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Death’s New Context

Posted on Dec 2, 2012

(Page 2)

Pakistani liberals—who themselves constitute the tiniest of tiny minorities—like to say that these are the actions of a still tinier minority: the extremists. Perhaps they are right; I, for one, don’t believe that they could occur without the quiet assent of the majority. And, in any case, what cannot be denied is that my father, who loved his country, died wretchedly in Pakistan, forgotten and un-mourned by the majority, an enemy of the faith. It was a death that recalls the last sentence of Franz Kafka’s The Trial: ‘“Like a dog!” he said. It was as if he meant the shame of it to outlive him.’

Some days after his death, I had written:

Though I believe, as deeply as I have ever believed anything, that my father joins that sad procession of martyrs—every day a thinner line—standing between him and his country’s descent into fear and nihilism, I also know that unless Pakistan finds a way to turn its back on Islam in the public sphere, the memory of the late governor of Punjab will fade.

And where one day there might have been a street named after him, there will be one named after Malik Mumtaz Qadri, my father’s boy-assassin.

A year to the day, that forecast, grim as it sounds, still stands; so, too, does this book, Stranger to History. It is a source of some satisfaction to me that my account of the countries I visited on that eight-month journey from Istanbul to Lahore is more relevant today than when it was written. In Turkey, I believe it is possible to see in the story of a man like Abdullah the new equilibrium that would be reached in the Erdogan years between Islam and Kemalist secularism. In Syria, one cannot but have an intimation of the disturbance that lay beneath the apparent placidity of the Assad regime and that would come boldly to the surface five years later during the Arab Spring. In Iran, through women like Nargis and Desiré, we meet the kind of people who became the face of the now suppressed Green Revolution.

But nowhere is the book more relevant—and here is a little irony—than in Pakistan, where it anticipates so much of the violence and futility that was on the horizon. But, here alone, there is little pleasure for me, and a considerable sadness. For writing Stranger to History came at the price of losing my relationship with my father; and, in the end, I was, as I had been for so much of my life, estranged from him.

I cannot say I regret writing it; I don’t. This book made me who I am; it was my reclamation of the past. If there is regret, it comes only from having had the fortune to see, more clearly than my father could ever have allowed himself to, the place his country had become.

January 2012

New Delhi

©2012 by Aatish Taseer from “Stranger to History.” Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press.


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