sir, can I go? ”

and he replies sheepishly: “Go, go!”

I step out side the class and one of the guys pushes me to the wall, puts his hand on my chest and says:

“Do not show up for the award ceremony tomorrow”

I am dumbfounded. He repeats:

“Do not show up for the award ceremony. Do you get it?”

I meekly ask him: “But why?”

and he thunders “Don’t ask questions?” and walks away.

A few of my friends from the same political party come out of the class and I ask them:

“What the hell was this about?” and they told me:

“Muslim, you have Benazir’s book ‘Daughter of the East’ in your bedroom. You secretly support her and our party does not want a traitor to go and take the runners up trophy for our team’s efforts. It should be a party guy that takes it and you know the captain of the team that won is a Jamatee.

There is frustration…

Another dazzling flash of light

I see myself sitting on stage, dressed up in a sherwani and all. The hall is full of my family, relatives and friends. There is a loud buzz in the air. Everyone is busy talking. Suddenly the music starts playing. Everyone gets quiet. I hear somebody saying:

“dulhan aa rahee hae”(Bride is approaching).

My heart starts beating faster. I see her dressed as a dulhan (bride) walking towards me. It takes my breath away. She looks beautiful. She keeps walking towards me, surrounded by her family. She has not seen me yet. She is just looking down for some odd reason. She comes closer and when she is finally about to sit next to me, our eyes meet. Her eyes smile and I feel like the whole universe is smiling at me. She sits down next to me and her hand brushes my hand and my heart skips a beat.

There is magic…

Another dazzling flash of light

I see myself in the living room of our Gulshan-e-Iqbal home. I have been married for one week. My whole family and some extended family are locked away in one room. I am sitting on my knees and three strangers standing around me with their guns pointing at my head. One of them starts searching me, takes out my wallet, takes the cash and throws away the wallet. They have already taken all the cash and jewelry from my mother. They command me to stand up and then they lock me with my family and leave. Now the police are here. The police wallah is asking me the details, so I go through the whole story and he asks if they had any guns and I tell him that yes all three of them had guns. He asks again:

“Asli theen?” (Were they real?).

I look at him in disbelief and don’t know how to respond to this question. He said:

“Kher (ok) but they were only three. You had more than ten people in the house, why didn’t you grab them?”

I am furious now and I speak with a shaking voice:

“Are you saying that I should have risked the lives of my family and fought with three men with guns?”

and he mumbled:

“Ok ok aik tu yeah Karachi wallay baRay buzdil hotay hai”.

He left. I am sitting here wondering what happened and what was worse, the whole experience of going through an armed robbery or dealing with the police.

There is disgust…

Another dazzling flash of light

I see myself sitting in an airplane. I am leaving Pakistan for good, never to return. I am not going to raise my children feeling the same disgust, the same frustration and the same fear. The plane is about to take off. I feel the warmth of my tears rolling down on my cheeks. It is not like the migration that my parents and grandparents did. It is a different kind of migration but still I can`t seem to stop the tears.

There is pain…

Another dazzling flash of light

I see myself on the streets of Toronto. I have been in Canada for two days. I just walked out of a bookstore and I am little lost in my thoughts. I did not see the car coming as I stepped on the road to cross it. The car stopped and I stopped as well. I was expecting the driver to shout:

“abay andhay¦teray baap kee road hae kia?” (O blind one. Is this your father’s road)

That did not happen. The driver politely waved me to cross first. I had heard this about people from Lucknow but never about Canadians. I am impressed.

There is admiration

Another dazzling flash of light

I see myself walking down the Clifton hill road with my son towards Niagara Falls. This is the first time he will see Niagara Falls since he has started understanding and admiring things. He looks at me and asks:

“How far are we daddy?” and I reply:

“We are almost there, beta (son)”.

I can feel his grip on my hands tightening as we get closer and hear the sound of the waterfall. He is in awe as he gets his first glimpse of the falls. He wants to take a closer look so we move right to the edge. I could feel his grip tightening on my hand. I ask him:

“What is wrong? Are you scared?”

and he innocently looks at me and says:

“I am not scared for myself daddy. I am just scared that you don’t fall in there”.

There is love again…

Another dazzling flash of light

I see myself in my home, just outside of Toronto. My son comes running in. He is about eight years old. He is very excited. He comes to me and says:

“Daddy, the new neighbors have moved in. They are also Urdu like us”

I smile at him and say:

“Beta (son) they are not Urdu, they are Pakistanis like us”.

He asks me:

“Daddy, how is Pakistan?”

I reply:

“Beta (son), Pakistan is beautiful”.

He pops another question:

“Daddy, can we go to Pakistan in the summer”.

I pause for a moment and then reply:

“We will beta (son), but not this summer, the situation is very unstable right now. It is a dangerous place for you to be. We will go there when things get better”.

He walks away and I wish that he could understand.

There is disappointment

Another dazzling flash of light

I see myself sitting on stage, next to my son. He is dressed up in a sherwani and all. The hall is full of our family, relatives and friends. There is a loud buzz in the air. Everyone is busy talking. Suddenly the music starts playing. Everyone gets quiet. I hear somebody saying:

“dulhan aa rahee hae” (bride is approaching).

