While I was home in Hyderabad, some family friends and the boys of my family took a trip down to the Indus River. We don’t go out to the river very often. In fact, we usually just go to show it to people who are visiting at the time. This time, as we drove out to the Indus and over the big barrage, it reminded me of earlier days — of the times we would go as a family, to a swimming pool further down the road. We would load into the car with our towels, books and toys and drive down the familiar road, enjoying the cool breeze. Once there, we would switch into our swim trunks in the neglected change rooms, watching the wasps closely as they buzzed around the warm window, or hid themselves in the cracks of the doorways to the toilets. Going to the bathroom was dangerous.
We would leave wet footprints all over the hot concrete around the pool as we made our leap into the water, calling for attention from our parents, who were trying to relax and read on the side. Around the edge of the pool were hollow, stainless steel railings, and we kids would go to opposite sides, shouting and making silly sounds through the pipes to each other, or would try to blow water from one end to the other. It never worked. In the very early days we could get food there — usually french fries or pop. I would always have a Fanta. I rarely do anymore. I think I’m afraid that it won’t be the same. The pool eventually changed management with the departure of the British engineers who had lived there, and over the years it became green and cloudy. More and more of the areas were closed, and when the bottom of the pool eventually disappeared into the emerald haze, we finally stopped going altogether.
There at the river, the dark blue water was low in the river bed, and a few of the gates on the barrage had been opened to allow the buildup of silt to be cleaned out of them. They too had suffered through years of neglect. The British may have left some negative marks in Pakistan, but their influence left some quality infrastructure behind. Unfortunately their departure has meant neglect and disrepair for many buildings and systems around Pakistan. The barrage is one of these. Climbing down the steep steps on the bank of the river, we made our way across the flat expanse of sand toward the thin channel that the Indus had become at that point in its journey. There it was still and quiet. The sun hung low in the sky, throwing small shadows over the ripples in the sand as we walked along.
I kept my eyes focused on the ground, falling behind the rest as I stooped to pick up two halves of a clam shell in the sand. I had forgotten that shells could be found in the riverbed. I suppose having only seen them in the ocean before, I didn’t expect them here. With the shells in my pocket, I continued along, keeping an eye out for more. Before long I found another, bending to pick it up from the sand. It was small, and as I ran my fingers across its surface, the outside of the shell flaked like old paint on a wall. It wasn’t nearly as big as the others and, with its peeling surface, I was just about to toss it back down into the sand when I stopped myself. I ran my thumb over its rippled flaking surface again. It was so imperfect — so perfectly imperfect.
Sure, it wasn’t large, or very smooth. It was small and simple. It had its imperfections. It wasn’t the picture-perfect shell I had been looking for, but that didn’t make it worthless. Did I really want a flawless, picturesque shell anyway? In some ways it was the fact that the imperfections existed that made it valuable. It was real. It was raw.
My experiences, my home, my life — have all been like that shell. They came with aspects that weren’t always perfect or pretty. They came with imperfections. Is Pakistan a bed of roses or the first choice for luxurious living? No, but I love it. It’s beautiful. That shell is beautiful too, with its patterned exterior peeling and chipping away. It’s beautiful, imperfections and all.
There was only one shell that came home with me in the end. I left the others to keep the smallest one. Now it sits in a little clay dish on my desk in my room as a reminder. Something doesn’t need to be perfect in life for it to be valuable. In fact, it rarely is. Life, experiences, places and people all come with issues and disappointments. Make the best of the them, because there’s beauty in the imperfections.