Wednesday 16 October 2013

A Pakistani Dream (including some Goats being sacrificed)

It all started from a tweet. I don’t remember who tweeted it. All I know is that it mentioned a fantastic opportunity. I was facing a rough time in those days. Due to a quirky mixture of fate, my own failings and administrative errors, I was among the three people from my class of medical graduates that didn’t get a job. I spent days marching up and down the corridors of my college and the hospital attached to it, in pursuit of the job. There was little light at the end of that tunnel, and at times, it felt as if there was no tunnel either. I was surrounded by despair. I seriously thought about leaving the profession at one stage. It was only because of my parents and their supportive phone calls from hometown that kept me going. Amidst all that, I saw that tweet.

It was about a fellowship in the United States(by a Think Tank)  being offered to fifteen young Pakistanis with leadership skills. I should confess that I have never been comfortable with the title ‘leader’ ( too much resposibility on my frail shoulders eh). Anyhow, I thought I had the relevant experience to be considered for this fellowship.It was already the last ten days of April and the deadline for submitting the application was on the first of May.  I filled up the form, answered the lengthy essay questions, contacted two people to provide references(one was my Professor of Pathology, the other was one of my editors and mentors). I managed to send it before the deadline. 

I managed to get the job at the hospital after countless pleadings and arm-twisting. Within a fortnight, I had received a call from the Think Tank. There was a Skype interview, which went reasonably well(at least according to my standards). Then there was an in-person interview in Lahore for which the interviewer flew all the way from the US to Pakistan. That went alright as well(I still think I gave some stupid answers ). After a few hiccups in the selection process created by certain people with whom I had been associated in the past, the final call came.

I was sleeping in the living area of my house on a mattress, and woke up at the usual time to get ready for hospital(6:50 am, Pakistan Standard Time). A week before that, there had been a major strike in our state’s hospitals and most of the doctors(including myself) had abstained from working at the hospitals due to attack on one of our hostels and arrest of many of our colleagues. I had spent that whole week glued to twitter and had written three emotional blogs on that topic for Pakistani newspapers(Self-Promotion Alert:My work was even mentioned in Foreign Policy Magazine during that time). While the strike had ended after a week, we were facing a high patient load in our wards. I was supposed to fly to Karachi that evening(for the first time in my life) to attend the inaugural Indo-Pak Social Media Summit.

As has been my routine over the last few years, my first chore after waking up is to stop the alarm and then check my mails and facebook. There was a mail from the Think Tank’s director. My eyes were still hazy when I opened the mail. After going through the first line which mentioned that I had been selected, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I felt as if I was still watching a dream. I read it again. And again. And again. And then I jumped. I jumped up and down the living room. It was a moment of pure joy, something I had waited too long for. I don’t remember what happened during the rest of the day, partly because I was delirious. Until I reached the airport for the Karachi Flight. It was Thursday, 12th July, 2012.

Three months after that day, I was waiting for my Visa. I had submitted the Visa application and had undergone the interview process. Six people out of fifteen from our group had received their visas within a month. I was among the people who hadn’t gotten it yet. We had a pre-departure briefing a day before the flight. Despite the uncertainty that I might not make it, as my visa was yet to materialize, I decided to drive to Islamabad anyway.At that point in time, six people out of fifteen had yet to receive the Visas. I packed my bags and left Lahore. I was almost a 100 Kilometers away from Lahore that I stopped at a gas station. There was a long queue there so I checked my email during that time. There was an email from our contact at the U.S Embassy. He wrote in the first line: I have good news and bad news. Three out of six have gotten their visas, the other three are still on the waiting list.
My heart sank. I didn’t want it to go all downhill at that point. I had invested too many hopes in this venture. At first, I didn’t want to read those three names. What If my name was not there? What would I do? Go back? No, I thought, I am NOT going back, come what may. After making that mental decision, I glanced at my mobile screen again. The first name wasn’t mine. Nor was the second. Then I read the third name. I HAD MADE IT. I had almost the same feeling that Archimedes had, while discovering the principle now used in fluid dynamics. While Archimedes was in a bath at that time and ran out naked, shouting Eureka! Eureka! I was not in a bath, and not naked. So I just decided to share the happiness around. Called my dad and texted all the friends who had cared enough to keep tabs on my progress.

