A conversation with my shadow, longing to go back to the city of my birth, a city that I adore and love but somehow feel abandoned by her. What I find is that it’s me who had abandoned her in her time of need and maybe its too late. The readers are to judge whether I should be allowed back by her or not.
Me: 25 years, it’s been 25 years, why did I come here?
Shadow: I don’t know, still cannot figure out why you did that.
Me: What’s left in Lahore?
Shadow: Graves, Abba, Dada, Nanee, Khaloo, all that’s left are graves, there is nothing else to go back to.
Me: Who takes care of the graves?
Shadow: Lahore does, it’s not a city you know, it’s a being, alive with a spirit. You abandoned the city, but it still cradles and takes care of its loved ones.
Me: Lahore does not let me stay for more than three days, I just go there and come, touch and go.
Shadow: You abandoned her when she needed you the most, the soil is like a mother and once you abandon your mother, all relations fail, you have been a traitor.
Me: I swear I did not do it deliberately, I love her, I loved her; She’s the city of my birth, the sands of my time have been spent there, every breath, every step, every hope I have is associated with her. It had never been my desire to leave but the circumstances had been such that I just departed. If you ask me why, I do not know. Maybe I did not know how to live a meaningful life and now in this city of glass, glitz and glamor, I find no place to rest.
Shadow: So, what? A deserter is a deserter isn’t it. Have you ever come across a family, an army, a tribe who takes back in its fold a backstabber? No, he’s killed or condemned to a far-off place. Ever wonder why Samri was tossed out by God for being a thankless and a bitter soul after all what Moses (AS) had done for him.
Me: But there must be a way for me to get back?
Shadow: Way! No one wants you there anymore.
Me: Why, why can’t I get back, I can still immerse in the aroma of my childhood, I want to go back, I beg you, plead with you.
Shadow: What do you know of the city that you left behind? Whom did you leave it to? Every brick in the house, even the mortar in the foundations has a role to play. Where were you when Lahore crumbled? It needed you then, now that you yourself are depleting, there is absolutely no role for you to play anymore. You weren’t asked to leave but left at your own accord. Now you know nothing, nothing about her.
Me: I will learn, I swear I will, I will make up.
Shadow: Huh, she’s moved on Najib, you are not even a memory anymore. Remember the last time you were there, and you longed for anyone to recognize you in the markets and on the streets. Did you hear anyone calling your name, even a whisper? The only person to remember you was the Gorkan (Undertaker) at your father’s grave, that’s it. Lahore has forgotten you and you are a national of nowhere.
Me: Tell me, what should have I done?
Shadow: Planned, there should have been a plan to consider, to help her, to return to her and to participate in her times of need. But, you even left without saying goodbye, didn’t you?
Me: How’s she doing?
Shadow: There’s no water in river Ravi anymore. Remember the last time you went to Ravi, Kamran’s Baradari could only be reached by a boat! There is no water in Ravi anymore, do you hear me? How much stress can she take for the millions she supports & keeps doing it with a beautiful smile and the warmth of a true caregiver. Her children, the ones who stayed back are her support. She’s getting old but with dignity and pride.
Me: I miss her so much, I swear to Allah, I miss her every day.
Shadow: Talk to her, maybe she might listen. Lahore has a heart of gold but like any other mother, has rules to follow.
Me: You think she will let me speak to her?
Shadow: Try and see.
Me: Lahore, Jan! United Christian Hospital, April 4th, 1969, New School Model Town, The Cathedral Hall Road, Crescent Model School Shadman Colony and then the Crescent College, Wapda Colony Upper Mall. Do you remember me? I am Najib, the one who abandoned you on the 9th of September 1995 & broke your heart. Do you remember me? The love and care you had bestowed upon me, the security and times of happiness showered with love and affection. Do you remember the child who had walked your streets, the strolls on the canal and Fortress Stadium, how many times did I cross the Mianmeer Bridge; those were the days.
Lahore: Silence, Dead Silence.
Me: Talk to me please, talk to me.
Lahore: Silence, the December chill and frost can be felt slithering in my spine.
Me: Crying, Pleading, who do I talk to? Where do I go?
Lahore: Adnan Ahmed Chaudhry (A friend who still lives in Lahore), I am Lahore, your mother, your caretaker, I loved you, I raised you, I am sure that you remember all that. Was there ever a time when you felt abandoned by me? How many times did I pick you up from the ebb of your life, the ditches that you had dug yourself. My soil and water nourished your being and made you into who you are today. So now if a true mother feels abandoned by a son, would you support him (Najib) or take my side in keeping my resolve? This Najib wants to get back, the politicians and dictators pillaged and raped me, terrorists blew me up to smithereens and the poor and destitute lost all sense and reason to live in his absence. Where was he when I suffered? If you had him (Najib) as a brother and the same had happened to your family as what I went through, would you have accepted him back in your fold? Now he needs me when he feels abandoned by the glittery world that he rushed towards. There is no place or space for him with me anymore. However, I leave it to you to decide after listening to both sides whether he should be allowed to come back or not. Let me see if friendship prevails over your mother — motherland.
Adnan Ahmed Chaudhry: