The lost city
“And I reached there after travelling for days. The whole city wore a gloomy look. On the first night of the new month, everyone in the city gathered at the foot of the adjacent hill. Soon after, a strange looking monster descended from the top and everyone started running madly, until few of them panted and fell. The creature picked up the fallen and went back. I wanted to turn around but my host pulled my hand and took me away. On reaching the safe confines of his house, I asked him about this strange phenomenon? With swollen eyes, he replied: The city was a beautiful city with peace and tranquillity and suddenly we were cursed with this monster. He comes every month and takes few lives. The city is named as Neem Sheher”
This excerpt is from the famous “Qissa Chahar Dervaish” of Meer Aman’s book “Bagh-o-Bahar,” but the city is Quetta. Its famous Jinnah Road is dotted with flags coloured red, white and green. A remembrance for the lives lost in the blast yesterday. For as long as these dead bodies lived, they were Pashtuns or Hazara. Only when they died, they graduated to become human beings.
One day after the blast and two days after the dead bodies were recovered, Quetta wears a look of uncertainty. Promising panflex boards shadow closed shops. Everyone is rushing to nowhere. The shopkeepers talk to the customers but continue looking over their shoulders, searching for a probable assassin. The shopping area of Jinnah Road is few metres away from the safe haven of known as the Cantonment. On both sides of the security check-post, people live a life infested with fear. One side, however, is able to put up a brave front.
A young man in his early twenties, the shopkeeper wears a concealed look of Hazara but he does not respond when I greet in his native dialect, Persian. The language which was once a source of calm is now a motive for murder. Before I can ask more questions, he disrupts the communication and tells us that he is packing up. He works with one hand and with the other; he holds the keys of his motorcycle tightly. The reason for such behaviour, he says, is the impending fear of death. He believes that everyone here in Quetta awaits destruction.
Anytime anybody will appear from anywhere and it will all be over. Even the remains will have to wait for some time before rescue teams show up. His voice sends ripples across my nervous system; this is the terror that reigns supreme here.
The city derived its name from the Pashto word ‘fortress,’ yet insecurity dampens the air. The Hazara community are locked inside their housing societies. Their young are either moving to Australia where asylum is much easier or Scandinavia, the universal refuge of Pakistanis. Those who cannot afford the legal way, opt for the sea route of Malaysia- Indonesia-Australia. The poorest spend their time sitting in front of their houses, for regardless of the poverty their mothers still hold them valuable. Outside the society, they are chased after and eventually murdered. The menial workers from Punjab move without their ID cards under a constant threat and Pashtun killing is also on the rise. What remains behind is the Baloch community, the otherwise neglected fraction of largest province of Pakistan for the largest part of the history. Many in the privileged sides of the country ask for their responsibility and I am reminded of Dante Alighieri from Italy, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.”
Amidst the closed shops, few aged shopkeepers have refused to succumb to fear. They sit in front of their shops with eyes swollen, only recalling the days when the city “was a beautiful city with peace and tranquillity and suddenly we were cursed with this monster. He comes every month and takes few lives. The city is named as Neem Sheher.”
The author is a federal government employee.
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