It is evening and I have walked home along the shores (Sahil) of the Bosphorus, absorbing the Friday evening life of the Asian Istanbul unveil into a delicate but fascinating fabric . The pattern comes together in multitudnal ways of demonstrating how Allah makes people unique and brings them together to seek each other’s company by the life giving waters of the Bosphorus.
Finally I am home. The twin red lights from the Galata bridge beckon while the Yavuz Sultan mosque sits back as a spectator. Tonight the Suleimaniya mosque perched on the highest of the seven hills of Istanbul is the Queen. She is lighted up like a bride for reasons unknown.
Today I experienced the mass of people who want to and desire to live in this magnificent exotic city: Istanbul.
I am standing in line at the Turkish Immigration office called the Eminiyet. I need a visa to remain in Istanbul to study. The line seems long but nothing compared to what the US immigration line used to be in the twin major cities of Pakistan, that line of course has dwindled the reasons for which are multifaceted.
My companion and I are resigned to the fact that this is a time to wait and probably the best opportunity to complete the thousand salawaat for Friday suggested by the Sheikh as a cleansing ritual every Friday.
A .. is the young man who is our coordinator from the University suggests that we sit down and that he would keep our place in line. A chivalrous act only seen in Turkey as far as I have experienced. Both J and I sit down in the open U shaped room on park benches which are surprisingly curved at the right spot for comfort.
From my vantage point I can see the united colors of the races of the world as the applicants flow through the line for immigration.
Other than one elderly couple, everyone is young. In front of me sits a woman with a wheat colored complexion and crinkly hair tied back tightly in a bun highlighting her high cheek bones and aquiline nose. Her slender but curvaceous figure is clad in tight jeans and a loose tailored top, a cold weather plaid muffler loosely wrapped around her neck. She sits alone, and the play of the expressions on her face are like a silent movie. Coming from some part of Africa, having studied in a European University, nostalgia and preoccupation with something dances with patience on her face as she waits her turn to be called just like all of us.
Right next to her sits Al Pacino’s double, his dark hair slicked back with gel, it is only when he smiles that you see the havoc wrecked on his teeth by either tobacco or cigarettes.
a 3 year old child with blonde curls cavorts with him while his petite wife beautiful of face sits fully draped in hijab, happy and smiling and offers a bottle of water to her 5 year old son who is also blonde headed, I guess neither kid inherited the fathers “Al Pacino” genes.These children will grow up as Turks I wonder, will they renege their home country or think it inferior thus putting arrow of pain in their parents heart?
Turkey has an exotic pull that no other place in the world can parallel. It is a potent mix of spirituality and romance.
Its seductive beauty is felt in its ancient mosques where millions of people have laid their foreheads and begged the Almighty for success, for fame, for forgiveness, for cleansing of the heart and much more has been unsaid but read straight from the heart by the Almighty.
The walls of these mosques and palaces speak as you enter and the air within engulf you in the invisible but vibrant mist of spirituality that soaks into your senses and refreshes you.
You feel as if you were the one who had lived all these years and maintained a direct connection with your Creator in these walls.
Right through the heart of Istanbul flows the Bosphorus which hides in its breast all the acts of treachery, kindness, bravery and cruelty of the colonializing forces. It has witnessed much turmoil and anguish over the years and yet you see no evidence of the turmoil within.
I get up and talk to the people close to my waiting place in line. A man in his mid forties turns to me and smiles. He wears the expression of european ease in talking to a strange women when adressed. He has a freshly shaven face, a crisp dry-cleaned shirt and pants and a confident air of having tasted freedom. He smilingly tells me that he is originally from Iraq and is only getting a residency as he often travels to Turkey for business. He waves his German passport while explaining this to me. Someone comments that German citizens can get a five year residency in Turkey.
The bonds of Germany and Turkey go far back when the Turkish men came to the rescue of Germany when it was depleted of men from the second world war and rebuilt Germany with the masculine, ethical vigor that so permeates Turkey and most of its people.
Next to him is a couple with a three year old girl whose eyes are filled with fatigue and tears and has the misery of a drippy nose. Her young mother comforts her, as her father a lot older in years or in experience tells us he is from Syria via Saudi Arabia.
I envision the hordes of the 54 million men women and children on a trek to a safe haven from Africa and the Levant bombed out of their homes for no fault of their own except the name of their faith and the natural treasures that they live on endowed to them by the Almighty Himself. None of those are here. I only see the well educated and what looks like the affluent.
I am waved through a door to another waiting area and there I meet a women from Samarkand, if you changed her western dress to something out of the (Halaku) Khans outfit she would fit right into the tribal Mongols. She speaks little English so our conversation is stilted, However a beautiful fair skinned woman sits on my other side, who converses easily in english. She has the sweet mannerisms and smile so reminiscent of someone from either Turkey or Iran. Yes she is from Iran and has decided to come to Turkey to live by herself and find out what she really wants to do with her life. She is an architect.
We talk about the places I need to visit in Turkey and my number is called and I do not hear it. Finally I see on the monitor that the numbers have advanced far beyond mine, I am perturbed at the thought of having missed my turn, I get up from the waiting area and enter the officers room to ask for help. The young man at the desk is ready to step out for a break. It is almost going home time and he waves me to his neighbor for “English”
The English speaking immigration officer is multitasking, and asks me to wait. When its my turn, he reviews my file and asks me where I am from “Pakistan” I reply. What part? He asks “ Karachi” I reply. “Do you know Karachi?” I ask.
“ Yes , I have been there” he says. I am taken aback, what are the chances of meeting a Turkish young man who has been to Karachi.
“What took you there? I ask, “ I am a writer” he says and I spontaneously respond “I am too….”
I pause as I never have really considered myself a writer and yet there is no greater joy than when words flow onto the screen filling it with the senses of time place and people and suddenly the world expands for me…………
It is such a joy to be acknowledged as a Karachi-ite especially by someone who has witnessed the crazy magnificence of Karachi.
I have an impelling desire to tell him how much Istanbul feels like Karachi to me without the dark shadows. But this is not the time. Maybe when I was growing up in the teeming city of Karachi there were no dark shadows or perhaps the Almighty kept me in the mantle of His Divine protection as I walked the streets of Karachi.
He very efficiently completes three applications, mine and two others, and gives me what I need, answers my questions and in this bare, bureaucratic office I am left with a feeling of having met a kindred spirit, someone to whom words speak and unravel the marvels of the mystery of life……..
I am intrigued and honored to have met a Turkish writer whose day job involves hundreds of stories………….. the life of each applicant is summarized dispassionately on the few pages of the immigration form as they stand in line to embrace Turkey as their home.
This post written to the music of :The Wolf and the Moon