"What do you see in your dreams, uncle?" my four-year-old niece asked, with her face resting on her hands and her eyes lit with joy in anticipation of hearing a delightful story, knowing that I take pleasure in satisfying her curiosity. She recently inquired about a souvenir of Tutankhamen's casket with a wooden mummy wrapped in Egyptian linen inside it that led to I explaining the process of mummification and the Pharaonic belief in afterlife. She intently listened to my rant and left the room repeating just one word in a singsong manner: Mumm-mee-fication.
But this time, I was mute. Unlike her dreams filled with joy, my dreams, especially those associated with my birthplace Karachi, are grim due to the violence and terrorism that envelops the whole country.
While I daydreamed of success, knowledge, love and spirituality, I had little control over my dreams in sleep.
What has troubled me the most is the constant concern of my parents, who believe it's better to be safe than sorry. For years, each time that I was about to step out of the house, I have had to answer the same question over and over again: "where are you going?" When I was in my teens, I considered it to be an invasion of my privacy, and I felt very strongly about it.
"They think I am up to no good," I thought to myself.
As I grew up, my responses became more and more sarcastic, until one time I said: "I am going out on a dinner date, do you mind?" My father laughingly replied, "No, I don't... I just need to know your whereabouts," asking "do you have your cell phone on you?" coupled with a piece of advice that I've heard a million times before, "always keep your cell phone charged, so that you can reach me if need be" followed by a news update of terrorism in the city. That is when I started thinking from my parents' perspective.
In the 90s, when I started driving a car in Karachi, the streets were not any safer than today. Car theft, random killings and kidnappings were common. News of this and that person kidnapped from a car at red traffic lights, commercial areas and bazaars had turned my mother into a nervous wreck.
Fast-forward 10-15 years and, with the passage of time, my parents' pitch has mellowed down, but the frequency of the question "where are you going?" hasn't changed. They continue to worry about their loved ones becoming victims of snipers' indiscriminate killing or suicide bombings that claim the lives of hundreds and thousands of innocent bystanders every year.
There is mounting sentiment at home that the leaders have failed to curb the increasing violence and terrorism that has plagued the country. And its Western allies say that Pakistan may actually be complicit in fomenting terrorism.
At the White House briefing on Oct. 6, President Barack Obama voiced his concerns over Pakistan's ties with "unsavory characters" that the U.S. finds "troubling" -- without mentioning the Haqqani network. Because of the unspecific remark -- which reminded me of George Orwell's essay titled Politics and the English Language -- the news following the briefing stated that the U.S. president ciphered a link between Pakistan's spy agency, ISI, and al Qaeda, which White House spokesman Jay Carney said was presumptuous.
If Islamabad is indeed schmoozing with terrorist networks, it is doing more harm to Pakistan than anyone else. Pakistanis have endured the wrath of terrorists who kill Muslims in the name of Islam (as absurd as it may sound) and, at other times, due to Pakistan's alliance with the "other" that "unsavory characters" find reprehensible.
Not a day passes by without news of Pakistanis being butchered.
The one thing that kept me strong over the years are the words of a scholar and philanthropist Hakeem Muhammad Said.
"Death guards life," said Mr. Saeed in Urdu, only a few days before his murder in Karachi. "It will come at its destined time; neither a second early, nor a second late." Having learned to face the fears that permeated my household, extended family and friends, I couldn't manipulate my emotions to dream happy dreams.
Our dreams project our innermost fears and joys -- basically, all those emotions that have had a profound affect on us. My dreams differ from those of my niece due to Pakistan's troubled history. And there is little hope for change from the leadership.
On Pakistan's 64th year of independence, President Asif Ali Zardari said that five years is too little to resolve all the troubles the region has accrued in the past 45 to 60 years. Really?
In 1989, when Frederik Willem De Klerk took office as South Africa's president, the country was in a state of emergency and experiencing widespread violence. After a program of reforms aimed at scaling back racial injustices, the country had its first non-race-based election only five years later, in 1994. Even though a cliché, it's worth noting: "when there's a will, there's a way."
Those, like me, who value life and despise those who cling to power while ignoring the plight of their countrymen, are destined to a frustration of sorts. But the outcry of people that led to the Arab Spring gives me hope.
A democratic intellectual Cornel West recently tweeted that "MLK-like activity is necessary to wake the country up and say, 'this could be our last chance for democratic renewal.'" Civil disobedience is, perhaps, the only way to hold the gluttonous leaders accountable for promises unfulfilled. But, if we don't act, the dreams of our future generations will be consumed with fear and sorrow.