I used to believe in all sorts of rubbish. Like the Earth being round and it revolving around the sun. I also believed things that I saw – but that too half because I was never sure if my eyes were not playing tricks on me. And I never believed most of what I heard from ordinary folks.
Things changed about ten years ago. I had walked up to the crest of the Makra peak in Kaghan and on the way back hitched a ride in a jeep with a bunch of Lahoris returning to Shogran. The leader – a Butt from Kashmiri Mohalla, who by Lahori aesthetics was handsome: tall, fat and fair-skinned – having ascertained that I had spent a few nights camping on the nearby Lake Saiful Muluk, was full of questions.
‘Do fairies really come to the lake at night?’ he asked, the very embodiment of earnestness. ‘Butt sahib, how old are you?’ was my response to the query.
The boy was twenty-eight.
For a moment, the light shone and everything changed for me. There I was in my mid-fifties having spent my life believing in rubbish that could only be informed by some silly thing called logic. And here was Butt, who had no such illusions. He believed in the fairies of Saiful Muluk because a so-called travel writer of the Urdu language said the lake was infested with them. This was like a twenty-eight-year-old in the West actually believing in Santa Claus and his reindeer-drawn flying sleigh because a lot of children believed in him.
I could have remained iffy about my new Butt-instilled belief system had I not shortly after met with this master haranguer outside Lahore Fort. Quoting from Scripture, he convinced me with a ten-minute lecture that the Earth was indeed flat. Everything else was a fib invented by the evil West to mislead pious people.
Seeing that I looked convinced, he went on to reveal that the Earth was also stationary. The proof: if it moved or spun there would be an endless windstorm whipping around us. And had I never spent an August night inside, say, Bhati or Lohari? There the air is so still and muggy that folks actually die of asphyxia without anyone strangling them, he said. Of course, the possibility of malicious djinns was always there.
I shook his hand and checked myself from kissing it, mainly because he had been scratching between his toes. But I came away fully convinced it is easier to believe in rubbish than good sense. And I now also believe that we are regularly visited by aliens and some of them even live among us. The latter wear wigs to hide their natural baldness and become politicians.
Salman Rashid is a Lahore-based travel writer. He tweets @odysseuslahori