It just feels so unreal, that initial moment of disbelief when you scroll through the news and see the headlines: BREAKING NEWS! PLANE CRASH NEAR ISLAMABAD. And you just scroll ahead trying to tell yourself this must be some old news that someone shared, this can’t have happened right now. And slowly tiny bits of info make their way to you about how it took off from Chitral, how it was a small plane, an ATR, how there were 47 people on board.
Then just like that someone exclaims that Junaid Jamshed was also a passenger. The same JJ who defined our 80s and 90s. The same JJ who sang the unofficial national anthem Dil Dil Pakistan. The same JJ who went from our aunts’ teenage crush to our first infatuation. The very same JJ who found God after a painful public struggle with his rockstar image to become a scholar. The same JJ who started a successful clothing business and proved you could be successful at anything if you worked hard enough.
He had his haters, he had his opponents, he made mistakes and more than once I too felt he might have gone too far with this or that speech. But all of those people had grown up and grown old listening to his voice, first as the voice of the nation in Vital Signs, then as the soothing naat khwaan praising the Lord.
In the recollection of all the years of our lives he had been a major part of, his very sudden death eclipsed every other detail of the crash itself. The shock left none capable of thinking beyond him to the other 46 people who were his co-passengers. With slow acceptance people started asking questions, about the others, about the crew, about the origins and the destination.
And the moment I closed the browser window on the news and turned back to work, a short message came from my baby brother:
“Ahmed Janjua was the pilot”
A few disoriented seconds later it hit me, not like a freight train or a bullet or a slap on the face, no, it hit me slowly like honey crawling slowly towards cognition. Ahmed, that tall lanky kid who lived 2 houses down my lane in my old neighbourhood? I’d always known him as Ahmed, the only “Ahmed” in the neighbourhood; other Ahmeds were called by their full names to differentiate from this first Ahmed. In those few slow seconds a voice came from a memory, a voice of a young boy telling me proudly
“My name is Ahmed Mansoor Janjua Rajput!”
An old forgotten conversation with him when we compared whose name was longer, whose lineage was more royal. One of my few and rare interactions with this child who had “bad boy” written all over him, from his broody face, to his swagger, to his voice.
I barely even remembered the voice but I never forgot the words. The same words that identified him as one who was no longer alive.
Just like that the illusion that I could remain distant and unaffected from this tragedy was shattered. The mind divided into two realities, unable to process two personas disappearing instantly from the world of the living. Perhaps it is a coping mechanism because how could I prioritize the grieving for one of the other? One part of my mind listened to the tributes to the star, heard his songs being replayed by his fans, saw his face happily reciting a naat. But there was no closure here. The other half of my mind played the scene over an over again from memory, of a tired, sweaty Ahmed, trudging home from his football match, passing me by quietly, no longer the cheeky kid after the death of his father, sometimes glancing at me, acknowledging my presence as an old neighbour, sometimes lost in thought about the goal that could’ve taken his team to victory. But always the same scene of him walking by the hedge of the house on the corner, in the dark after sunset, the sweat on his face shining under the streetlight, passing into darkness as he walked by me.
No I didn’t know him very well, but he was my brother’s buddy, sharing love for planes and flying, playing football together. Just like I felt a crack widen and break my heart in two. For my brother who is too young to have to bury his young friend, for his mother still grieving for her late husband, for the neighbourhood because after all every kid here was like a kid for everyone else, this tight knit community raising their children together. For myself because I wish I could remember the last words we spoke to each other, wondering if it was me teasing him about growing taller every day or him saying salaam politely at a wedding. I honestly cannot remember and it breaks my heart.
How does one grieve for someone you knew as an acquaintance, but was a part of your childhood? One of those personalities in the background who moulded and shaped you and enriched your life in some way. How does one grieve for a celebrity who you met once as a 5years old for an autograph and couldn’t lift your jaw off the floor because he seemed so larger than life to you at that time, the one whose songs you played only a few days ago, wrestling with your husband over the radio controls so either of you could listen to your favorite from his albums.
Does one mourn with a family or with a nation? How do you come to terms with a reality that pricks your private bubble right after it underwent ripples of despair?
I could keep talking about it but it would make no difference. It would not bring back the bearded icon to wipe the tears off his fellow musicians’ faces. It would not bring back that young boy smartly dressed in his uniform so that he could take my baby brother on a flyby just once to give him the closure that he needs more than me.
It is a tsunami of misery, and I have locked myself in the room right in the corner where everything is so familiar, in a house not so much. But regardless of whether there are millions teary-eyed in this house, or whether it’s just me sobbing as I am holding my baby brother close, this tsunami of despair will crash into us all.
(Please recite Surah-e-Fatiha for Ahmed Janjua, Junaid Jamshed and the 45 other dearly departed who perished in the flight PK-661.)