Those who have spent long and relaxing trips may know precisely what I am talking about. It is this point, this turning point of the voyage. It is this instant, when worries, mundane worries like load-shedding, paying the internet bills (utility bills keeping parents in mind), your CIE result which is just around the corner and feeding the cat, who you’ve safely handed over to the vet for the period of your journey, no longer haunt you. You have finally untied yourself from the frágil and uncomfortable feeling towards the nouveau customs, traditions and culture of the country. You have obviated all kinds of fear and trepidation; and now you comprehend what is going on around you, and you feel open to make comparisons, admire and breathe freely in this foreign land. Yet, this liberation does not embrace the remains of the self you have shed. From now on, every step you take will not be as an ordinary Qirat with ordinary worries, but as a Pakistani searching for her identity in every stride of the way.
This turning point occurred on my trip to Oman. We were staying in Salalah, a city unique and mesmerizing in its natural beauty. A true work of God, an amalgamation of waterfalls, beaches, deserts, tropical plantations and the most peaceful hills just around the corner. As I woke up in a dilapidated hotel in the middle of a desert, I stared out of my window. An old man shuffled past, splitting a piece of almond bark with a small, rusty scythe. A woman bent over an artificial stream, washing clothes; a boy led a donkey, playing a tune on his flute.
Yet, the best part was waking up to the sunrise that is so extraordinary in reality and so little to be caught with a camera. A vast stretch of camel coloured sand with an ascending orb of red, orange and yellow mixed in the most beautiful of proportions, you can but stare in awe. And even in these moments, while you are drinking in the incredible splendor of the foreign land, your mind unconsciously goes astray, back to home, and connections and reminiscences made. Every desert reminds you of Thal/Tharparkar and all those seas of sand, you could never visit. Every beach reminds you of Karachi, a city targeted by horrors the like of target killings and open murder, yet you discard those morbid thoughts, after all, it is a part of your country, your legacy. Every sunrise and sunset reminds you of electricity wires, with random birds perched on top, set out against a backdrop of red/orange/russet/violet/deep blue skies, with a cumulus or two afloat. Every hill-station reminds you of an overpopulated Murree, an immaculate Swat, and no beauty of whichever country you are in can touch you like home does, because home belongs to you. The slight patter of rain takes you back to last summer when you were jumping in puddles, frolicking in the heavy monsoon downpour. When you slipped on the driveway, flat on your back, feeling the rain on your face. You close your eyes in ecstasy. And then darkness.
An hour later as I sat in the rundown makeshift cafeteria of the hotel, still deep in these thoughts, the waiter asked me if I would like more ‘chai’. The word hit too close to home, and every word closer to Urdu opened another chapter. The waiter brought papers to be signed in for our check-out, legal obligations, being tourists. Dad searched his pockets for a pen, when the smiling waiter said, ‘Qallam?’. I guessed what he meant even before he pulled out a pen from his breast pocket. And there again. ‘Qallam’ was pen here. ‘Qallam’ meant pen in classrooms that were an eight hour flight from Lahore. So was ‘Duniya’, ‘Kursi’, ‘Sawaal’, ‘Jawaab’, ‘Qareeb’, and I guessed there would be a thousand more words in common had I dwelled deeper.
A thousand connections we could make with an Omani waiter, right there in the hotel of an unmarked desert. Links and connections will discover their way athwart maps; they will mount across deserts, swim past seas and rivers, brave tides, burgeon over mountains. They will grow dimmer, yet they will never die. They will be reignited, and evolve differently perhaps, they would however remain. Sometimes evident, sometimes misapprehended, sometimes lingering, sometimes restless. But remain, always.