Manslaughter on New Year’s Eve

Manslaughter on New Year's Eve

New Year’s Eve (or NYE as it is popularly referred to) seems to be all the rage in Karachi these days. Surprisingly, this was never the case a couple of decades ago. My dad, or his dad before him, never went out to the Clifton beach partying his way into the new year, welcoming it with fire-power (note that I didn’t use the word ‘fireworks’ here) and dancing with some downright cheesy music blaring out of the bystanders’ cars, a mash of discordant symphonies coupled by grotesquely gyrating bodies.

It’s December 31, 2010, and I’m sitting in my room YouTubing for some videos. Suddenly, I hear shots being fired in the distance; lots and lots of shots. I instinctively duck down, asking my wife to do the same, but she’s relaxed, unfazed, without a single frown-line on her forehead. She smiles surreptitiously, points at the wall-clock and says, “Relax, honey. It’s going to be 2011 soon; seems like the party’s started a bit early this year”. I breathe out a partial sigh of relief and can’t stop myself from thinking about the consequences, the price that some innocents might end up paying because of a few irresponsible idiots. More firing follows and for the next hour or so, thats all I can hear, my ears trying (and miserably failing) to pinpoint the origins of this mindless debauchery. Never in a million years could I imagine one of my family members to be a victim of this New Year insanity, as I was about to find out the very next day. The story that follows is in the victim’s (i.e. Hassan’s) own words and has been modified slightly (as he was unconscious through part of the incident).

“Since it was my last weekend of freedom, the last couple of school-free days, I decided to join my friends outside for some late-night chit-chat. It was almost 11:30 p.m., me speeding down the stairs, my dad yelling after me to take my jacket. After contemplating for a split-second, I flew back upstairs, grabbed my winter-gear and whispered a silent thank-you to my dad once I stepped outside. It was 9 degrees centigrade outside, or at least that’s what I had heard on the TV earlier that evening, and that is extreme by Karachi standards. My friends and I headed towards the corner of the street, our usual hangout, and started engaging in some boy-banter. The discussion soon steered towards the computer games we had played, Monday blues, upcoming exams and the teachers we hated. After about 10 minutes, we heard the first gun-shots being fired, signalling the arrival of the fast approaching New Year. A few fireworks lit up the night sky, but it was the noise of the gun-shots that dominated our senses. The firing intensified as time snaked its way towards 2011. Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my scalp, as if something was burning through me, trying to making its way to my brain. Two little streams of blood trickled down my forehead and the next thing I remember is blacking out completely, falling on the ground in a heap. At first, my friends thought I was joking, then spotting the blood, they started screaming. Thankfully for me, the hospital was only a short distance from where I live, so my friends had me there in no time. I was still unconscious, my breathing shallow and labored. The doctor in the ER rushed up to me, examined the wound and started throwing questions at my friends. What? How? When? Confused and afraid, they answered as best as they could. After a few minutes, the doctor picked up a pair of tweezers and extracted a bullet out of my scalp. He dressed up my wound as best as he could, all the while consoling my friends. I came to about 10 minutes later, my brain about to blow out of my skull. I told the doctor I was in a lot of pain and he mercifully gave me the magic drug (what would we do without pain-killers?). According to the doctor, the bullet must have been shot into the sky and on its way back, its trajectory had slowed it down considerably before it landed on my head, failing to go further on into the skull. Had this not been the case, it would have been a through-and-through and I would have definitely died. With a prescription in one hand, I managed to walk out of the hospital, a bit groggy and disoriented but otherwise alright, the dent in my scalp a constant reminder of what could have been.”

Firing a gun isn’t fun when you are at the receiving end, a deal you didn’t sign-up for, an innocent bystander, caught in the cross-fire of mindless self-indulgent individuals trying to prove some point that I fail to comprehend. Yet this continues to happen year after year after year, a soiree of imbeciles hell-bent on painting the earth red with the blood of the innocent. How can we expect the New Year to be peaceful when all we really do is welcome it with violence? Think about the 70+ people (including INFANTS, for crying out loud) who were either dead or seriously injured in Karachi; sadly, the same story was repeated throughout the country. Not to mention the disregard for people being disturbed by these senseless acts; think about the elderly, the sick, the children, and the people who have to wake up early no matter what. Is this a celebration or an act of barbarianism? Go figure.

Note: Here’s a link to the video of the coverage done by a Pakistani news channel.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Image courtesy filmtrips.com

Although there are many people in your life, there are only a few who you can actually go to when you need to pour your heart out. Isn’t it amazing how people can have hundreds of friends, yet trust only a handful? How many times do we feel the need to say “Please don’t tell this to anyone”, in fear that he or she may spill the beans one day? Thankfully, I have quite a few people around me who I can trust without having to raise this question.

One such person is my uncle, a distant relative, yet closer to me than most of my closest family. Despite our 25-year age difference, my uncle and I end up spending a lot of time together. Being an old soul, I don’t really mind the generation-gap; in fact, I appreciate it. He seems to have some unique insights into a lot of matters, including matters that sometimes keep me tossing and turning at night. I had quite a few things on my mind that just had to be poured out, so I called my uncle up and we set up a meeting. After some (in)formal chitchat about our domestic and work lives, I steered the conversation in the direction I wanted it to go in. These here are the questions I posed but his answers failed to placate me.

