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A sense of the world

It had been raining for hours, though not as heavily as our monsoon downpours, when we ventured out on a drive. It was early in the afternoon last Sunday, well before the storm was expected to peak in that location. The environment was laden with an air of foreboding. And I was excited as well as nervous about experiencing a tropical storm in southern California.

We drove around a few beaches in Long Beach. It was hard to take the scenic routes because the parks had been closed. There were many other motorists looking for a good view of the Pacific though the roads were generally deserted, with rainwater flowing on the sides.

Yes, I am referring to a tropical storm named Hilary. It was California’s first tropical storm in 84 years and another manifestation of abnormal weather events that have plagued the United States and several areas across the globe. This is how climate change is becoming a global issue. We in Pakistan have suffered its blow in the rains that submerged a large part of Sindh last year. In fact, it was a disaster that shocked the world and underlined the magnitude of what can happen elsewhere.

Anyhow, being here when a tropical storm came calling, I felt as if I was situated in a wider world where momentous events are taking place. It has now been about three weeks since we landed in the US and I am trying to emotionally and mentally disengage myself from the mostly sordid developments that are taking place in Pakistan. One resolve is to not watch the news channels and avoid conversations on politics with the Pakistani friends I meet here.

This does not mean that I am not keeping tabs on what is happening in Pakistan. As a professional journalist, I have to be aware of the headlines and it is not possible to not be concerned about the national drift. But here is this opportunity of being abroad and in the midst of unfamiliar situations in another, faraway country. A 12-hour time difference in itself enforces a kind of detachment.

I also see this as an educational experience. We exist in a world that is vast and various and not really in a good shape. It is certainly not the land of dreams or even opportunity that so many of our people are willing to risk their lives for. This does not mean that our unemployed and frustrated young men have no justification for yearning to escape from what is becoming a great country to go away from.

I am not intending here to look at Pakistan’s place in the world, which is in the lower depths, or to examine the horror of what human smuggling often presents. Nor am I in any position to endorse the lure of what is said to be the American dream. It can be a dream – and also a nightmare, particularly for a large number of its own citizens.

What I am trying to say is that an encounter with the world as such, across its myriad climes, can be useful in one’s attempt to understand Pakistan and its abiding sorrows. Or it can simply be a gratifying experience, at a personal level, to just watch the world go by and be grateful for whatever pleasures and surprises it has to offer. Let me also explain that I am not talking about a tourist’s fleeting love affair with a particular place and its liberating prospects, though travel essentially is a learning experience.

I feel energized by so much that I can do during this sojourn, apart from the immeasurable joy that a family reunion can provide. For instance, the time that I spent in The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles is now a precious memory. A somewhat similar emotional and spiritual nourishment is provided by meaningful conversations with learned individuals who come from other countries and cultures.

Incidentally, I was happy to be with an Indian family on Wednesday evening to share the joy and the thrill of India’s Chandrayaan-3 achievement of landing a craft near the Moon’s South Pole. There is this South Asian bondage that still sustains the glimmer of our ‘Aman ki Asha’. This occasion was made more cheerful with the induction of Urdu poetry and Bollywood music.

Beyond South Asia, there are concerns that bind the entire populace of this planet Earth. Climate change is apparently becoming a larger threat than the possibility of a nuclear war, which has become a topical issue with the release of Christopher Nolan’s epic movie ‘Oppenheimer’. It is interesting how movies, like books, can inspire serious debates on the state of our civilization. So, there is ‘Barbie’. Actually, they are talking about ‘Barbenheimer’.

However, I was talking about last Sunday’s tropical storm that had southern California in its path, after its landfall in Mexico. There were extensive preparations to deal with the potential of deadly floods. Authorities had pleaded with residents not to drive. There was a state of emergency. As I have stated at the outset, I had a little taste of it all.

Thankfully, Los Angeles escaped major damage. But the citizens are urged to get ready for the next disaster. What will it be and when will it come? It is this uncertainty that the phenomenon of climate change has fostered. Meanwhile, the situation in many parts of North America and southern Europe has recently been very critical. Weather records have been broken around the world during this summer.

Wildfires around the historic city of Lahaina in Hawaii are one of America’s deadliest disasters. The fires that raged across the breadth of Canada in July eclipsed annual fire records. Smoke from Canada that drifted into the US led to an increase in the number of asthma patients being taken to hospitals.

There are many other stories to be told about how climate change is affecting everything. Isn’t this the time to worry about the future in a global context?

Email: ghazi_salahuddin @hotmail.com

Ghazi Salahuddin, "A sense of the world," The News. 2023-08-27.
Keywords: Environmental sciences , Climate change , Floods , Weather , Christopher Nolan , California