It was about 5 pm and my curiosity compelled me to look up the internet for the official definition of the word ‘peace’. The highlighted query result glared at me from the computer screen:
/piːs/n. a state or period in which there is no war or a war has ended.
I could not help but rub my eyes in bewilderment. And somewhere deep in the alleys of my mind, my conscience found this meaning of peace to be invalid. And rightly so, for neither are all havens peaceful nor is every war zone bereft of peace. The incoherent definition made my thoughts flash in front of my eyes like a 70mm reel…
Jubail, Saudi Arabia
Inseparable, Mahmud and Ali are best of friends. At least that’s what they want everyone to believe. 20 years of bone, flesh, and passion each, Mahmud Faz and Ali Munsi had first met a few years ago at a sports tournament and had clicked instantly. Young and immature, they were bemused by the fact that they couldn’t christen the special bond, intense emotions, and profound intimacy they mutually shared; for their idea of love had never deviated from that of romantic feelings between two individuals of the opposite sex. This was evidently different. Even after coming to terms with their sexuality and deep love for each other, the boys couldn’t face themselves. Such a shame it is, Mahmud wrongly felt. Inexcusable sin it is, Ali unfoundedly claimed. Love it is, echoed their hearts in unison. And love is what then transcended unattested religious assertions, baseless laws, and farce ideas. In all its amoral glory, love yet again triumphed.
Mahmud and Ali still love each other, more than ever before. But they acknowledge it only behind drawn curtains, bolted doors, and most importantly, inside a tightly shut closet. Constantly drenched in mixed portions of anxiety, anger, and fear, their public behavior is governed by invalid societal norms that define a man and predetermine his preferences. Their lives have now been permanently ridden with the fear of those closet doors breaking open. From which will emerge two vehement lovers instead of best friends, who shall not witness the following sunrise.
Saudi Arabia is one of the 9 regimes where homosexuality is punishable by death. Enslaved by an orthodox outlook and tortured by unjust laws, Love here withers to death.
Fireworks illuminate the sky as people all over the country celebrate Diwali today, the festival of lights that marks the beginning of Hindu New Year. The well-off and the privileged decorate their homes with oil lamps and rangolis, and seek blessings of lord Vishnu, the creator, and Goddess Lakshmi, the deity of prosperity and wealth. By nightfall, homes in the premium Vienza residential colony are soaked in golden light, people are dressed in their fanciest, and dining tables are adorned by all kinds of delicacies. A few blocks away, a right turn from the Choksi roundabout leads one to the posh suburb’s dumping yard. And while everyone was busy indulging in festivities, from this stinking mass of filth emerged a pale hand—almost gloriously— holding a small plastic bag filled with what looked like gravy. The hand belonged to little Munna, whose tiny fingers clenched what would be his single course meal for the diwali feast, his catch after a strenuous 3-hour long hunt. Following him is his three-pawed friend, a stray pup who had lost one of its limbs in a freak accident. Young and immature Munna has never seen his mother. His father had coughed to death right in front of his eyes and some familiar men had burnt him amidst fervent chants. His elder sister had gone missing a few months back and he is still essentially angry with the fact that none tells him where she has gone. After all, how can one tell a seven year old child that his sister was abducted, gang-raped, and had been murdered soon after. However, Munna hasn’t abandoned his very own search operation for his sister. Till then, his family is limited to the stray pup with which he shares every edible morsel he comes across.
5 women in India die every hour during childbirth. Almost 2 million TB cases are reported every year in the nation. Over 24,000 rapes are recorded annually. 22% of the population thrives under the shade of poverty line. Existence here is a strange blend of social suffering and economic agony. Life is at war with itself, stealing every chance of survival, one at a time.
Sinuiji, North Korea
One sultry afternoon, the usually mundane streets of Sinuiju city resonated with loud sirens. A police convoy could be seen speeding towards the city square where denizens had already thronged—after being forced out of their homes by military men—to witness the event. Women held their children tightly as the firing squad made its way through the horde. Dragged to the center of the square, a shackled middle-aged woman squealed and begged for mercy. While she was being tied to a pole amidst gasps and sighs, a megaphone boomed, “Mrs. Jung Lee, 43, was found watching a movie of western origin, to be precise, one made by the capitalist behemoths. Such blasphemous activities are intolerable in this great nation and treason’s only reward is death. In the name of the supreme leader and for the glory of People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, it is thus, ordered for this traitor’s bodily life to be extinguished.” And in no time the spectators wailed and screamed to the beats of gunshots. Their pitch accentuated with every bullet that pierced the woman’s flesh. And there she fell in a pool of her own blood, blood that—much like every North Korean—was three parts drudgery and one part pain, blood that finally had the privilege to be free. Her daughter wept beside her lifeless body and looked up to the sky in search of an answer. The sky became overcast and soon, one could not distinguish between her tears and the raindrops. Perhaps, even the almighty couldn’t hold himself back.
People in North Korea are denied the very right to freedom of thought let alone any liberty in action. Living a life drained with agony and helplessness, people can’t foresee an end to their suffering.
My mom’s rant about my lethargy interrupted my trance. It was about 7 pm and the definition of peace was just as shallow as it was two hours ago. Unreasonably disappointed, I rub my eyes; this time to stimulate my lacrimal glands and am instantly reminded of Omran Daqneesh, the 5 year old Syrian boy whose puzzled expression in an ambulance post an airstrike had gained global attention. And it dawned upon me that be it Omran, Mahmud and Ali, Munna, or be it Jung Lee and her daughter, peace can’t coexist with plight. A brown passenger in the New York Subway who’s being subject to racial slurs or a blogger in Pakistan who has been killed for having a rational opinion. Peace is not absolutely present in anyone’s life with the only variable being the intensity of its absence. Be it a territory where guns are booming and bombs are being dropped or be it the banks of a serene river flowing by, the world has gone astray and peace today, is but an illusion.
It’s high time that we broaden the purview of peace. Utopia might be generations away but should we not help posterity by laying future’s edifice in such a fashion that the mind will be without fear, feet will be able tread upon earth as freely as the winds blowing from the horizon. Love will be celebrated and not butchered. The white dove will enjoy pride of the perch. Thoughts will amble without the fear of being trampled upon. Our race will be human and religion, solely humanity. Peace will be so prevalent that one won’t have to look up the World Wide Web for its meaning. That’s when we’ll actually discover the meaning of peace.
“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one”
(Imagine by John Lennon, 1971)