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Sunday, February 19, 2006

true story 004: Where is Khalil?

Where is Khalil?

In a dimly lit small room, with a damp mouldy smell, six humans sit huddled together,

· Two old parents, bent backs, cataract in the eyes
· A wife, looking old due to having seen a good day only once in a while,
· Three children, two school going, having had their schooling resumed only after stops, third ready to go

fear evident from their eyes, waiting, waiting for Khalil!

But where is Khalil?

Perhaps I should start at the beginning, and tell you who is Khalil.

But what is the beginning?

Is the beginning before Khalil’s birth, or even before his parents were married? Is it when his parents had to leave their respective homes in India as a result of anti-Muslim riots in the wake of Independence?

This is how it happened: Lulled by assurances of a peaceful life, and told that all weapons, even kitchen knives, were being collected from everyone in the province, so as to ensure communal peace, Khalil’s grandparents were also persuaded to give up everything in their house that could ever be used in defence. Little known to them, the Sikh and Hindu Mahasabha were being armed by the police and the paramilitary armies of the neighbouring princely Sikh States.

On the night of independence and after that, these were let loose on the Muslim villages, or houses of Muslims, with murder, pillage, rape and abduction, often led by the police, or the Sikh regiments.

When the attackers left the village of Khalil’s grandparents with their booty, including ornaments and some girls, there was little left except dead bodies and a few injured ones who were left for dead. Among those were Khalil’s grandparents and one teenage son. They managed to walk part of the way, and to take a train through part of it, along the route experiencing yet more attacks and yet more dead.

They reached Lahore, but to live their lives meant a lot of struggle. They eventually made Lahore their home. Struggling to make a new life, they married off their son, to whom was born Khalil, whose parents decided that their son would get the highest education. Also living in poverty, they impressed upon their son the virtues of honesty, hard work and education.

Khalil did not disappoint them.

He studied and worked hard.

When his father fell ill and was unable to provide for his family, Khalil worked tuitions to support the family. He was fortunate in that his hard work was rewarded, and he even took a gold medal from the University.

That is where his good luck, or rewards for hard work, ended.

He sent in applications for jobs in the thousands, he appeared in hundreds of them, but was not lucky enough to land a job. Apparently he needed a “good” reference, which means from someone high up in politics, bureaucracy or the army. He knew no one in these.

Khalil was interested in knowledge. He became a member of four libraries in the city, but his membership brought him in contact with people who are considered unsuccessful in this world, so these clubs did not help him either. His networking was in the wrong nets.

He tried starting businesses with money borrowed from friends, or from selling his family’s meager possessions, but here too he was unsuccessful. In the presence of adulterated and sub-standard goods and services, in the need to bribe police officers and protection racketeers (which he refused), his businesses never flourished except for brief periods.

In one of such periods, Khalil’s parents found a wife for their son, and Khalil soon became a father in his own right.

Tired of failure in his own country, he sold off the family “silver”, and bought a visa to Saudi Arabia, which turned out to be fake, but not by the immigration authorities at the airport. So he managed to stay and work for two years, naturally not in well-paying jobs. Enough perhaps to pay off the debts incurred in his visa, but not enough to breathe easy for a while even.

He had to return to Pakistan when the Saudi police, in one of their raids, found he had a fake visa, and the same old story of applications, small transient jobs, hunger and the kids’ intermittent education began.

He had a fine mind. He read a lot, and analysed it. He came to Islamabad once a week or so, met a journalist friend, told him what he had seen or analysed, and went back to Lahore. His journalist friend often used this input to write his column. Eventually, in one meeting, Khalil told his friend Javed that he could not take it any more. Life had been too difficult for him to carry on.

Javed tried to console him, but Khalil was now past consolation.

Javed advised him to start his own business.

Khalil listed the businesses he had started, finances he had gotten together, the hurdles in the way of principles he had encountered, and how his businesses had failed.

Javed felt too deeply for his friend, so asked him to think of a business he could handle best.

Khalil was a good driver. He mentioned this, and together they concluded that running one’s own private commuter van would be a good business for Khalil.

Javed asked around, and found a second hand van for Rs 1.10 million.

Khalil went quiet, but on encouragement, and Javed promising he would also chip in with Rs. 200,000. Khalil calculated and by selling his parents’ house, his wife’s jewelry, and loans from other friends, he could come up with only Rs. 450,000 – thus the total between the two friends was Rs. 650,000.

They were quiet for some hour or so, when Khalil said he would try to get the rest somehow, and to have the van kept for some time.

After a few days, Khalil returned with the balance.

He had sold his kidney and obtained his price in advance.

After a suitable match from one of those who needed a kidney transplant, his kidney was removed, and when he had recovered, he started driving his van. He enjoyed his work, and it paid him well.

It looked as if his troubles were now over.

Far away, in a land of which people like Khalil can only dream, a Danish paper decided that the time to test Muslims had come again, and commissioned 12 caricatures of the prophet (saw), mocking him and the religion which is all people like Khalil have left.

Peaceful negotiations failed; the Prime Minister of Denmark refused even to see the ten ambassadors of Muslim countries about the issue. The Muslims of Denmark sent a delegation to the ME countries, apprising them of the attack on their religion, and seeking support to have this resolved.

Little by little Muslims, tired of centuries of abuse, tired of an elite imposed upon them, protested, some burning down the consulates of the countries where this provocation had taken place.

Pakistan was late on the scene. A protest took place in Lahore. It was meant to be peaceful, but from somewhere an organized gang of motorcyclists appeared, bent upon destruction. They smashed windows, looted stores, set fire to buildings, and to transport.

Khalil was driving his van when the arsonists caught him.

He pleaded with them, to no avail.

In no time his van was on fire.

He tried to extinguish it with his shirt, but what an inadequate fire extinguisher a shirt is.

Finally, he threw his shirt towards the burning van, and disappeared.

He has not been heard of since.