Like all married couples my husband and I have our differences, but in Pakistan we almost always behave like the perfect pair made in heaven or in Bollywood – because the only time we missed the mark there was chaos in town.
Over a year ago, I was getting homesick and one day I shot off an email to my husband (that’s how I have always communicated about issues that matter even though in Pakistan I know that ‘Bhais’ are reading) suggesting that I move back to India.
My husband, who didn’t like the idea of being alone in Pakistan, read the mail and then decided to step out. He left home at about 9 pm asking me to shut the door, leaving me wondering if he’d seen the mail at all.
When he didn’t return till 11 pm, I decided to give him a call. I tried several times till about midnight but couldn’t get through. In India, I would have just gone off to sleep, but this was Pakistan – arguably “the most dangerous country in the world”. The more I thought about it, the more I panicked.
My head was inundated with the worst possible scenarios. I even stared at my phone wondering if I'd get a ransom call. And then I was crying.
I decided to make a distress call to a senior Indian diplomat. His first question to me was: “Did you have a fight?” I said, “No”, sounding quite composed. I even spared a thought for the guys who would have been listening to our conversation.
The diplomat asked me to check if my husband’s mobile phone was at home. I made a quick tour of the house, but he hadn’t left the phone behind. He made me read out my husband’s last official email, asked about his favourite hangouts and then announced that he was coming over with the mission’s security officer.
Within a span of 10 minutes I was flooded with phone calls – from officers, their wives, to friends – all trying to console (some “condole”); some offering me shelter for the night; some insisting that I relocate because “they” would come for me now; and someone even reminding me of Daniel Pearl, “another Daniel Pearl?” – but all genuinely concerned for my husband’s safety.
Just then my phone beeped. It was a text message from my husband: “Why is everyone trying to call me?” I heaved a sigh of relief and called the diplomat, who was on our way home, that my husband was “fine” and that he needn’t come.
But for him, the text message was not good enough. “How do you know it’s him? It could be someone else…,” he told me. I agreed.
By now the diplomat was home. “Ask him a secret question,” he said. I decided to ask my husband when our marriage anniversary was, but he dismissed the question with: “That’s public knowledge.” So I asked him my niece’s name.
A few minutes later my husband was home too – with all of us checking him out to see if he’d been kidnapped, beaten, drugged…
It turned out that my husband had gone to meet a journalist friend whose office is in a basement, hence I couldn’t reach him. Having read my email he was, of course, mad at me and was in no mood to rush home or call to say that he would be late.
That evening I realized that in the time of jihad it helps to play the perfect couple. I also realised the worth of our friends who went out of their way to help me, especially the senior diplomat who came home and kept his super seniors in the loop too. When I sent him a thank you message, he was very gracious reminding me that he was my senior from university. He even saved us any embarrassment by saying that he’d expect my husband to help his wife if he decided to go missing!