It turns out, I am the generation I despise. Back then, in the days that were dictated by teenage hormones, people around me were fake. What was worse was that they had a complete disregard of their roots. Supporting painfully fake accents and dressing in brands that sounded weird no matter how one pronounced them, these people existed to me as mirages of what they should have been. Of course, their parents were to be blamed for providing them the opportunity and the environment to become something they weren’t. The perfect example of this rather unforgivable sin was when these acts would insist to me that they spoke to their parents in English and hence, their obvious impotency at coherent Urdu speech was simply a product of this engagement (or a lack thereof). And, well, they did not lie. As long days ended into much awaited afternoons, the kids would run to shiny cars with parents dressed as if they’d returned from a beach in Australia, speaking in an accent I felt miserable for not understanding. Back then, I both admired and ridiculed these kids. With time, my admiration vanished, and I was left with plain ridicule. Today, the same ridicule drowns me.

Maybe the intro has come out to be more dramatic than I started out to write. That said, the shame is real. This shame comes about after attending a reading held in Pakistan National Council of Arts, Islamabad. A famous actress and a man whose name invites coke-studio-memories, were set to read letters from writers of the past. As my mother had always admired the actress, I made a point to take her to the show. We were an hour earlier but still found a lazy line stemming from the main door of the auditorium. After standing there for a long while and getting my blood-pressure high on the many people who shamelessly cut the line, we entered the auditorium and nestled into seats that were perfect in any and every definition. And then on, it was magic.

The curtains opened to a beautiful set of a wood paneled background and carefully adjusted floating lights. On the polished wooden stage sat the readers, on either side, and in their middle a trio of flamboyantly dressed musicians. The show started with an instrumental presentation followed by the dramatic reading of letters. Deep into the show, the music and the reading mixed, becoming a trancing symphony.

A word of appreciation to the organizers and the acts. Truly, the night was magical.

But, let’s return to why the above sketch is important. It is important because with this event I realised what I had missed. The truth is that there have been whispers before. I, as a person, have come to realise that I am as much of an act as the childhood sagas I foolishly dramatise. I too, eventually, have become a person with no roots; in the true sense ‘a confused desi’.

Back where I study, there is little to remember one’s roots with. You don’t have Pakistani restaurants, there are no mosques which would blare the azaan and the people, well they’re the sort I’ve decided not to mix with. So, in that setting, it is natural for me to build my past and my roots on the memories I remember. It is in this state that I have indulged in the process of walking back, tracing my footsteps and, in order to hang onto my roots, decided to fall in love with what I believe defines me. Discovering Urdu Literature is one such adventure.

A few years ago, when I was still in Pakistan, I bought a collection of Manto’s stories but never got around to reading them. In my recent month-long escapes back here, I have finally started reading his tales.

Manto is a legend. A writer who is so masterful in his choice of words that feeling unconnected to the story is literally impossible. His beautiful prose deals with the cruellest truths of our society and leaves one breathless at the very end. His stories are lessons, not about life but about being human. Or, in some cases, not being the terrible humans that we are.

Anyways, the Manto reading has become part of my daily routine and I won’t be changing that. Similarly, I have now pledged to devote more of my time and energy to events that celebrate Urdu literature and, in the most effective manner, re-educate me. I am surprised how parents don’t make these an essential part of their children’s grooming. They should. For those whose parents failed to do so, I urge them to take the path I took and rediscover the marvel we have left behind before it all—all of it—disappears into the obscure culture of confused, uncontended desis.

 

The writer is working as a health economist in a think-tank based in Islamabad.

kureshiwrites@gmail.com

@makahsan