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I have a piece of stale barfi in my fridge.

It has been there for six days. I know it is old. And I know, that every time I carefully unwrap it to take a tiny bite, and wrap it back up, I am probably risking a drastic case of food poisoning. But it is barfi, sweet, with the right amount of pista and badam. Each bite reminds me of home, of my father selflessly buying a small box of barfi so that we would eat some meetha, even though he is diabetic. It reminds me of the time that I turned my nose up at it, insisting that desi mithai was not worth risking obesity for.

Four months away from home changes everything.

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There were mangoes, that were brought into the US. I had a box gifted as a present, courtesy of the Pakistan Embassy. On Monday morning, I opened the box, and inhaled the smell of the chaunsas, and then quickly looked around to see that no one was looking. Two hours later, another Pakistani friend told me that she had done the same thing.

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A few months ago, I read this blog post. It seems crazy, right? Why would anyone, in a city in a first world country, forego sleep and the benefits of a thriving nightlife, and sit at home and watch a cricket match?

A few weeks after I moved to Washington, Pakistan and India played each other in a semi-final [that we will pretend never happened]. At 4AM, I dutifully woke up, found the shadiest website that was streaming the match, aware that this might be illegal, and began watching what turned out to be a massacre, but was part of the ritual that we call life as a Pakistani. Even know, the thought of Mohammad Aamir’s wasted career brings tears to my eyes. We stand united in our pain [and in our hatred for Ijaz Butt].

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Today marks Pakistan’s 64th Independence Day. There is no other place I’d rather call home. Lekin iss mulk ka Khuda hi hafiz.

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This morning I woke up, remembered Shahbaz Bhatti was dead all over again, and was quite looking forward to spending my day in a good, old fashioned funk.

Then, I saw this on a pole in Zamzama, Karachi:

I actually don’t know what to say, or think. Does one laugh at and admire the creativity of this man? Do I bemoan how there are barely any avenues for men and women to interact in an environment apart from the familial or educational? Or does one just sit down and sob about what this generation is up to in their spare time? You can choose any or all of the above options, or suggest more in the comments section.

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The jharoka.

hai.

It is, I suppose, a matter of over stretching the truth that I call myself a Punjabi (cynics, spare me the “we are all Pakistanis first, I KNOW that and consider myself a Pakistani first too). I’ve barely lived here, and my Punjabiness only comes out when faced with a “How many lassis can you drink in a row” competition and speaking rudimentary Punjabi without faltering when faced with anyone who refuses to speak Urdu. Also, I can’t remember for the life of me what khabbay and sajjay means.

But that doesn’t explain the goofy grin on my face that lasted for four hours [trust me, I looked at myself in the mirror and I looked like a moron but I couldn’t stop smiling] when I was on the bus from Islamabad to Lahore. Being back at home, where malai toast and aloo ka parathas taste sublime, where the paranoia in the air and the sight of the numerous policemen patrolling the streets is offset by the simple pleasure of sitting on a verandah and looking at an ancient tree. A dog allows you to nuzzle his ears, and commuting in the city means you get to pass through tree lined streets and ancient lanes. Pigeons take a dip in the pool in an ancient mosque, and refuse to acknowledge your presence. Names of areas that sound like they came out of a novel; “Baghbanpura, Mughalpura, Infantry Road,” and the generosity of your friends and family.

Then there is the calm, which belies the tension in this country. At the shrines of the Sufi saints, some of which I visited in the past two weeks, there is a sense of serenity and faith, that come what may, there will always be someplace that you can call home, someone you can turn to. Whether this faith is misplaced or not is a conclusion that I’m equipped to make. But it is this that makes the bombing of Baba Farid’s shrine yesterday all the more tragic, because if they take away the spiritual crutches, then many in this country have nothing else to turn to.

Anyway, this post is now bordering on the sappy. In conclusion, all I have to say is this: it’s good to stop running, and just breathe and revel in the simple pleasure of calling a place home.

[P.S: A special shout out to my hosts in Islamabad. You know who you are, and Islamabad would not mean anything to me without you guys.]

