The first time I met Karim he was driving an old white van. This struck me as odd, because it was not the sort of car I expected an educated, well spoken new immigrant to Australia to be driving. We met in Canberra which is chilly in fall and winter; the gaping open space of Karim’s van added extra bite to the outside temperature. The last time I met Karim, about two weeks ago, he was driving an old white compact which I had to help push to get started. When we stopped for dinner at the Agra Taj Restaurant, Karim made sure we were on a slight incline, ‘so there is no problem, later!’.
The last thing Karim Nawaz cares about is cars or the status that others derive from them. What he cares about are songs, poems, the places where culture and tribe intersect and, politics. What brought us together (under poorly remembered, now, circumstances) was Pakistan, Urdu and development. I was working for the Red Cross in Melbourne. He had recently arrived in Australia. Somehow he got my email or phone number and made an enquiry, probably about work. I agreed to meet him in Canberra the next time I was there.
Over the years, we’ve maintained our friendship, even during his long absences back in Baluchistan where he has been caring for an elderly father, or in some other place around the globe which he traverses on behalf of the UN. Both of us have changed jobs, been unemployed, visited Pakistan (but only once at the same time), and tendered for work together. Nothing ever comes of it, but like the car/van, work and jobs is not what our friendship is about.
I treasure Karim because he is a true sharif banda, as they refer to gentlemen in Pakistan. He speaks quietly, regularly interjecting whispers of ‘Inshallah‘ or ‘bilkul sahi’ into the conversation, which creates a feeling of great intimacy and trust. He speaks with an ever so slight lisp that adds a musicality and distinctiveness to his voice. The topics he chooses to talk about are never callous or lewd but always interesting and mostly intellectual. The attitudes of people living in Taliban controlled districts of Aghanistan, the great Hindu and Sikh pilgrimage sites in Pakistan, what the recent elections in Pakistan mean for the Baluchistan nationalist movement and, stories of the humanity and grandeur of Akbar Khan Bugti, the Baluchi politician and patriot who was murdered in 2005 by the Pakistani State.
Karim speaks countless languages, Brahui, Pastho, Dari, Urdu, Baluch, Punjabi, English among them. He always can give me some insight into an aspect of Pakistani or Afghan culture I’ve never dreamed of, like the fact that the western-most of the 52 Peeths of the goddess Sati, is in Hinglaj, on the Makran coast in southern Baluchistan. Every year Hindu pilgrims from India and Pakistan come to do puja, and that the temple is visited by and protected by the local Muslim population.
Karim also never corrects my Urdu. That is what you expect of a sharif banda, after all.
I’m very privileged to call Karim Nawaz of Baluchistan and Canberra my friend.