Strange City

11 May , 1988

Islamabad , Pakistan


Dear Jilani kaka,

Sorry for not replying  sooner .  It’s been five weeks here in Islamabad . The journey from Kabul was long yet it was worth it . You should come as soon as you find your youngest son, Jahin .

You would not believe when I tell you about the conditions of this city . It feels like a totally different universe.  Remember the stories you used to tell me? The ones of your childhood ? People singing and dancing, the street marble competition, occasional fairs,  choirs ? Well , you told me that we are not allowed to do those anymore , that it is forbidden to sing and dance . But here in this strange city , everyone in the streets are free. It is not forbidden to sing or dance , even the women are allowed to walk alone in the streets . There are no soldiers to punish them .

And you’d be surprised to know that they actually let us go to schools here , we don’t have to study secretly here. One day  I told Parvin apa , our class teacher , about the beautiful fairy tales that you used to tell me . But she didn’t seem to like them that much; she just laughed and told us that these stories were just absurd. She promised to tell us a story that day . but all she ever told us was people dying , sufferings and war. And I finally came to a conclusion that I like fairy tales more. Sure they have dragons, witches, evil queens but at least they teach us that we can win against them , that the good always wins and no matter what happens in the end there is a home to go .

But then again when I want to return to Kabul everyone say that there is nothing left, that we have no home. I wonder was Parvin apa right after all ?

Every Friday there is a fair near the Soan river. There is an old banyan tree, under which I am currently sitting as I write to you. It is midday so the fair is already very crowded. I can see a hawk flying far in the blue sky. They say that humans are the best of all beings. I don’t know why but it feels like even those hawks are more peaceful up there. If I’m granted another lifetime, I’d like to be a free bird . Away from cages , chaos and war .

I often used to wonder what freedom would feel like . Now I know that freedom is peace . Back in Kabul I was just confused . Could peace be the silent time that we carefreely passed just sitting beside the window watching a breathtaking sunset ? Or is it the loud hours that we spent with relatives and friends by dancing and chatting together ? Could peace be the Friday Jummah prayer that we always do together ? Or is it in the silly moments when we stole lozenges from the kitchen jars ?

Peace is the same and opposite . They say you die for peace , I say you live for peace .

But whatever it may be it is not something you get when you are caged . It is not something you get when you have no freedom , when your life is not in control of you . There is no peace in chaos or war .

Peace is like a sudden rain that compels you to dance . Peace is the innocence in a childs eyes . Peace is in the stunning balladry of a free poet .Peace is the only hope that moves us forward , that makes life worth living .

Remember how we used to sit beside the orange tree at the end of the day back in Kabul ? we used to watch the sunset together and pray for the war to be over . Well, I still do that . I watch the sunset everyday here in Islamabad . The only difference is , back in Kabul we used to cry watching the sunset in fear that we might not see it again tomorrow . But here I just admire the beauty of the sunset . That’s one reason why I think we need a calm and peaceful mind to see the blessings around us , we need peace .

Life is once . We don’t get a second chance to mend our mistakes , we don’t get to live once more . I see a plenty of reasons to smile , I see a plenty of reasons to live . Please come here in Islamabad , there is no home in a country with nothing but destruction and war . Life begs to be lived , kaka.

Your own,


The local postman Imran Ali placed the letter back into his satchel  . He sighed seeing the ruins of the orphanage that his friend Jilani established . This part of Kabul was bombed three days ago .He let the tears flow down his face as he whispered , “ Rest in peace , old friend .”


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