My heart starts beating faster. I see her dressed as a dulhan (bride) walking towards us. It takes my breath away. She looks beautiful. She keeps walking towards us, surrounded by her family. She has not seen us yet. She is just looking down for some odd reason. She comes closer and I get up and give my seat her, right next to my son. She smiles at me I feel the whole universe is smiling at me.

There is magic again

Another dazzling flash of light

I see myself in bed, old and haggard. My wife, my son and my daughter- in- law are close to me. My wife is holding my one hand and my son holding my other hand. I look at my son and say:

“Beta (son) I am sorry, I took Pakistan away from you”.

There is sorrow…

Another dazzling flash of light and then nothing!

About the Author: Muslim Rizvi is working as a Solutions Manager for an IT service company. He is based just outside of Toronto, Canada . Muslim is a writer, a poet, a painter, a playwright, an actor and a director and has been associated with theatre for over a decade. These days however, he is playing the role of a full time father and in his own words: the artist in me died when a father in me was born.

Credits: This article was also posted at chowk.com with the title ‘From Agra to Niagara’. Some of the photos for this post have been taken from flickr.com. For flickr photos, clicking on them will take you to their source website

82 responses to “A Tale of Two Migrations”

  1. ShahidnUSA says:

    You are an artist and a good dad. You leave impression and in touch with your sensitive side, you are gifted. A fair balance is also an art and would help you to be less dipressed and less negative. Pardon me if that sounds to you an unnecessary psycological evaluation.
    Bad event can occur anywhere and you could have stayed home and avoid those hateful men in the train but then how would we know that such disease exist and spreading. Where your experiences and observances help us to build our thought process, a solution or a recomendation, even an incomprehensive and inconceiveable in your mind would be considered as an effort and appreciated by positive minds. You can set the rules.
    To leave your birth and childhood place, where you are loved
    and live far far away is a painful parting pain but a positive move and you can always build another loving sorroundings in your adopted country with your attitute or stay dipressed and set a bad example. Your choice.
    When a person ask me about my ethnicity, I feel complimented for the interest and proudly tell them about my pakistani origin.A concern would be appreciated but a negative reaction based on that information would only reveal the persons ignorance. To think all pakistanis like hot and spicy food is generalisation because I never did. My choice.
    When a pakistani politician or a public figure protest, I see them as reacting to their own failure.
    When a pakistani woman complain on tv about the government, I see as indirect complaining about the society and I see the real victim. She is too decent to question her religion and culture.How do you expect her to raise a positive and healthy minds.
    Do you know who violated her rights?
    A duty for all of us.

  2. Bloody Civilian says:

    The piece is absolutely beautiful and it has naturally struck a chord with so many. What we must take from it, which probably has not been pointed out here, is that the real enemy of us all are the hateful murderers killing people just because they belong to one religion or sect or another. I have a feeling that the experience with such murderers on the train was one that the author probably would have found most difficult to put down to mere bad luck or the necessary phases of struggle that a new nation must go through and bear.

  3. Yousuf says:

    Excellent article ..and it took me back to the Habib days when there was ‘half day’ and buses were super full.

  4. AbuMaleeha says:

    very well written Rizvi…
    career after PdPain…eh!?
    Another dazzling light…
    I am out of PdPain

    There is joy :)

  5. Gorki says:

    Mr. Rizvi has woven a beautiful and a richly textured tale told with deceptive simplicity. The fact that it has generated such enthusiastic responses from many readers attests to the power of its storytelling. Clearly it has touched a special chord in many of us. For example, I can exactly echo another reader, Bhupinder, that substitute Lahore for Agra, and it could be my tale as well.

    Yet as I see it, it is, essentially a tale of human experience told by a sensitive soul. While Mr. Rizvi uses the background canvas of a migrant experience, he deftly describes a rich and a full life, lived well. It is a tale of a reverent grandson, a loved son, a spellbound and doting husband, an apprehensive migrant and a loving father and a parent. It is a tale of all of us.

    Migration has been a part of human experience as old as humanity itself. It does not matter for whatever the reason or how well our adopted land treats us; we all carry our lands of birth in a little nostalgic corners of our hearts. It is said that Emperor Babur founded an empire in India, yet he longed to see the snows of his native Ferghana while on his death bed.

    I believe that those who want to read some kind of a political statement in the above story may be missing the point or reading too much into it.

    Leaving Pakistan (or another homeland) for any greener pastures, for whatever reasons is not any kind of an act of betrayal or of condemnation of ones country. One can only imagine that if we could fly out only a couple of hundred miles in space and look back at Earth, one does not see an India or Pakistan, a US or Canada; only a small beautiful blue planet that we all call home.

    Pakistan (or India) is not a geographical entity but a state of mind, present wherever Pakistanis live. That these people like Mr. Rizvi or Dr. Nijam (or most readers of this site) live far from home and enrich another part of the globe is admirable. In the process they enrich and honor Pakistan as well.
    After reading the above article, I am reminded of a poem by an Englishman, Rupert Brooke, written in another context and another time about his own country; yet if one were to substitute our own native country instead of England (Pakistan in this instance), it would be just as relevant. The words are as follows:

    If I should die, think only this of me:
    That there’s some corner of a foreign field
    That is for ever England. There shall be
    In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
    A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
    Gave once her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
    A body of England’s, breathing English air,
    Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home

    Thus wherever a Pakistani lives, and breathes, and yearns for the sights and sounds of Pakistan, that place becomes a small Pakistan in itself (and India, in my and Bhupinder

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