Sunday, 22 January 2012

Across the Lai

Inspired by Charles Dickens' "The Streets - Morning" from Sketches by Boz.

The surroundings resonate with the beautiful rendition of the Islamic call to prayer for the first prayer of the day. The single voice calling "Allahu Akbar" (Allah is Great) is soon joined by a multitude of other voices, some old and some young, until the words are barely discernible. In the semi-darkness of pre-dawn, the Nala Lai looks like a smaller version of River Thames (as my brother likes to put it), reflecting tiny lights from the surrounding houses which seem to be poised precariously close to the edge despite several warnings after floods in the past to move them back. As the sky begins to lighten very gradually in the cold December morning, dark shapes, which a wild imagination turns into beings from another land, start presenting their true forms as mundane unimaginative products of modern technology.

As I start taking photos of the sunrise, the bright orange on the horizon that stays its beautiful self in every part of the world, I'm struck, as always, by the contrast in my surroundings. As I look down from the front side of my house, other than the guard heating himself infront of the flames of his personal little bonfire and an occasional wandering stray cat or dog, the well-kept neighbourhood of retired army officers is engulfed in slumber and serenity. This side of my house hardly ever held my attention for long. The backside of my house, however, where the Nala Lai stretches out in all its filthy granduer (the piles of garbage accumulated along its banks are now visible in the morning light), the world across it has always interested me.

The stark contrast that both sides of the Lai present is fascinating if not sobering. The garbage that decorates the bank of the "other" side gradually transforms into a confusion of houses of various sizes, which seem to be interconnected - no sign of any open space let alone a garden. Some housing poor families moved here from nearby cities earning their livelihoods by working at the well-to-do houses across the Nala. It is, however, also the perfect hideout for our friendly neighbourhood thieves. Won't we know it, having been victims to one such gang!

As I take pictures of the cement bridge that stretches over one end of the Lai, an occasional car or two drives across. The bridge always reminds me of the bomb blast which was attempted to kill our former President Musharraf, who would frequent the famous bridge while going back and forth from the Army House in the heart of Rawalpindi. As I move my camera lens back to the houses across, I see a tiny speck with a large sack rummaging in the junk - a scavenger in search of recyclable material, most likely. (Unfortunately, the photo was too blurred to be shared.) I now hear cars starting up, as people start leaving for schools, colleges and workplaces.

As I pack up my camera and head downstairs upon completing my mission of capturing pictures of the sunrise, I continue to think about the two contrasting worlds on both sides of the Nala - sadly symbolic of the large economic divide between the rich and the poor in my country.

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