I was 9 when we moved from Lahore, to Rawalpindi. Lahore is a colourful, bustling city in Eastern Punjab, Pakistan. The city boasts an impressive collection of historic monuments from the Mughal and colonial era, and some of Pakistan’s most ancient and traditionally rich urban towns in the interior, known domestically as “Undroon Lahore”.
In contrast, Rawalpindi is (or was, back then) a quiet city. It is located in close proximity to the Federal Capital – Islamabad. Being home to the headquarters of Pakistan’s military establishment, it should come as no surprise that even the non-garrison towns are marked by an air of discipline. It is understandable, therefore, that Rawalpindi did not impress me.
However, it was at a remarkable time that we moved here – just when the tide was turning for the city, as it was for the rest of Pakistan. We studied at school and played in the streets as a population that would incarnate, what in time would be known as the Youth Bulge of Pakistan. A population that would attract the world’s most popular fast food chain to the city. A population that would take competition to lofty heights in the field of higher education. A population that would witness the first ever peaceful democratic transition in 6 and 60 years. A population that would be instrumental in making that transition happen.
It was at a remarkable time that we moved to Rawalpindi – just when the tide was turning for the city, as it was for the rest of Pakistan.
A few days ago, that now-bustling city reminded old inhabitants of the calm that was once characteristic of it, when it came to an abrupt halt as the result of malicious mischief-making. But it would be a gross misinterpretation of both the past and the present to compare this calm with that. What we witnessed as kids, was calm. What we witnessed as young adults, was paralysis. It was a deadly silence, coupled with a haunting state of inactivity. And then there was the curfew.
I believe it was not the so called Rawalpindi Tragedy that caused goose bumps on our nape for the two days that Rawalpindi stood still. It was the fear of what would follow. The air weighed down with unpredictability as the city’s social and economic life lay numb for the second day in a row, with the people sitting desolately idle for the second day in a row, repeating under their breaths the famous Sufi proverb: This Too Shall Pass.
Pass, it did. And the pace with which things got back to normal was fairly satisfying. But that does not change the fact that they had gone abnormal in the first place. It does not change the fact that a city, any city, anywhere, lives as a concrete entity in the collective consciousness of its inhabitants. And that any attempt to put its calm at jeopardy, hits hard at the core of that collective consciousness, reducing the people either to a paralytic state of shock, or raising them to a radical state of aggression.
A city, any city, anywhere, lives as a concrete entity in the collective consciousness of its inhabitants. And any attempt to put its calm at jeopardy, hits hard at the core of that collective consciousness.
And it does not change the fact that the mere occurrence of such an incident points to gaping loopholes in the system, and the security that we were told, was on Red Alert.