It had already been a bad month. Several people we knew, connected to the school at which my father taught or other family friends, had already died. Two had been on motorcycles, in accidents with no helmets. One, we called him the “Tickle Monster,” had been one of our favorites of dad’s students. Another had been a leader in his community for several decades, and many called him the “Peanut Butter Man.” My grandfather has written a book on his life.

Our family would gather together, it seemed, every time we heard news of someone else dying. “Family meetings” would later become something that we would not do, or at least not the name by which we called them.

I don’t remember the order in which everyone passed away. I do remember one family meeting, though. The girls and I were gathered together by our parents, and told that something bad might have happened, and one (or both, my memory is fuzzy) of my parents had to go away for a bit and then would come back and tell us what happened. When they came back they let us know that Dr. Fazal had been killed.

Dr. Fazal was a young orthodontist. He was warm and friendly, and the best blessing a kid dreading braces could have possibly hoped for. His office was in Islamabad, so it was a short drive from Rawalpindi into the cleanliness and orderliness of the capital city. His office was set apart in a nice house. Oddly enough, I remember a CNG (compressed natural gas) station near his office, and during shortages can recall long lines of cars waiting to have their giant fuel tanks refilled.

His office was nice, and very Western. There was a nice bathroom, with Western magazines. Better still, there was a television with a satellite, and we could watch “Captain Planet.” He’s our hero. We would watch as we waited to be called back to the office, where we would be given tighter bands and new treatments to stop the bleeding and rawness in our mouths. I was nearly done with my braces, but my sisters were further behind.

Dr. Fazal had grown up in America. He came from a well-to-do family in Pakistan, and his father had been in politics. He spoke perfect English, had a young, pretty wife, and two small children aged two and four. We knew vaguely that they lived on top of one of the many hills to the north and east of Islamabad. My parents would point it out whenever we drove to Murree and back. I pictured his house, presumably rather large, sitting on top of one of the hills, and wondered about the back roads that were required to travel there. It was about 40-50 minutes away from Islamabad.

At our second “family meeting” that day, we were told what happened. Again, my memory is poor at the best of times, so what follows is merely my personal recounting of what I’ve pieced together in my head. Consulting with my family will no doubt fill out the story more completely and accurately.

What I recall is that Dr. Fazal’s cook had run away with a girl from a village. In many countries this is merely eloping, and a rather romantic and only mildly daring endeavor. However, in many parts of Pakistan, many countries around the world, and many people groups and diasporas spread around the globe, this is a terrible tragedy. The girl’s family has had their honor ruined, destroyed, and they have been shamed. The same may happen if a girl becomes unexpectedly pregnant, or is raped. The course of action in many cases is quite similar; it is the duty of the father or brothers to rectify the situation, usually by the removal of the source of dishonor.

The cook took the girl to Dr. Fazal’s house, hoping that perhaps they would be safe there. Her four brothers showed up, however, and Dr. Fazal met them. His dogs had been locked away, and none of his guards were still at the house. He tried to reason with them, refusing to give up the girl or the cook, knowing that they would be killed. One of the brothers swung his ax and struck Dr. Fazal in the neck. The brother fled, and Dr. Fazal died on the long drive to a hospital in Islamabad.

The entire incident was a tragedy in a great number of ways, but Dr. Fazal’s fate is certainly not unique. I can’t recall how I reacted. I would have been 14 or 15 at the time, and I seem to remember reading newspaper articles about what happened. I still do that in an attempt to process any bombing or natural disaster that strikes Pakistan.

In a way, Dr. Fazal, he’s our hero. He did the right thing, more than likely saving one or two lives in the process. But he was killed, and this was a tragedy for a number of reasons. He left behind a young family. He was one of the few foreign-educated medical professionals who returned to Pakistan to work instead of seeking more lucrative (and more comfortable) working and living conditions in the west. It would have been easier, obviously, for him to stand aside and let the events take their natural course. But he didn’t.

I still don’t know how to react, I don’t think. Every once in while friends or coworkers will be talking about braces or growing up. If I feel so inclined I’ll relate the above story, but have learned to accept that it usually ends all conversation. It’s not a funny story, nor an amusing story. It’s depressing and seems hopeless. I don’t know why I recite it from time to time, but I do. It was a part of my experience growing up. I have learned that it’s a story not many in America can relate to. And perhaps none of us is able to fully process it.


Links (most likely containing more accurate information than what has been related above)

Fazaldad Human Rights Institute

Women’s Rights website

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