Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Order (II)

This weekend, I went to see the Shahjehan Mosque at Thatta. Everyone must have seen pictures of it in coffee table books about Pakistan, but seeing it in real life was a profound and beautiful experience. I sat in one of the nooks in the covered courtyard for nearly an hour mesmerized by the infinite geometry of the arches and tiles. Tracing the order of the architecture was the most therapeutic thing I had done in months; it felt like all the mundane anxieties left my mind and all the tension drained from my body.

Shielded from the relentless sun, enjoying the cool breeze that circulated through the quiet courtyard, I thought about how important order is to the quality of our lives. The daily traffic jams, the near accidents when some asshole breaks a traffic light or some pedestrian with a deathwish darts in front of your car, the general chaos of Karachi takes an immense toll on people. The unnecessry honking, the inconsiderate cutting of a line at the nanwallah, the need to yell to get the grocer's attention, the neighbours dumping their trash outside your house, it all builds up slowly in our body and mind. It is betrayed by that tension in our shoulder, our sharp reply to someone's innocent question, the unconscious gnashing of ours teeth, that nervous shaking of our legs and most importantly by that slowburning anger – or alternately – leaden fatigue that characterizes our existence.

This Mughal architecture in the middle of Thatta seemed to comprehend our need for order, for the psychological comfort it affords. To be part of an ordered regulated society and to live in an ordered regulated space where the law of the jungle and ruthless self-interest are held in check by laws and institutions – both government and civil – that function effectively, without favour or prejudice, that is my hopelessly idealistic dream for Karachi, for Pakistan, which the Shahjehan Mosque anticipated 400 years ago.

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