The drive(of more than 300 Kms) from Lahore went smoothly until I was almost 90 Kilometers from Islamabad. My car engine got very very hot and the thermostat needle was going through the roof. I had fortunately brought a spare bottle of car coolant with me. I tried pouring it at the requsisite place. It didn’t work. I had no chance but to drive somehow to the nearest service station. It was about 20 Kilometers away and I couldn’t drive at a speed more than 20 Km/hour on the best built motorway in Pakistan. Somehow, I managed to reach the place. It took the mechanic almost four hours to fix the problem. Thankfully, I was in Islamabad by mid-night.

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 4 a.m. on 27th October, 2012. It was Eid-ul-Azha in Pakistan on that day. It was the first time in my life that I was not going to be home for an Eid. During the 17 hour journey, I kept remembering everything we usually did on Eid Days.

A typical eid day at my house starts very early, by the call for Morning Prayers. I usually sleep late on the nights before eid, so it is always hard waking up so early. The grumpy, sleepy me then take a bath and get ready for Eid Prayers. Eid Prayers have different timings, with our sect(the Wahabbis, similar to the Saudi version of Islam) leading this race. I have had to participate in prayers as early as 6.15 am.!! Other sects have prayers a little later(many people just wake up and drive around to find which time suits them the best and join that congregation). Traditionally, eid prayers are supposed to be held in big grounds, so that more people can participate.  During the drive to the place, the roads are clean(probably the only time in the year, courtesy the municipal corporation) and slaked lime is scattered along the roads, giving the whole occasion a festive look. People dressed in traditional shalwar kamees dresses move towards the Prayer place.

After the prayers, there is a small sermon(although it depends on the Mullah, who tries his best to prolong it) followed by a prayer for proseprity in the coming year. Afterwards, evevryone hugs their relatives/friends(this goes on throughout the day).Due to some quirky reason that I have yet to find, people hug each other three times, in a robot-like sequence(I refuse to do this and almost wrestled a few cousins in the last two years by putting a kibosh after one hug). On Eid-ul-azha, people are in a hurry as soon as the prayer finishes. This is because they want to find butchers to sacrifice the goats/cows. Because of a disparity between the number of customers and service-providers, a lot of makeshift butchers also throw their hats in the rings. People who can’t find a butcher in time resort to trusting the temporary butchers(a diverse category actually, some are clerks, some are policemen, some from other professions).

After the sacrifice, the meat has to be divided into three equal parts. One part is supposed to go to people who can’t afford to buy meat, one part for relatives and the last part is for the consumption of the family that made the sacrifice. I personally do not witness the act of slaughter(despite watching enough blood and gore in the hospital) but many parents ask their kids to watch, a practice that I find disgusting. Following the sacrifice, people make packets of meat in shopping bags, for the purpose of distribution. People who sacrifice every year find a horde of beggars outside their homes, begging for the meat packets.

While men are busy in all this fuss, the real enjoyment on Eid is reserved for the ladies. They get to wear new and sometimes fancy dresses, apply henna on their hands, wear bangles, and visit relatives.
Following eid, most streets of Pakistan resemble sets of Zombie apocalypse movies, with intestines and offal of slaughtered animals littering the streets. Happens every year. Is not a pretty sight to watch.

Being the Grinch that I am, I do not always enjoy Eid. I feel that its terribly boring. I spend a good part of the day sleeping or on the Laptop. During med school years, I was usually worried on Eids because of approaching exams. But even after graduation, my enthusiasm didn’t increase. In fact, I was on duty last year on the third day of Eid-ul-Fitr(which follows the month of Ramazan).

My cousins who live abroad, tell me that they can’t feel the ‘spirit of Eid’ when they are in other countries. I wonder if I would miss this as much If I leave?    

1 comment:

  1. Maybe if you tell us more about your inner feeling on the day of Eid as well, you will miss eid when u read this post after you left the country. LOL, Abdul, wedding is boring; eid is boring. Would you please tell us what is interesting happening in Pakistan? :D