When you move on in life, you always leave behind some things- some myths and some mysteries, that cannot be fathomed by the heart, without going back to the past and visiting yourself again; in that time, at that place. You can only understand such things and solve such riddles if, in your imagination, you can live the life again and be in that place again, where you left a part of you. It is true that when we leave a place we leave a part of our memory, our essence there and can then afterwards understand that only once we go back in time and live that time again. Fate intervened on my part and I was given such a chance only recently.
In almost every era, the past time always seem better than the passing time. Whenever we think about the time that has passed, it almost always seem better in comparison with the passing time. And that doesn’t only happen in one life’s case, it goes beyond that. My father and uncle used to tell me and my cousins, whenever we sat together and they were dwelling on their times, that their times were better than ours. And when they narrated their memories of how it used to be, I used to think them right and envied them to have lived in that time, which to me, always seemed to appear better that mine.
Nevertheless, when I now compare this time, my present, to my time, or say the time of my past, I find that I feel exactly the same way. I think that the time of my youth was much better than this time, this era, of my present- even though that I am perhaps not physically old enough to qualify for making this comparison. And when I look at the new generation, the children of today, I sometimes pity them for not being born in the times that I was. Having enjoyed the beauty of life in those simplistic times that I was given a chance to. What do they know? But here what I am not thinking is perhaps the fact that they too are having the best of their times, and they would never pay a penny worth of caution to what I am saying right now. But then when they grow old, like me, or even older than me, would they not complain of the same thing? Would they also not think that the 2010’s were far better than say 2060’s- just like the 80’s and the 90’s are better than the noughties to me. It is just the same as his 50’s and 60’s were better for my father than my 90’s. I think this is a mystery that is destined to go on. However, if that is the case, which it seems it is, then this means that it is not the times or the era we miss or are fond of; it is the passed time, the time of our carefree youth, and we, in our efforts to glorify our youth, term it always better than the troublesome present full of responsibility and a practical age. I am not sure if this is entirely true, but it does seem to me to be the case. I shall endeavour in the proceeding paragraphs to analyse this philosophy of life through my naive perspective.
What does all this mean? We all fancy olden times, one way or another. To me perhaps the 80’s were the best of times and well do not ask me really because for a nostalgic idiot like me, perhaps the best century to have lived in was the 19th century. I think there is a Woody Allen movie called ‘Midnight in Paris’ that is based entirely on this very theme. For those of you who have not watched it yet, after finishing reading this article, do watch it. I shall present the answer to this problem in the last paragraph of this article. As for now, I would like to brood a little but rather romantically, even if brooding romantically may serve as an oxymoron, what instigated me to write this piece. In fact it was something my good friend Abid Hameed uttered during our conversation, which made me think and I got inspired to write about it. Let me reflect on my journey from a state of realism in to idealism through a friends get-together and then out of idealism back in to the realist world. Let me tell you briefly, about my golden age:
I went down to Peshawar, my hometown, for some official work and met a few of my old friends after a long time. We had a small get together at a friend’s office near Sarki Gate. Whenever I used to go to Peshawar I felt her embrace, ready to welcome me, but lately I am not feeling that- something is wrong, something has changed (but let us leave that for another time). When we sat, we had a great time together and then we started talking about the times we had spent, the simplicity of what befell us, and the beauty of our culture and values and the greatness of a city of a civilization that is about 2000 years old, having been founded by the Budhist Kushans. But ancient history was not what we had under discussion. We reminded ourselves of our times, our golden age, the later part of the 80’s and the 90’s.
We talked about the great times we have had. I used to go and hang around with my friends as the internet had not been invented by that time and the mobile phone was not really in every pocket. But the elements of change had already taken charge a few years back. The only new and modern thing was an invention called the CD. Tapes were being replaced with CDs. The most powerful computer was perhaps Pentium 3 or P-III and the Pentium series had replaced the 486 and 586 DX series. I used to sit with my mates in the street 6-B of Asad Anwar Colony, Gulbahar Number 1, Peshawar city on the steps of a friend’s house’s main door. This is the platform that has been active in the city life of Peshawar for long. It used to be called the Tharra and we would spend hours and hours gossiping and talking on our favourite Tharra. We would discuss politics, religion, cricket and what not. The Tharra was an open air intellectual boardroom of our friends. There used to be heated debates on serious of theology as well as laughters on the lightness of being. Then sometimes a man used to come and join us, I have forgotten his name, but we used to call him ‘Chacha Pakistan’ and he would tell us tales of his times, from his times, of his golden age. He too, like me, was stuck in a moment at that time and could not get out of it (Yes yes, indeed, U2 was right all the way). He would tell us tales from the past, from the 50’s and 60’s and 70’s and amuse us with the fire that he lighted from the old paper of his memories. There were no worries or stresses back then. We were but carefree and careless and light-headed- and that was our ecstasy- our very own brand of utopia.
