‘Azerbaijan? Where is it?’ That is what I got to hear from every other friend of mine before coming to Baku around a month ago. At times, it was really difficult to explain them why I wanted to take the fellowship and study in a post-soviet country. However, I often managed to convince them that getting exposed to a different culture and studying with students from over thirty different countries could turn out to be a turning point in my life.
However, after spending a month in the city of winds, I realized what really should have been the motivating factor (you will figure that out by the end of this article). Now imagine, you wake up in your bed – be it in the slums or in a luxurious building located in Defence – put on some music or offer your prayer, eat pancakes or chapaati and leave the house for school or work. You carry your laptop bag on one shoulder, hold mobile phone in the hand, plug earphones to your iPod and hum your favourite song. Waiting at the bus stop, you recall your plans for the day and see if you have to make some phone calls. Then you ride the bus, get some coffee or tea from a kiosk, grab a newspaper and get going with your day. Most of you might be asking yourselves – ‘what is the point of portraying a placid mundane scene?’
I have lived my whole life in Lahore and even I thought there was nothing wrong with my mornings, until I realized how I had adapted to living with constant fear. I used to think twice before carrying my mobile phone even on a busy Ferozepur Road because I knew how my brother lost his phone – some biker-boys snatched it at gunpoint. I never dared to carry my laptop while I was walking to a bus stop because I remember how someone stole my sister’s laptop from the car while it was parked outside Centaurs. I never got a chance to think about the rest of the day while I was riding a bus to work because I was too busy worrying about my purse and other belongings. Even driving to work required some real hard work – my normal routine included putting up shades on car windows so people would not see that a girl was driving alone; keeping my laptop and purse behind the seat so the bikers waiting for the traffic signal to go free would not find a reason to follow me; not leaving money or wallet on the dashboard so that the beggars do not stick to my car for long…
It is sad and unfortunate that as a nation we are not only the victims of war on terror, but terror has found a special place in our subconscious mind. I belong to a relatively moderate family, so I was lucky to be brought up as a confident and strong woman. But I doubted my potential when I felt a little scared to go out on the streets alone or to buy a burger from a kiosk in Baku. The slight hesitation of walking on the streets or taking a bus to school, whereas all my friends cared little about their belongings, made me realize how I had always lived a life filled with fear.
Although it took some time, but now I wake up in a lovely apartment without worrying about the news of bomb blasts or terrorist attacks taking place near my building, workplace, or in the same city. I walk to my school without worrying about getting mugged. I do not hesitate to leave my bag or laptop in the library because I know they will not be stolen. I enjoy fresh air sitting in a park, jog at the seaside, visit malls and breathe the air of freedom. I am not saying this place is perfect (for a fact, traffic here is crazy!) but I do feel free from subliminal fears.
We as a nation have forgotten how it feels to be at peace. No matter how optimistic we may pretend to be, in the face of reality, we all have become the victims of unspeakable fear. From street crimes to domestic violence, chaotic political rallies to extreme religious fatwaas, target killings to terrorist attacks, we have been consumed bit by bit. I request all my countrymen to realize what is missing in their lives and try hard to experience the long-lost serenity. I also hope that someday, one day, we as a nation can wake up to breathe the air of tranquillity, for we deserve to be blessed with normality.
P.S. This article can also be read at: http://womantribe.com/2013/09/22/we-breathe-fear-with-a-little-bit-of-oxygen/