Azhar was one of those boys in college who I never remembered seeing till I went on a college ice climbing trip with him. After that I saw him around campus all the time. One of the first conversations I had with him was in a large tent full of several college students who were sitting huddled close together for survival.
Okay, so that is stretching it, but within acceptable means of stretching. It was terribly cold and we were not able to make a bonfire that night. The temperature was below freezing. It was cold enough to sit back to back with a stranger just for body warmth and then make awkward small talk.
So, I don’t remember exactly what we talked about…cities and ethnicities, music and pop culture… Azhar was not quite in tune with the music I remember growing up to (Junaid Jamhed, Junoon, really? Vital Signs? Nothing?). He was always the one – him and that very smiley Austrian exchange student – several yards ahead of the rest of the group on all the treks and walks. If the group paused to take a break, lean back against a tree and exchange water bottles, Azhar and the Austrian would use that time to climb a mountain. Seriously.
He lives in Lahore with his family. He has a younger brother and a younger sister and owns a cat who he likes to call his beti even though it is a male cat. He eats a breakfast fit for kings and enough for all of Snow White’s dwarves, but he is still a pretty skinny guy.
Azhar is obnoxiously fit. You know those pictures of guys who stand on their hands on a hill top with blue skies behind them, and scurry up a tree as if it was walking in a straight line on the ground, or bike some 300 plus kilometers from Islamabad to Lahore? Well, yeah, Azhar’s that guy.
I suppose I could call him quiet, but he is also full of energy, and unlike many young people in Pakistan, he still gets angry and indignant at corruption, injustice and excessive materialism (unless of course the material is expensive climbing equipment). He went on the Fulbright Scholarship to Duke for his masters in environmental management (right? It almost sounds too good to be true! Especially since he really does NOT spend much time over books or in class-like environments!).
He spent two years travelling, baking apple pies, introducing Americans to classical music and chai, and he cultivated an impressive love and skill for climbing.
But I guess for me, the most impressive thing is that he came back to Pakistan. He is back and looking at ways to enrich the small but existing climbing culture in the country, and I hope he stays. For the sake of all those little boys and girls who have exceptionally strong fingers and can climb a 5.9 on their third try.
Oh, Azhar also loves Celine Dion and Taylor Swift. Which kind of takes the edge off his boxer-climber-biker persona and makes me laugh.