Round and round the park they go, looking for a place to park the car. The 'Central Park' is hardly that, merely a walking track around a circular market with franchise cafes, eateries, fake ferns and plastic palms.

Already his host is showing signs of frustration. Her daughter in the front seat insists they go swimming, even when the mother explains the pool is closed for maintenance. The girl agrees to go for a walk with the proviso she will have an ice cream shake afterwards. That promise extracted, could she also have a burger at the fast food franchise since it is right here?

His phone buzzes. Ihsan is calling from Peshawar. 'Where are you?' his friend wants to know.

'Islamabad. Here for the weekend.'

'Want to go to Waziristan on Friday? The Wazirs and Dawars have set aside historical tribal differences to protest against targeted killings in Waziristan together.'

Aurangzaib Khan ruminates upon the unrelenting quagmire Pakistan, and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in particular, finds itself in. When ugliness is constant, how do people react? Have the constant fear, consumerism and apathy turned those of its citizens most affected numb to the brutal realities facing the region?

'I am stuck here for a couple of days,' he says.

'I have to take the kids to participate in the tribal parlat [sit-in]. Been doing that every weekend for the last 45 days.'

'What's the response been from the authorities?'

'The usual,' Ihsan's tone turns cynical. 'Hollow promises to disperse crowds and reopen roads closed due to protests. It is the only choice left to us to force an indifferent state to respond to our security needs. Earlier we knew our enemy, now our killers disappear into the shadows.'

Ihsan is speaking of the time before the tribal areas were 'merged', before the state assumed its responsibility for security, law and order.

Later, he follows his host into the park. Her little girl, overweight and unhappy she has to walk several rounds of the park, drags her feet petulantly behind. A band of youths lounge in chairs outside a cafe, under a pall of smoke that smells like hash. Nose wrinkled, his host touches her ears for divine forgiveness and mutters: Kya ho gya hai aaj kal kay bachon ko? [What has happened to the youth of today?]

Her question stirs up words from a song. 'Too bad people say, what's wrong with the kids today; I'll tell you right now they got nothing to lose, they are building another empire.'

He looks around at the families walking in the park; children skating in a special enclosed space, gliding over the smooth concrete floor. Wide roads and orderly traffic. With the song come to mind snatches of something else from Jane Austen's letters: 'How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them!'

A real-estate empire where people, despite their constitutional and universal rights, know not who is out to harm them.

Earlier we knew who our enemy was, now our killers disappear into the shadows.


Desi is derisible. Desi lacks class, it lacks cool. Desi comes with a baggage - it is the kitchen odour permeating the air of your home, that spice of family love, the acrid green scent of patriotism from an ivy which can either be safe or poisonous. Desi implies freedom, but there is a way of conceiving freedom that is bondage.

When he suggests they go out to have chaat, Salar wrinkles his nose. The boy slumps deeper into the recliner in reluctance, all curves and angles, a discarded marionette.

'What would you have then?' he indulges the child, knowing if there is one argument against indulgence, it is this ten-year-old immersed in Call of Duty: Black Ops II - the digital war game. His stress over the tense, bloody battle dripping on to his T-shirt as he chews the spittle-soaked neck anxiously, and distractedly while playing.

'Hell-lo! I said......what would...... you...... rather have then?' he repeats, stretching words into a singsong question when Salar ignores him.

No reply. The boy is consumed by the combat. The immediacy of its death-dealing losses and self-affirming victories negate the world. A total submersion of mind and body against everything else. Against life itself, including the maddening urge to go feed or relieve himself.

Disgusted, he gives up on the boy and this ploy to go out for desi food, to leave the house and the screen in the hope it might get Salar curious about the world outside - like the people eating gol-gappas at the dahi bhallay wallah's shop on Arbab Road. The hope that perhaps he might find himself amidst the thrust of all that teeming life out there.

Stuck-to-the-screen-Salar! If ever he comes willingly unstuck from the TV or computer, it is to harass his mother into ordering junk food online. Meals at home are unappetising to a palette shaped by peer pressure inherent in the youth subculture of instant wish-fulfillment, delivered by corporate franchise...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT