“There is a renewed interest and disagreements about Hazaragi culture. How do you define a culture?” I asked.
“We are in Hazara Town, right?” He asked me instead of answering my question.
“Haw, I guess, we are.” I chuckled.
“And most of the people who live in this town are Hazara, right?”
“Then, look around and you see Hazaragi culture.”
“I know that.” I protested. “I expected an educated opinion from you.”
“That’s my opinion.” He smiled.
I couldn’t think of something and there was a bitter silence for a while. I hated when things were abstract, particularly, when real things appeared abstract.
“I can sense your discontent.” the teacher broke the silence. “And I guess, the main reason for your discontent is your dissatisfaction with the culture you are living in. You are not accepting what you are surrounded with and want something more glorious. May be something you take pride in, right?”
He was partially right. I just nodded.
“You see, I am also dissatisfied and want changes. But change without clear understanding of what you want will only result in chaos.”
The word “change” made me think of two groups, socialists and religious groups. Both were clear than the rest in what they wanted. The teacher couldn’t be an Islamist, so he must be a socialist, I thought.
“A classless society sounds good but I am not an idealist to have such desires.” he smiled.
“What do you want?”
“I am still working on it.”
I couldn’t believe that a middle-aged, apparently thoughtful person wasn’t still clear about the changes he wanted in the society.
“So, all you want is stability?” I asked. “No change, right?”
Let me ask you a few questions.” He asked.
“When you go a marriage party, do you feel more comfortable in the party and return from party more content than your routines days?”
“I am not a party person.” I replied. “I try to avoid marriage parties as much I can.”
“What about Eid days?” he asked another question. “Do you feel happier on Eid days than the rest of the days?”
“No.” It was too embarrassing to tell the reasons that made feel uncomfortable on those days.
“If you don’t feel better on the happiest occasions then, I assume, the sad occasions don’t make you feel better either, right?”
“Don’t you think taking pride in things that make you uncomfortable is a bit unreasonable?”
I was unprepared for the question. Pride was the main driver of the Hazara diaspora of Quetta. Everything (both national and religious) revolved around pride. I felt as if my existence and everything that I stood for was questioned. I couldn’t think of anything and just nodded.
“Have you heard about Buddhas of Bamiyan?”
“Everybody knows about those statues.”
“What comes to your mind when you think of links between the statues and Hazaras?”
“That we were Buddhists before conversion to Islam.”
“Right.” The teacher agreed. “But other than statues, do you recognize any other aspect of Buddhism in our culture?”
“No. But that is not important.” I replied.
“How?” He asked.
“In those days, Buddhism was the religion of Central Asia, South Asia and Far East. It wasn’t limited to Bamiyan. Buddhist statues and stupas were found all across the region.”
“You are right.” He smiled. “The reason I asked you the question is to point out to the fact that during our conversion to Islam, we got rid of our whole heritage. May be you are aware that people from all around world go to what you call “Far East” region in search of mental and physical health. Meditation, yoga, martial arts, traditional healing through massage, herbal teas, acupuncture and food are considered as “wisdom of East”. What is our share in wisdom of East?”
I had not thought on those lines and had nothing to add.
“I am not criticizing our past. I am critical of our present. We are repeating the same mistakes. If we were fortunate enough and had some visionary people, they certainly had preserved good parts of older traditions while embracing the good of new ones. We are once again in the middle of a transitional stage. We are adopting new things and trashing our old tradition but we are doing so just by following the popular trends. We are not critical and that’s the main reason that neither our happy occasions make us feel good nor our sad occasions. In fact we are developing a culture which encourages feeling bad about everything. Our houses look more likes stores than houses, everything is for show-off and there is very little in them to soothe the souls and bodies. Our celebrations are filled with ostentatious things, unhealthy foods and we take pride in things that do not exist any more….”
As we were close to our home, I interrupted him, “What do you suggest?”
“About our culture.”
“It is not me or you who make our culture. It is our people but we have our own roles. If we want our culture to survive and prosper, we have to make mental and physical well-being at the center of our culture. Otherwise, we are only destined for total disintegration. Empty prides are too weak to keep us together....”
“But what our Hazaragi traditional dresses, caps, cuisines and languages?” I interrupted him again. “Aren’t they unique enough to preserve our identity?”
“I am not saying those things aren’t important. But we are no more living in an alienated world. In our world the things you mentioned have become trade goods and trade goods change frequently as market changes….”
We were in front our house. I was so consumed by the conversation that I barely noticed things around me. I invited him for a cup of tea. He declined the invitation by saying that he needed things to do, and promised to meet me again to continue our conversation.