9/11/1988 changed my world…
Three of my photography students insisted I spent the last night with them in Pindi, Pakistan. We chatted, ate plenty good food, watched films on VHS and barely slept. Crashed out and caught a few winks in the same room, the living room, on couches, sofas and some on the floor with little or no bedding. Morning came, we had breakfast as we were in the family home of one of them . A tedious, dangerous yet exciting journey through a hail storm as the little entourage on motorcycles rode to Islamabad to drop me to the airport via my cousins home to pick up my luggage and large portfolio. I can never forget those hugs and embraces… and one of them with eyes brimming said, “Ali we love you yar, come back soon and come back safe without AIDS”.
That day I was flying, for the first time out of Asia, to London, thanks to the British Council who had chosen me to be the recipient of their 2 year-long scholarship. At the time I was teaching at National College of Arts my learning process was a steep curve. Dealing with old wood and sowing new seeds was all part of that year. Somewhere around this time, one of my dear colleagues had informed me of the scholarship. The competition was unbearable, one person from the country… I applied never the less and boy am I pleased i believed in myself. And as my mother has always said, “follow your heart”, I was following my heart!
My students were my focus, photography my passion, and I loved both like no other. There were some younger than me with a few older to me as well… I loved them all dearly. Prior to that having worked hard at Midas – an advertising agency, I had had enough of creating the urge of consumption… giving the promise that whatever products we were selling were the best and acquiring them, whether that be Ammar knitwear, Bata shoes, Super Crisps or Massey Ferguson tractors, would bring that lacking worth in the lives of the consumers. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed what I did and was good at it too… winning a few awards here and there, but my passion was in encouraging people around me and motivating myself creatively… not merely begging borrowing or stealing ideas from maestros of consumption – the ‘West’.
My parents and sister were in Lahore and they were very happy that my world was on the brink of change. I had not had enough saving aged 25 to even pay the airfare, nor my folks were rich to afford this adventure of mine. And I believed my life after this sabbatical would resume its course. Little was I to know!
My world changed, I landed in London on the eleventh of September nineteen eighty eight. On my departure a friend had given me £20 and some looses change as a generous gesture saying “make sure you call your folks regularly”, and I had this change and the crisp note in my pocket, ready to buy my first mars bar on the British soil. My aunt had come to receive me along with a neighbour of hers and as I pushed my trolley and we wound our way towards the tube, Lala my aunt was giving me all the flowery download on how amazing it is to be a Londoner and I encountered my first beggar, a white lad (it was inconceivable for me to imagine that a pale skin, blue-eyed god could be holding out his hand). A beautiful lad… my heart skipped a beat, my change in the pocket burnt with the heat and I gave what ever coins came in my hand. “You just gave that man 25 rupees!! I will have to tell your mother of your extravagancies!!”. At the time the exchange rate was 15 PKR to a GBP compared to todays 150PKR to a pound sterling.
Neither am I feeling nostalgic nor am I am romantic to live in the past. While walking in my local country park just couple weeks ago, I chanced upon these wild flowers… I photographed it with the intention of uploading on my instagram feed, and suddenly this image sort of summarized my journey. And the date presented itself, I mark today, a return to my blog as well as reclaiming 9/11 as my date. This date that started many other chapters of my life… like a flash back people and passions and places and tastes and experiences flooded my being. The seeds of the past the blossoms of today and the promised buds all on the same stalk. Just marking the journey and letting the tears of joy roll at the wonderful encounters I have had on the way, with a tinge of sadness too for those who parted ways.
I hear the bees hovering about in the meadow whispering to the buds, beckoning to open their petals.