[P.P.S: Pictures from the Lahore trip can be seen here and from Bulleh Shah’s shrine here]

Feeling bored? Hate Mohammad Sami? Need a drink? Fear not, for we’ve decided to come up with a drinking game for when the Pakistani cricket team is playing in the T20.

P.S: Thank you Nadir Hassan and Imran Yusuf  for the bulk of the suggestions.

1. Every time Shoaib Akhtar says “hittain” on Geo Super tear out a page of the Oxford English Dictionary and roll a fat joint in it.

2. Every time Rameez Raja talks about the Caribbean drums, have a shot of Tequila.

3. Every time Moin Khan says “body image is important” do a body shot off the cleavage of a big-breasted girl. Or go throw up.

4. Every time Shahid Afridi hits the ball straight up in the air, take a swig of Skyy vodka.

5. Every time Mohammed Amir’s luscious hair flops around, get high by sniffing hair spray.

6. Every time Shoaib Akhtar wears a T-shirt so tight his bulging beer belly shows, down a can of Murree’s finest.

7. Every time Rameez Raja mispronounces a player’s name, dunk your head in a vat of absinthe.

8. Every time a Pakistani player drops a catch or has a brain fart while fielding, spit out whatever you’re drinking.

9. Every time Mohammad Sami starts bowling just drink anything.

10. Every time Shahif Afridi gives an encouraging slap on the bum to one of his underperforming bowlers drink a Sex on the Beach.

11. Every time someone you’re watching it with makes fun of Fawad’s monobrow (let’s get over it already) slip the other person some desi vodka. It’ll shut em up.

12. Every time Mr. Jeem starts dancing on your screen, drink Scotch. Lots of it.

Please submit additions to the list in the comments section.

The last thing one wants, when they’re trying to drown their sorrows in tiramisu, is coming across the blow-dried brigade. Y’know, the aunties with the Valentino bags, Sana and Safinaz caftans and the obligatory pair of shades holding their perfectly blow-dried hair in place. But that wasn’t the worst part of what happened yesterday. In an attempt to distract myself, I looked across the restaurant and saw *cue ghost about to appear and make the heroine shriek music* …Sharifuddin Pirzada, having lunch with some unknown gentlemen.

Now, for anyone who’s ever heard of Pirzada, or Sharfu as I affectionately like to call him [not to be confused with the servant Sharfu in the stage drama Bakra Qiston Pe], and is aware of how he’s gang raped the Constitution of the country, this was a golden opportunity.

For years, I’d been kicking myself at the fact that I’d never said anything to Sharfu during his visit to the Quaid’s Mazar during the imposition of Emergency rule in December 2007. I do remember that Sharfu had taken quite some time praying at the Quaid’s grave, and refused to speak to the media who was thirsty for his blood. Politicians and Prayers.

This time, I vowed to myself, things would be different.

But back to yesterday. Sharfu sat there, bent over the table, old and wrinkled, and yet, damningly enough, STILL ALIVE (I suspect some kind of magic potion for his long age, or as the sister just suggested, maybe he’s alive by feeding on the remnants of torn-up copies of the Constitution)

I clutched my butter knife.

Sharfu got up and shuffled slowly towards the exit.

I clutched my butter knife even harder.

I thought about what I’d say and how I’d say it. “Where was your sense of ethics when you were writing PCOs left right and center!? You’ve ruined everything, everything.” This sentence would be prefaced with choice expletives.

Sharfu passed by our table. I looked at him. I looked back at my tiramisu and took another bite.

Cluck cluck.

The End.

On January 15th 2010, my friend Asim Butt, and an extremely talented artist, passed away in Karachi. A week later,  I wish I had the words to write something that could capture what Asim was about, his contagious enthusiasm, his attention to detail, his passion for art a thing of envy.

There are brief snapshots I’m left with, Asim on Bhopal House’s roof, Asim in his bright orange kurta, Asim on his birthday, his fingers stained with paint as he worked in his studio, his smile, his changing moods, his talent and his love for his friends.

Eventually, there is nothing really left to say, except how I wish I could bring time back, and tell Asim how much I loved him, how much he meant to me and so many of his friends and how proud he made us. And above all, how I wish he was still here.

Rest in peace Asim.