Looking out our own window
I soon regretted I'd asked. They each tried to tell me their own version of the background to this tragic event (the only position I take by calling this tragic is that murder is never the way to express your disagreement with a politician). Soon, my friends switched into a political argument with each other, first in English for my benefit, then sliding into Urdu. I became worried, but fortunately, one of them, a tall, lanky fellow from up north, threw his arms around the others and said, "But we are all Pakistanis, we are brothers, we condemn violence, and we make music together."
Any story hitting the international media from Pakistan this week will probably contain few such inspiring moments. The big story is the devastating floods which have killed hundreds and displaced millions. Then, there was that horrific plane crash in Islamabad. And now, an assassination followed by related violence in Karachi. All of this set against a backdrop of stories about war, terrorism, and religious extremism.
That's why I've become a regular reader of Chup, Kalsoom Lakhani's extraordinary blog where she does her best to present a different image of Pakistan.
It's also one of the reasons why I'm here: because my experience of Pakistan last year and this year is quite different from the image presented in the media. I'm not sure my experience is representative either, but can any one American experience a country of 175 million people in two weeks?
That's not to say it's been entirely roses. On Friday, I came down with a debilitating food-borne ailment that still has me unable to eat most foods, but that pales in significance next to my gratitude at the numerous friends in Islamabad and Karachi who have shepherded me through the various disasters that have buffeted their country these couple weeks. I owe my life and security to them.
Since arriving in Karachi early Friday morning, my schedule has been action-packed. I gave a lecture at Aga Khan University at which I spoke about music and medicine, the ties connecting them, and the limits both disciplines face when they are applied to the field of conflict resolution or used in regions of conflict. The lecture was well-received, particularly a medley I performed to demonstrate the universality of music. I chose four rhythmically and harmonically similar tunes and played them so that they flowed right into each other: Mor Tor Tillay Rana (Sindh, Pakistan), Imeda Mbre Idi-Oh (Aka Ibom, Nigeria), Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (composed by Mozart, who was Austrian), and Yankee Doodle (United States). I was grateful for the opportunity to lecture at the beautiful, immaculate campus of such a prestigious university.
On Sunday, I performed with Zoe Viccaji and the band Bell in a well-publicized concert at The Second Floor, the sort of cafe where a male ballet dancer/author and a female contemporary dancer/painter are likely to take a break from their cappuccinos and break into a spontaneous rendition of Lady Gaga's Bad Romance.
I loved the place immediately: the clean, wood floors; the crisp, cool, fresh-scented air from the numerous air conditioners; and the menu at the cafe where I saw "bagel and cream cheese" for the first time in this part of the world. I regretted that I didn't have hours on end to look at the bookshop, with a whole host of volumes ranging from the moderate to the politically radical. I settled on buying a T-shirt with the motto: "I think therefore I'm dangerous."
Zoe did a superb job promoting the concert. The music area (actually on the first floor) was tightly packed with Karachi's hippest crowd: models, actors, dancers, photographers, musicians, filmmakers, etc. They seemed to like everything, roaring their approval, taking pictures and videos. I played six solos: Caprice No. 5 by Mark O'Connor, Fantazy El Mansora by the Egyptian composer Attia Sharara, Music for the Violin by Nicholas Csicsko, my own arrangement of an Afghan tune, and Paganini Caprice 20 and Caprice 21. Even the modern sounds of the Csicsko, written for me in 2007, went over well.
I loved working with Zoe and the Bell. Bell's guitar sounds are atmospheric and groovy, and their song "Desire" amusingly sets their desire for peace in Pakistani to a waltz theme. Zoe and her sister Rachel have heavenly voices: perfectly in tune, softly textured, alluring. Zoe also writes songs with astoundingly ingenious harmonies, sounds resembling clouds of memories merging into one another.
Last night, I performed a more conventional violin-piano duo recital with Usman Anees, a virtuoso Pakistani pianist whose family does yeoman work promoting Western classical music in Pakistan. We offered a small but enthusiastic audience a program consisting of Beethoven's Spring Sonata, a brand new piece composed by Usman entitled "Lonely Reflections," Franck's Sonata, and my own arrangement of the popular Sindhi tune Mor Tor Tillay Rana.
After we finished, we had to remain at our location for a couple hours until the city quieted down. I headed back to the place where I'm staying, checked e-mail, went to sleep, and woke up to the view from my window of the Indian Ocean, gently rolling through the mists to break upon the beach, where camels lazily strolled. Who could imagine anything but peace from such a picture?
Sadly, I forced myself to remember that though the international media may offer one picture and I may offer another--of concerts, of good friends, of men and women respectfully and freely interacting--we are each of us merely looking out one window.