And then there was the great Ustaad Ji- The great Khalil-ur-Rehman. May Allah SWT bless him always. He is still there, strong as ever and wise as always. I have always referred to him as Ustaad Ji out of respect, I dare not take his name- never have. He used to teach the Quran and we used to mostly think of getting away from sitting before him seriously learning from him as the timing collided with our time of nonsense. It is odd and strange, I always find, that the greatness and importance of education and learning is only understood long after our youthful days pass us by. I, however thankfully, was rather an intrigued soul; intrigued by anything and everything. So I once decided to go to Ustaad Ji and learn from him. And so began a journey in my early life when I, for the first time fell in love with the Quran. Before knowing Ustaad Ji, Quran for me was but a book of piety and a Muslim responsibility and never a book of unique wisdom and a singular source of a multidisciplinary knowledge. I learnt Yousaf, Fatiha, Takasur and half of Bakara. My God, I used to live in another world at that time. The Quran could hold such a huge philosophy, such a wide array of subjects and chapters of knowledge and of wisdom; I had never thought of it in that direction. I fell in love with the Quran instantly and he taught me the Quran like a book of stories, a book of philosophical tales that you learn at a certain level and then they keep revealing new angles to you in the same tales every passing year. In my heart, I will always have a special place for Ustaad Ji for this is how I will always remember him. The one who made me love the Quran and its philosophies enabling me to learn about God, about life and about myself in the middle of them both. The great Ustaad Ji.
I do not see the great Peshori Tharra anymore anywhere. It is gone or is vanishing very rapidly. It used to be the emblem of the people of my times, but these days I see fearful faces everywhere, always in a hurry, always busy, in what? God knows. Perhaps there has been a rise in terrorism and terror activities in the recent past and hence things are changing with the changing times, but Peshawar has withstood greater hardships in its tall history, which is what ensures me that this city will surely stand tall against such atrocities, as it is, and shall continue to harbour civilizations and races forever. But it hurts to see that the Qehwa (green tea) cups do not cling as much as they used to in the great Qissa Khawani bazaar, Tharra is dying and many other things are changing. I remember my time there as a time of peaceful co-existence. That was an era of a peaceful and tolerant society. I have been to imam-bargahs and mosques and churches, I have had friends; Shia and Sunni and Christians and Hindus and we all used to live in harmony, loving each other, living with each other. Times have changed and I do surely miss my times, my era and my golden age. Alas! the Peshori Tharra is dying a sudden death.
I was in this romantic mood when we said goodbye and I had to reach my uncle’s house, as I was staying there for the night. A friend offered to drop me on his motorbike. Although I wanted to take a Rikshaw, something that I have always enjoyed while in Peshawar; I accepted his generous offer. When we came out it had started to drizzle. This was a great gift from the Lord for it does not rain that often in Peshawar. I rode on with my friend, Adeel Qureshi, who also happens to be my maternal cousin. It was about 11pm and the city was getting ready to sleep. As we drove from Sarki to Khyber bazaar through the famous Namak Mandi I saw the old city, as if I was taken by magic, just like the movie ‘Midnight in Paris’ in to my past. I could see people sitting on the Tharra having tea and unwinding, I could see the local Muslims loving the Christians and the Shia joking with the Sunnis. I was back in my time, in my past, in my golden age. My friend had started singing an old song. Which one was it? What was he singing? Perhaps it was Non Je Ne Regrette Rien and its great symphony eluded my senses. The road was shining a wet golden under the golden-yellow lights of the cars that were coming from the front due to the downpour that had taken strength by that time. the rain was dancing and sprinkling on the road as if it was some confused and wild sunlight. And as we approached the cantonment area, I came out of my euphoria back in to the reality of my present time as a hard big rock hit my head. When I came back to reality I realised it was not a rock, we had encountered a hailstorm and the feeble song of my dear friend became a loud cry, as he was actually saying ‘Bas ae na Allah Ji, hunr kam uz kam oley ta ni mange aye na.’ (This is enough O’Lord! I did not ask for the hailstorm). Hence came an end to my idealistic journey, my sweet dream was over and I was back in time to my present, I reached my uncle’s house, drenched in rain, soaking in water, shivering a little. The romance was gone, I felt cold, I ran to my room and changed. I had a lecture on International Human Rights Law to deliver the next morning, which I still had not prepared.
As I stated above, I will present my answer to this age old question in the last paragraph of this article. This is the last paragraph. My answer is Nostalgia. There can be no other answer to this. All times are great. All eras are golden for the people who live in them in their youth. It is indeed the days of the youthful innocence that we miss once we grow up and move on. Hence this shall be the case for every generation- almost always. All people from all generations fancy olden times, the times when they were young, carefree and careless and light-headed and therefore we consider all olden times as beautiful and better then the present times. We do leave a part of us in the time, in the moment, at the place, as we move on. I think the meaning of the opening paragraph of this article is now clear to the reader, let me reproduce it here again as the ending, which is also how I realised what the answer to this problem was before I even wrote this article.
And I quote-
When you move on in life, you always leave behind some things- some myths and some mysteries, that cannot be fathomed by the heart, without going back to the past and visiting yourself again; in that time, at that place. You can only understand such things and solve such riddles if, in your imagination, you can live the life again and be in that place again, where you left a part of you. It is true that when we leave a place we leave a part of our memory, our essence there and can then afterwards understand that only once we go back in time and live that time again.