Question 1. “A few days back, I was driving home from the office. Even though it was only 8 pm, it felt like 10 since it’s December. The road, a one-way two-lane affair with a concrete wall on the right and a 7-foot deep ditch on the left, was virtually dark and deserted. At instances like this, one cannot resist gunning down the accelerator and feeling the thrill of a fast ride; I am no exception. As I was speeding down the road (doing approximately 70 km/hr) humming a favorite tune, I saw a cat jump out of nowhere. Realizing her mistake, she froze for a split second; I could see the fear in her wide illuminated eyes as they shone brighter with the fast-closing gap. Having no other alternates, I braked hard, hoping for the car to stop or at least slow down in time to save the helpless creature. It was me against the cat, so being the selfish human that I am, I removed my foot from the brake in fear of swerving into the wall or falling into the ditch. Fortunately, no crunch was heard, no blood splattered. The rear-view mirror gave me a reassuring picture; the cat had managed to skedaddle back to her starting position unscathed. Even this heartening vision couldn’t stop my erratic heartbeat to slow down or my shivering to subside. After reaching home, I could only contemplate what could have happened had I not braked in time.

The memory still gives me goosebumps. If that’s the way I feel about almost killing a stray cat, how can humans kill other humans in cold blood and not regret it one bit? Whether this bloodshed is religious or patriotic, how can these people sleep at night knowing what they have done? How can they justify their actions?”

Question 2. “Upon reaching home one day, I was ambushed by my younger brother asking me to talk to one of his friends on the phone. I was baffled, not knowing the purpose of this call. Curiosity got the better of me and I took the phone from his hands:

Me: Hello, Assalamoalaikum

Rayyan: Waalaikumussalam. How are you bhai?

Me: I’m alright. What about you?

Rayyan: I’m doing fine. Bhai, I needed to ask you something about a guy you used to go to school with. His name is Sharjeel Hussain.

Me: Hmm… Doesn’t ring a bell.

Rayyan: Oh, maybe you know him as Sharjeel Waseem. Waseem’s his dad’s name.

Me: Yeah. I know him. We used to go to school together a long time ago. We weren’t what you’d call best-buds but we did hang out from time to time. In 9th grade, he moved to the USA to complete his education. Since then, I’ve only met him once on his visit to Pakistan, so it’s been almost 6 years since I last had a full-length conversation with him. Why the sudden curiosity in Sharjeel?

Rayyan: Well, I wanted to do a background check on him. He, through his family, has approached us for my sister’s hand in marriage.

This got me thinking. Sharjeel’s there on my Facebook too. A few months back, he had uploaded a picture of himself holding a white female (sporting a mini-skirt) tightly by the waist and captioned it with, “I’m in Love”. Would I want someone like him marrying my sister? No way! I couldn’t risk telling this to Rayyan so here’s what I said instead.

Me: As I told you, it’s been quite long and we aren’t that close anyways. You’d be better of asking someone who knows him a little better, maybe someone in the US.

Rayyan: OK bhai. Thank you! Allah hafiz.

Me: Allah Hafiz.

I hung up the phone, went to my room, logged on to Facebook and opened up Sharjeel’s profile, only to find that the picture in question had been removed, obviously to pass the background check. Now my question is, why do people resort to deceiving others like this? What pushes them to have fun with these goris all the while searching for marriage-material desi girls? Why the adultery? Why the hypocrisy?”

Question 3. “About three months ago, I was contacted by a client, an established advertising agency, for a printing job. The lady heading the company called me and handed me the art work, emphasizing the fact that since this job was for a charitable trust, I needed to keep the costs as low as possible. I told her that it would cost at least 4 Rs. per pamphlet if I use the lowest quality paper, and because of this fact, the printing wouldn’t be as crisp or aligned as it would otherwise. She whole-heartedly agreed to it and I gave it for printing. I minimized the expenses from my side and decided not to take any profit; the final cost came to around 3.85 Rs. per pamphlet. An invoice of 3,850 Rs for 1,000 pamphlets was generated and was delivered with the finished products. I called them up three days later asking whether the pamphlets were OK and they said, “Yes; they’ll do just fine”.

I had totally forgotten about this insignificant outstanding amount, and four months later when I happened to visit the agency for some more work, it struck me. Going straight to the accounts department, I asked the person in-charge to clear my last invoice, to which he replied, “Yousuf bhai, the pamphlets you printed were of sub-standard quality and were rejected by our management. We didn’t even bother sending them over to our clients. We will, therefore, not be able to pay you anything.”

I was dumbfounded after hearing this; “It’s been four months since the delivery, your management approved it when they looked at the product and now you’re telling me you won’t pay me a dime? If that was the case, why did you wait four whole months to tell me this, and that too because I ASKED?”

He said, “What can I do? I’m sorry.”

I swore never to work for them again. I mean why do people get into business when they have questionable work ethics? Why do such educated people try to swindle others? Why all we do is cheat and back-stab other for petty material gains?”


NOTE: In an effort to get an insight into the human mind, I pass these questions to you. Can you help me answer them?