August Issue 2015
Letters to Jinnah
A familiar lament heard every Independence Day is that the founder of the nation would be unable to recognise the country he founded. Whither Jinnah’s Pakistan, is the plaintive question.
This August 14, Shehzad Ghias, a stand-up comedian, Shazaf Fatima Haider, the author of How It Happened, and Saba Gul, the founder of the ethical fashion label Popinjay, address this question in a letter to Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
Dear Mr Jinnah,
You don’t know me but I am one of the 200 million people who call Pakistan home. It’s just Pakistan now; East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971 — an independent, sovereign homeland for Muslims. You’d be proud to see Bangladesh today.
Or at least, I assume you would. I am sorry if you think I am being too forthcoming; it’s just that I feel like I know you. Your shadow looms over every Pakistani. There is a picture of you everywhere: in schools, on television, on our currency. I’m not sure if you’d enjoy the limelight, and whether you’d like to share it with your fellow leaders.
There is a picture of you in every government building too. Every politician and dictator speaks to the nation with a large portrait of you hanging on a wall behind or alongside him. Your presence is used to legitimise their decisions, many of which I am sure you wouldn’t approve of. I suspect you would rather not see them put words in your mouth.
I have read and studied your words, and I have heard them being repeated, reiterated hundreds of times. But their meaning seems to change depending on who I am hearing them from. I am convinced they are not your words anymore; they are not even words anymore, just sounds in a cacophony of voices. They have been mauled and exploited for political gains. Even those who maimed, defaced and ridiculed your ideas, now assume to speak on your behalf.
This is why I am writing this letter to you today, on Pakistan’s 68th independence celebration (oh, and Happy Birthday to you too, your nation has proved to be as resilient and unwavering as you), to ask you which representation of ‘Quaid ka Pakistan’ do you prefer?
Did you want a theocratic state, an Islamic empire, a secular country or a nation comprising different independent states? If you could just write back, we would be able to decide.
I wonder how the term ‘Quaid ka Pakistan’ was even conceived. I know everyone in your own party and your own cabinet did not always agree with you. So was the term your idea, or the result of a synthesis of numerous ideas?
The Pakistan of today is a multi-faceted society with diverse groups and numerous opinions. We need a man like you to bring us all together. If only you could only tell me how you managed to bring about the Pakistan Resolution, and then Pakistan, I might be able to do the same for our country.
People tell me I could never do this. You were an exception, and there can only be one Quaid-e-Azam. This is why, today, I am writing to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the man behind the Quaid. We never learned about him in school, but I am sure you had your faults, as does your country. If you managed to overcome them to become a great leader, surely we can overcome our shortcomings to become a great nation.
A true Quaid ka Pakistan will be a Pakistan that emulates you, that is more concerned about the lives of 200 million living, breathing souls than of centuries-old ideas. One Pakistan that takes into account the ideals of all Pakistanis, rather than one with every person fighting to create their own Pakistan. A Pakistan that has unity but not uniformity, where diversity is celebrated, not curbed, and where we are free, free to go to our temples, free to go to our mosques, or any other place of worship.
I apologise if I plagiarised a little from you towards the end of this letter. After all, I am only one of the 200 million people that call Pakistan home. I am no Quaid-e-Azam.
Dear Mr Jinnah,
Please excuse my tardiness in writing this letter to you. I should have done so much earlier. The problem lay not in the fact that there is no postal address for heaven or hell (the location of your residence is under much debate these days, especially across the Indo-Pak border), but that I was unsure which Jinnah I should address.
It’s tremendously inconvenient that you died 67 years ago and I didn’t get the opportunity to meet you. What my generation has inherited, instead, is a conflicting narrative by erstwhile historians and film directors, each eager to cut out a lasting pattern of you. For some you are a saint, saving the Muslims from the tyranny of the Hindus bent on revenge for years of oppression after the sun had set on the British Empire. For others you are a jealous, vampirish, scowling villain with too myopic a vision to listen to the wisdom of Bapu and Nehru. Another pattern of you arises as a grandfatherly statesman, weeping at the misery of the migrants that fled from the persecution you didn’t predict, but stoic in the resolve that Pakistan needed to exist at all costs.
These days I’ve been trying to bake biscuits, Mr Jinnah. I started with much enthusiasm and bought lots of cookie-cutters to give my creations their shape but, alas, the dough refuses to rise. Neither, for that fact, does a unified, contradiction-free image of you. And since the real Jinnah can never stand up, perhaps I should create my own cookie-cutter image of you? After all, if the British could cut up the sub-continent, surely I can cut and paste my own idea of you.
