Name of the book: A Hundred Journeys (Stories of My Fatherland)
Name of the author: Omar Zafarullah
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Also available as an e-book
Two words that escaped my mouth after I completed reading the book, ‘astonishingly pleased’, summarise how I felt after reading A Hundred Journeys – Stories of my Fatherland. For me as an Indian, this book brought forth a fresh perspective.
Omar Zafarullah, a mechanical engineer with a degree from Yale University, USA and an executive in a Fortune 500 company, who belongs to Gojra and lives in Lahore, has written something that people all over the world must read to understand and learn to look at Pakistan in complete contrast to the popular notions of how and what Pakistan is.
The cover is designed in such a way that it looks as if it is inviting the reader along with a father and son to walk with them on a journey to a place that is bustling with shops, vehicles, people, and energy. This book offers a sane commentary of Pakistan by being part memoir and part manual for living. It is intensely personal but deeply political too.
The homeliness and warmth exuded in certain chapters was a refreshing dose of Pakistan that I, as a reader exposed to popular news media and other entertainment channels, found to be effective in challenging what we have been bombarded with, over the years. Be it Taliban or the 9/11, or what has been described as ‘obscuring history as it began to turn once again in its slow arc towards democracy’ – the greatest welcoming put out by Lahore to Benazir Bhutto, this book has offered contrarian views deftly. It makes the reader keep aside the book and think. He has also touched upon some issues that are ingrained in our patriotism which he calls “artificial constructs” (in an interview about his book) that cannot sustain themselves against the forces of common sense; which he believes will eventually prevail.
Little tidbits like the iron market of Lahore being its real heart, a brick courtyard in Gojra training the author for life and connecting him and his near and dear ones in an unspoken bond called family warm the heart in the most unsophisticated way.
When the author tells his son to enter the house of a Rehmatullah not by knocking at the door but by kicking the door open and demanding loud and clear, “Chachi, roti!”, be it in London or Paris, or New York, or Dubai, or Karachi, or Lahore, or Gojra, it subtly manages to make the reader revisit his or her own comfort zone and perhaps redefine the dimensions of what is popularly known as the “friend circle”.
The tracing of history for his son, Hyder, to read when he grows up is probably the best thing the author could do as it managed to open the floodgates to many more stories of life and times in Pakistan, for an interested layman.
In his words, a time will come when we will transform—from the brand name of terror – to one happening ‘qaum’ (solidarity). It is the need of the hour for all nations of the world in order to live in peace.
While the book is filled with inspiring characters like Zafarullah’s great-grandmother, Maaji, a woman with an iron will who challenged patriarchy while bringing the family out of the throes of poverty, I wonder why the author has addressed this book as a letter to his son Hyder and not to his daughter Maya. The book has been dedicated to Maya. But as his daughter, isn’t it important for her too to understand the political undertones that have resulted in a world that she is a part of?
However, the best part is that the author is supremely optimistic that Pakistan will recover. And then the transformation will happen. Thank you, Omar, for this side of the story.
‘An ideology of Pakistan is not required to explain Pakistan. Nor can Islam, after the massacre of Bangladesh, any longer justify Pakistan. We are an accident of history like all other nations on this planet. Like Argentina or Brazil, we do not need a reason to be. We just are.’ It sums up pretty much everything. And also, it is enough.