Friday, September 21, 2007
It is seldom you meet someone who knows the history of his or her own country well. This was one of those occasions. As we talked and he revealed his homeland, I asked about the main industry in the city of his birth with the naïve view that this information would suggest why it existed two hundred miles west of Lahore. His response was mangoes, the best mangoes in the world. He described the over-sized golden fruit with pride and adoration, informing me of the greatest attributes of the fruit itself, its comparative quality on a world scale and the reason for their relatively high price in Toronto’s Gerrard East Pakistani markets, and finally he punctuated his monologue on mangoes with a description of its most treasured quality, “Sweeeeeeeeeet” he sang with a joyous smile and his hand raised in praise. He instantly segued to the same analysis on the merits of tangerines. Finally, I was compelled to ask, “Is your family in farming?”
History in general is regarded as the sister of other things – the history of philosophy, the history of literature, etc. - merely performing an archival role on behalf of the proposed heart of the matter. On my spontaneous prompt about farming and with the mere suggestion that the farming might be of historical relevance in his family he launched into his own analysis of time.
History to this cab driver is as it should be, a chronicle of transformation, a sequence of events provoked by powerful characters, each with their own dispositions and motives, and a record of the migration of people, religion and souls. He spoke of the movement of the Aryan people, the changing character of the rulers of his country, the impact of the Mongols and the ruthlessness of their practices, the development of his Islamic sect, the Amhaddiyat, the uniqueness if his belief, the persecution of his sect to the present day and the repopulating of his people in different parts of the world, the diaspora.
I asked him what his family does in his country to which he replied, “We’re farmers. We have been farmers for thousands of years.”