I think I’ll base my impression on a photograph where you smile at the camera, cradling an adoring dog. And then combine that with yourself in a sherwani, asserting the need for a liberal state where everyone was free to worship as they wished, where liberty confined individual beliefs to the personal domain and people would not be Muslim or Hindu or Parsi, but Pakistani. I’ve heard that you exploited Islam for your political goals and therefore sowed the seeds for the fundamentalism that has thus ensued. But not to worry, all children blame their parents for their misdeeds. Don’t take these allegations too seriously.
Do you know, Mr Jinnah, that the dog photograph created havoc among the maulanas and holy men who curled their lips contemptuously at your unclean pastimes? For them, you are the na paak leader of Pakistan and it is their duty to purify the nation. They do so through religion, thereby ignoring your call for liberty. The debate has shifted to whether you yourself were Shia or Sunni. Apparently you were Shia until the end, when you had the good sense to ‘convert.’ For your sake, I hope you did. The rozas here are too long and it would be sensible and logical to shift allegiance to a sect that breaks fast 10 minutes earlier. I’m almost tempted to do so myself. In any case, since we’re swiftly driving the Hindus and Christians to migrate and killing off the Shias and Ahmadis, your vision of peaceful co-existence isn’t really relevant, because all Pakistanis will soon dress and think exactly alike. We’re just a few bomb blasts and target killings away from that glorious goal.
Therefore, Mr Jinnah, I’d like to advise you to not worry. We Pakistanis are reinventing our own image along with yours. I’m not sure you’d like what you see, but then, you’re dead and gone, and I don’t think you are that relevant to our narrative any more. But I hope you’re happy, wherever you are.
Pet your pooch, have a cigar and lounge back and enjoy the show. That’s how I like to picture you at the end of this missive. Give my salams to your sister.
Shazaf Fatima Haider
Dear Mr Jinnah,
Not many will contest the fact that today’s Pakistan mirrors very little of what your vision for this nation was. As we close upon the country’s 68th year of existence, I know my generation has a growing nostalgia for the 1980s Pakistan we grew up in.
I lived a large part of my childhood in the hill station of Abbotabad. Back then, it was a stunning, sleepy little town where people flocked to escape the summer heat of Punjab. Today it is notorious as the city that harboured the world’s most famous terrorist and became the site for his capture and killing.
Today, I live in a Pakistan where I get a text message late one night telling me that one of my dear friends has been shot and killed on the streets of Karachi for her activism for the rights of the voiceless. Where 132 children in Peshawar go to school one morning to never return. Where a journalist friend in Lahore narrowly escapes an assassination attempt. And yet another friend’s parents are mysteriously murdered inside their home. Mira Sethi recently eloquently captured what all of us are feeling today: “My childhood was a buoyant, sunny time. Now I live in a country maddened by terror.” So I live through these unspeakable tragedies, and wake up one day to the horrific realisation that I have only survived them by numbing myself to the realities of today’s Pakistan.
Yes, Mr Jinnah, it would be an understatement to say we have failed to live up to what you had hoped we would be as a nation today. If I met you today, you would see embarrassment and shame in my eyes.
But beneath the veneer of shame, you would gradually see love, admiration and a fierce hope in my eyes, as we spoke of our Pakistan and its people. Admiration for this nation that continues to plough forward in the midst of violence and chaos, and with a system that has broken down completely. You would see a passionate love for the vibrant cities of this country — for the streets of my Lahore that never lose their charm and bustle, for its architecture that inspires awe centuries after it was built, for its bubbly rickshaw drivers and chai wallas that will crack jokes despite the madness surrounding them, for the men and women that work tirelessly to earn their living with integrity, and for the children whose innocent eyes carry hope for a bright tomorrow. For Ansar Parveen, the 33-year-old mother of five who takes so much pride in working four hours every day to take home the five thousand rupees each month that will pay for her daughter’s school fees and her family’s household needs.
Mr Jinnah, the Pakistan you dreamed of, where unity, faith and discipline reign supreme, can still be found in the Ansars of this country.
How can I not love this place? How can I not love these people? I love my Pakistan, even when I hate it.
I fight with my emotions for today’s Pakistan every day. Yes, there are days when it’s really hard to love this country. There are days when I want to pick a fierce, fierce fight with my Pakistan. But they say you shouldn’t worry when you fight with someone. You should worry when you stop because it means there’s nothing left to fight for.
And so that is what we do every day as young Pakistanis. We fight. Fight the fear. Fight the chaos. Fight the contradiction of the love and hate we feel for Pakistan.
And fight we will, Mr Jinnah.
Just as you fought for an independent Pakistan, we will fight for a peaceful, moderate, progressive, buoyant one.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s August 2015 issue.