By Hamd Nawaz
A few days ago, on a hauntingly peaceful hot afternoon, I found myself humming a tune. What was it? I struggled with recalling where I had heard it. A Nusrat’s Ghazal? A Bollywood melody? Some old PTV Naat? It was only after several hours of confusion and irritation that I finally reached the core memory! Back in 2006, it was something my driver used to play in our car when we’d be waiting outside the school for my sister.
Ta da dada da Tân Dân Dân..
Islam Ka Hero Number one
Mera Sher Usama Bin Laden (chorus)
(Islam’s Hero No 1: My lion Usama Bin Laden!)
He’d play it from a rusty cassette he claimed to have bagged from a Pathan vendor after a fight, thump on the dashboard with each beat and swirl his head in ecstasy. I, an 8-year-old at that time, would listen to that song in disbelief because after analyzing every Usama in my class and neighborhood (a sample size of 7-8 kids in total), my results showed that the likelihood hood of anyone named Usama doing anything remarkable was near to zero, let alone being Number One and having a well sang a song in his praise.
A collection of Jihadi CDs and Anti-American material readily available and bought in Pakistan in 2006.
But my driver cared less about my critical skills and more about the political verdict of his circle of friends: A guard at our school gate who had previously served in the army, the bulky white immigrant from Afghanistan who’d sell corn to the kids, a retail store shopkeeper nearby and the servant of a Landlord Makhdoom family from Multan who had just settled near. They’d gather around a concrete platform built over a sewerage outlet with the guard reading out a crisp piece of daily Jung Akbhar and editorials from Nawa-I-waqt, stopping after each headline and letting others have their two cents on the news. Sometimes, I would overhear them from my car: an arrangement which proved very fruitful for my sum of Political information about International Affairs.
My school was surrounded by a fence and barbed wire which was also rumored to be electrically charged.
I learned that somewhere out there in the world was a big evil country called Amreeka whose sole purpose of existence seemed to irritate my beloved homeland. Somebody name Sadar Bush was its King, and certainly a very cruel one. He hated us Muslims for some reason and wanted each of us killed, hanged, or converted. He had a friend named Israel who disliked us equally and together they’d not spare a single day in planning to destroy us: they had planted TVs in our houses to turn our children into lazy earthlings with troubling morality, they had created bad energy crises in our country, bought our government, tried to flood our north by manufacturing clouds and most importantly, tried to make our entire population sterile by mixing something in the Polio vaccines.
Translation: America is a dog. Death to Israel.
But all of it couldn’t make me hate this Amreeka in question. My actual animosity arose the day I went to buy the tastiest pepper chips in the world – Potato Sticks and realized that the size of Rs. 5 packet was ridiculously reduced. I felt betrayed. World’s injustice started appearing relatable. In anguish, I asked my driver how could they possibly do it.
“Woh humain bhooka marna chahtay hain.”
(It’s them. They want to kill us all from hunger)
“Yh IMF. Yh yahodiyon ka hai bachay. Yh Islam kay khatmay kay liyay kuch bhi krain gay”
(IMF belongs to the Jews, kid. They will do anything to finish off Islam.)
Cause of all war.
This was too much. This time, this stupid Amreeka had hit below the belt. They had told potato sticks guys to pack lesser chips. They had hit home. I came back infuriated, determined to do something about it. I took out a Rs. 20 internet dialing card which I had kept for emergencies such as these and searched “reality of America” on my Pentium 1 computer. I wanted to understand my enemy. The Yahoo browser took centuries to load but landed me on a video.
A white guy appeared and started saying stuff in an accent much more difficult than the Cartoon Network shows. Nevertheless, I continued. It was a well-made documentary with intense music that said that America was a country run by a government consisting of shape-shifting Lizard/Humans called “Illuminati”, who worshiped satan and owned banks. The documentary said that not only do they control everything but if we pay close attention to the things around us, we’ll be able to see that they are not shy to show signs of this control. He dissected Pepsi’s logo and showed that it was indeed a devil’s open eye – a symbol that belonged to the Dajjal (antichrist). When the video reached the part where some people wearing wolf masks and drinking in skulls could be seen, I shut my computer down in terror.
Hence, it was confirmed. Amreeka was The vilest thing to have ever existed. The Biggest Terrorist. But still, I wanted to be sure. I knew one of my neighbors, a guy in his late teens, was studying at some university. The next day, I found him in the street and asked.
“Bhai, do you know about Illuminati?”
He smiled and flipped his hair to a side with a hand he wore colorful plastic bands on.
“Of course I do. They are everywhere. Let me show you something”
He took me to the corner shop and scrapped off the sticker from a coke plastic bottle.
“So, if you see this sticker – you see what? Coca Cola. But if you flip it upside down and look at it through the back, you can see something else. It’s something in Arabic. They mock our scripture. We don’t know what it means yet but this isn’t right. They have dispatched secret codes everywhere.”
The shop where I learned about Illuminati’s penetration into everything – even coke.
Damn. How could I have missed it? This was horrifying. Whatever Amreeka was up to. It was even more horrifying to see what they did to Sadam Hussain, a former Muslim president I watched walking to the gallows in a video secretly smuggled to our maid in a CD. So the course was pretty clear onwards. I was on my way to plan a revenge fall of this lizard-run country in my Power Puff Girls diary but when my driver was arrested months later in a police raid on a gambling and drinking spot, I started doubting his truth and left the plan for future times.
But the future had other things – a hotel in Islamabad was blown to pieces with 200+ dead – a fate my father had escaped by coming back two days earlier from his conference there. My school bus came one morning with blood trails made by its wheels because a suicide bomber had tried to target it as the school was run by The Air force. A friend’s uncle was killed in an attack on a mosque, and a political leader was assassinated. And, the Taliban accepted the responsibility of each one.
In the following years, my diary welcomed new truths :
1. Amreeka is formally called the United States of America.
2. This USA bombs people in tribal areas we call Taliban.
3. Taliban in return, bomb us.
4. Lays tasted better than Potato sticks.
5. Nobody exactly knew why this war was going on and what Pakistan had to do with it.
6. A channel my father watched, CNN, wrote Usama as Osama.
7. Osama is the biggest threat to the entire world.
8. Anyone in contradiction to point number 7 is also, by definition – a villain.
And the rest is history. After his death in 2011, people hadn’t much zeal left for the Islamic Jihad they had all hailed for decades. They were confused if truth be told. The holy war they had rallied behind was killing their own children. Like a maiden trapped between lovers, Pakistanis realized that nobody really cares about them. APS attacks made it all so simple :
9) We had to save ourselves. From US or the Radicals? Both.
It’s 2022 now, an economy in shambles, a hell load of migrants, a crisis of identity, a burden of history, a Goliath called an army, political instability, and whatever way they interact – a lot is there on the plate to still trouble us. But when we sit in our cafes and debate it all, the likelihood of being blown by a bomber is not there anymore. And like a lost hum that appears in empty afternoons, the past we went through – comes back to haunt us.
4 thoughts on “Growing up a villain: a 21st-century story of Pakistan. ”
There is lack of coherent conclusion of the essay…From driver to cassette to potato chips to inquiry to wall written stuff to a bit of history by a cute curious cat..But never ignore the fatty facts aka blunders did by powerful states who attacked on weak and lesser God children..Facts are sacred..
A good try to chew old stuff with new teeth though..digestible crunch.
Love and Light.
Your writing is mesmerizing. Though it is above my pay grade. Still portraying of events was in exact accordance as we learned at that time.
Delightful to read