Sunday, May 12, 2013

What now, Imran?

Dear Imran,

We bought the T-shirts, donned the bandanas, waved the flags. We flew in from London and New York. We tweeted, face-booked and blogged ourselves into the world. We trolled like gangsta’s (and sometimes like jackasses, but hey, we’re new at this; we’ll learn finesse). We dragged our grandmothers out to vote.  We clutched our hearts and cried without shame when the anthem reverberated through D-Block. Yes, Skipper. We rocked the voter turnout.

But at the moment, we’re in a little bit of pain. Because most of us don’t—uh—we don’t belong to KPK. As TV screens showed the celebratory firing on the streets of Peshawar, we felt a little left out. We also felt something else: slight unease We troll, yes, but—uh—we wouldn’t have fired AK-47’s at your victory. Most of us don’t own guns and the only turbans we’ve ever worn were chunri (on that one cousin’s mehndi). Our sisters wore the Karma-inspired kurtas (not a light blue shuttlecock burqa) to the polling station. And thrilled though we are that you won in KPK, we kind of want to know: Who voted for you there, Skipper? How did their vote count more than ours, when we love you no less? You couldn’t defeat the nihari-grubbing Shareefs but you plastered Bilour? You don’t even speak Pushto, Imran Khan-Niazi! How come MQM harassed Karachi voters but no bomb went off at a Peshawar polling station?

Don’t get us wrong, we love you no less. We’re reaching for the nausea bag when reading Sharmila’s tweets to Maryam Baji. We’re quietly bearing the peeli taxi and bullet train jokes. We’re biting our lip and looking away when, each time we leave the house, the gawandian da bacha sings “Shikari khud yahan shikar ho gaya”.

We’re sulking quietly but we’re wondering: What now, Skipper? Our cousins in Peshawar are taunting us with pictures of a glittering Dubai-esque skyline with the caption, ‘Naya Peshawar.’ Is that true, Imran? Will you really develop Peshawar till it rivals Dubai? Some of us are so tired of PML-N taunts that we’re ready to learn Pushto and migrate, if you are. But some of us (especially if we’re girls who’ve actually been to Qissa Khwani Bazaar) are worried. We’ve heard that you made a deal with the devil in those parts, that you think that the gardens of Peshawar will be rebuilt by talking with the Taliban.

Talib-e-Ilm to HUM hein, Skipper. Take a good look at your latest voter. Ok, maybe we’re a little scared of getting ‘garmi mein kharab’ but when we sit home under the UPS-fan, we cram for exam after exam. We’ve studied World History and Political Science. We know that Appeasement has never worked, not when Chamberlain tried it with the Nazis and not ever since. We understand that your win in KPK places a bigger challenge for you than the Shareefs’ win in Punjab places on them. Their motorways are built. Their Metro buses are running. Their niharis are flowing. But we’ve heard that the lights have stayed off in Peshawar for years now. We want to know, really: Can you switch them on again? Will trees be replanted? Will hospitals be rebuilt? Will girls be allowed to go out to school, the way their mothers were allowed to go out to vote?

Yes Captain, I see you weren’t expecting my questions, not after I gushed my school-girlish support for you a couple of days ago. This is Naya Pakistan and you’ve created a monster. You didn’t just create first time voters. You carved out a new quality of electorate, one that asks questions. New questions, harder questions, questions from more directions will spill out of the drawing rooms and into social media, into the streets, into D Block. We’ll ask more questions from you and we won’t stop asking them of the Shareef baradaran either. But rest assured, if you need our help to create some answers, we’re standing alert and attentive, wondering how to help. Don’t underestimate your voter in loyalty nor intelligence and initiative, Captain. We pride ourselves on being a new kind of party-supporter: we’re not peasants in rural areas. We don’t belong to just one province. We already have laptops.

We gave our loyalty to a party in 2013. We’re ready to learn how to help that party become bigger and better and stronger. For the next five years, we’ll be hunting the lion—for a flaw in its policies and its work ethic.

Count on us, Skipper. We aren’t going back to sleep.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Voter Turnout

Dear Imran,

I was a schoolgirl in the 80’s and I know you. I remember the excitement of the Brookebond ad, the value of your autograph. I remember the pages in slambooks dedicated to you. I know who my boy-cousins and chacha’s were pretending to be when they swung a bat over their shoulders and sauntered onto a cricket pitch, the way a teenage Waseem Akram used to look at you. That’s right, Skipper, my generation remembers all that.

I also remember the day your beaming face lifting the World Cup was banned from national TV. My nineties-born boy cousins were named ‘Imran,’ they live with that name today. I remember one of Jemima’s earliest interviews when she said she knew her husband ‘was popular in Pakistan—but she had no idea he was this popular.’

‘Bimbo,’ I thought…along with the rest of the women in this country. ‘Where did you come from?’ Who could like that woman for marrying…and then leaving…Imran Khan… ‘No Hugh Grant ever matched up, huh Jem?’

I watched with unease when you were ridiculed in politics, when flibbertigibbets like Nadia Khan could smirk publicly at you. When you shed the playboy shirts and donned the awami suit. You made my heart sink with your vote on the Women’s Bill. I winced as you talked about the Ahmedis. ‘Who is he, really?’ I wondered. But my eyes were also opened by the way my students—now men in their 20’s—began to attend your jalsas. And then, when my sister skyped in to tell me that my seven-year-old nephew all the way across in Liverpool, dropped his plastic cricket bat and began sobbing loudly, heartbreakingly, at the sight of your bloodied face being carried away from the forklift. It’s happened all over again.

One nation held its breath at precisely the same second, last night, when you tumbled off that forklift, Skipper. We held our breath and reached for each other, de-ja-vu washing over our hearts. You’ve made us hold our breath countless times before: West Indies, India, Sharjah, the World Cup. But not quite like this. We exhaled together when we heard you were ok, ignoring partisanship to look each other in the eyes to read the same thought: We cant afford to lose…this man.

There was nothing play-boyish, nothing glamorous about your face looking out at us from the hospital bed. There were 60 years etched in those lines, pain in those puffy eyes. But it gave us goose bumps to hear what you had to say. I never watched cricket. I never believed in politics. Until you, Skipper. For years, I’ve heard the drawing room talk lamenting our leadership crisis. Last night, despite ourselves, we saw a Leader.

I disagree with you on so much but you make me determined to fight for it all. If you get elected, someone might actually listen. Looking at how you’ve persevered through the last 17 years till all turned to look twice: this makes me believe in democracy in a way that the Bhutto legacy or the Shareef baradaran never could. I’m coming to believe in democracy, thanks to you, Skipper. For so many years, we’ve waited for a moment to feel our collective heartbeat, for a moment to celebrate. Beneath our sarcasm and skepticism, our blood—though these days it trickles rather than flows—remains forever, green. 

I am 37 and I’ve never voted. This morning, I sms-ed my ID and noted my polling station. This morning, I fished around in my ilmari for a green dupatta to iron for the 11th.  This morning, I let Junaid Jamshed sing ‘Inshallah…’ in my car as I dropped my daughter to her school. Even though I boycotted his lawn this year over his comment that women shouldn’t drive, even though I share no beliefs with that man, I clutched at the steering wheel and joined my voice with his: InshAllah…InshAllah. Voter turnout will determine the election? Well then. This voter will turn up.

‘Come on, Imran.’ I remember the way the commentators used to say it as the crowd’s feet began to thump in the stands, soft and so slow at first, then louder, much louder, gaining speed…as you gained speed. ‘Come on, Skipper.’

You have a people to lead.