Ghosts of Muridke

Through this column, I want to say one thing to both Allah and India: the people of Muridke should be forgiven. To Allah: it is enough punishment to have to live in Muridke that there is no need for any cross-examination on Doomsday. To India: the fact that Lashkar-e-Taiba members are located in Muridke means there is no need for a surgical strike.

I am saying this because I am 38 and I am still trying to get rid of the ghosts of a childhood spent in Muridke. There are certain images which no amount of THC, or Xanax or Cipralex has been able to erase.

One of them is this: once, after finishing school, I went to my grandmother's home on the canal which divides Hadoke from Muridke. After placing my schoolbag in the verandah, I went to the bank of the canal to join other kids whom I had spotting before entering the house. As I came to the bank, the kids started shouting "oye laash" (oh a corpse) and pointing at something in the canal. I also joined them. It was a human corpse with its throat slit in such a way that the head seemed to be floating slightly above the body.

I ran back home and told the aunts and uncles. They all told me to forget about it. I asked why nobody was taking the murdered human being out of the water and telling the police. The unanimous answer was "whoever tells the police will automatically become the first suspect."

For a kid, it meant there was nowhere to turn to if somebody beat you to a pulp on the way to school. It is still the way things are for the majority of the disenfranchised people in Muridke. Mind you, when you are a child and when going to another city is an annual adventure, your own city is your entire universe. If your city is a picture of lawlessness, your entire universe is lawless. There is no solace: nowhere to run to.

Another image that I have been trying to get rid of is linked with the absence of an adequate healthcare system. I don't even know to which disease I lost three brothers when they were still infants. There are only certain images: a bunch of relatives looking for a doctor in the middle of a foggy winter night, carrying a child, still unnamed, wrapped in blankets and going from one closed clinic to another, then another mound of dirt in the Hadoke graveyard.

At another time, after my parents had tried several shabby clinics, somebody suggested the sacrifice of a rabbit as penance or something. Soon a rabbit was slaughtered in the middle of the unpaved yard, the sharp red outline of the pool of blood soaking in the bright brown earth under the afternoon sun is difficult to erase.

Another image is associated with the heroine trade of the Ziaul Haq era. Some families had found heroine a profitable business and soon they were fighting mafia-style running battles among themselves for total control over profits. At nights, when all the meek of the earth bolted their doors, there was the sound of smugglers coming and going. The panicked whispers. The hustle and bustle of weapons being transferred. Then one night, there was an insistent knock on one door and someone going hoarse: "Hurry up. Open up. I have bumped off the opponent." We all stayed put. Then in the morning it was a normal school day as if nothing had happened. Nobody was even mentioning it. Perhaps they all knew even whispering about it could become a curse.

Now, as someone who dabbles in social theory, I believe Muridke is a microcosm of all the policies our government has pursued since 1947 after abandoning the idea of social justice and a welfare state.

Published in The News on Sunday

dated May 17, 2009