August Issue 2012
Letters to Pakistan: Part II
To commemorate Pakistan’s 65th anniversary, Newslinerequested Pakistanis to write a letter to their motherland. In thefirst part that that was published online, Ayesha Tammy Haq quoted Beatles lyrics, Mohammed Hanif talked about his grandfather and Newsline‘s very own Man Friday Ghulam Mustafa shared his concerns about the state of things in Pakistan today.
In the second and final part of the series, we present you with letters from a chowkidaar and a former CEO, a local millkman and an internationally revered food blogger, a member of Mensa Pakistan and a maid in Defence. All that plus a special ‘undelivered’ letter from respected columnist Ghazi Salahuddin who wants to know where Pakistan has ‘disappeared.’ Read on…’
A letter to Pakistan? Sure. I do have a lover’s quarrel with my beloved country. So I could moan about real or imagined betrayals and infidelities.
But the problem is that I do not have the address to which this letter could be posted. Not only that, I do not know where Pakistan resides, in fact, I am not sure if it is still there. Or perhaps it has been kidnapped and held hostage in the wilds of Waziristan and one cannot communicate with it. Will they let it live because the ransom they apparently want — the original version — cannot be paid?
It is also possible that with the connivance of some NADRA officials, its identity has been stolen and an imposter is going around posing as Pakistan. I often get this feeling when I look at my country. It seems not to belong to me. Conversely, do I belong to Pakistan? Many years ago, an Urdu poet had posed this question: “Merey achchay watan, merey piyaray watan / Tu mujhey yeh bata, mein tera kaun hoon?” (My beloved nation, tell me what do I mean to you?
Remember Diogenes, that cynic philosopher of ancient Greece? He would go around with a lighted lantern in broad daylight, looking for an honest man. I could be doing the same, looking for Pakistan. Please, dear countrymen, have you seen my Pakistan? Do you know where it is at this time?
Yes, I think we should embark on a mission to find our Pakistan as they, the intrepid adventurers, would look for a treasure with the help of a faded and cryptic map. The speech made by someone on August 11, 1947 could be our map. Will our expedition pass through sites not marked on the map, such as the stadium in Dhaka where a document was signed on December 16, 1971, or the bombed-out schools of girls or torched places of worship of some minorities, or the unmarked graves of some young lovers killed by their own relatives? Would an Indiana Jones, perhaps sent as a consultant from Washington, help us in this exploration?
I keep wondering about where my Pakistan has gone, without leaving a forwarding address. A fearful, forbidding thought sometimes shatters my being: maybe it was never there, except as a dream or a grand illusion. Ah, but dreams have to be pursued and illusions translated into reality, howsoever unbearable it might be.
This means that the reality we have been condemned to live with, a reality that I do not recognise as my Pakistan, has to be fully grasped and changed in a manner that it comes as close to the dream as possible. The task, then, is to create a new Pakistan. And once we have a semblance of the country we had sought as Pakistan, we can communicate with it and live happily together. Then, I can write my letter to Pakistan and wish it a happy birthday.
Meanwhile, I will hum that old song from an Indian movie: “Baghwan tujhey mein khat likhta / Per tera pata maloom nahin”. (Lord I would write you a letter, but I have no address for you).
My dear Pakistan,
It saddens me to say that our own people have destroyed you. What are people killing each other for? And yet there are many of us who are willing to give our life for you! I am a poor woman, and I live with the constant ache of poverty, but what saddens me more is to see your destruction. Just the other day while I was asleep in my quarter a man entered the premises with a weapon — luckily, it wasn’t a gun but something more like an axe. I don’t know how we managed to force him out of the courtyard and lock the door behind us! I cannot sleep at night for fear of being killed and seeing my children murdered. Why am I so helpless? Why can’t I be safe? I have to say it again, why are we intent on killing each other?
What grieves me most is this mass murder in broad daylight (ye jo qatl e aam sare aam ho raha hai). Pakistan, I just want you to be happy, just like the days when I was happy in my parent’s house in the village. Now, in this teeming metropolis of Karachi, where I migrated after my marriage, my life’s only concern is worrying about the safety of my three children, supporting my layabout, drug-addict of a husband, and managing to eat one square meal a day. I wish for better times for you and me.
I dreamt last night of a young boy who was cowering behind a trunk in a railway bogey. In the background, there were screams, gunfire and one could smell blood. Not to forget the broken bodies. They were everywhere! Then, the dream cut to another scene and suddenly this train arrived at a railway station, the young boy was lifted out of the bogey and there were shouts of relief, as others were also carried to safety. There it is, the signboard says Lahore Railway Station and is that not my father there lying on the platform in shock? He has survived but he has seen hell, my dear Pakistan. At the ripe young age of 14 he has seen hell. Awful dream and I woke with a start, in a sweat remembering those millions in 1947, who suffered just to be with you. Just to belong.
Years later when that boy had become my father, he told me the story. Of the great aspirations and love which went with the commitment to abandon all in India and migrate to Pakistan. For him the horrible events along the way, defined his love for you. It was worth it to give all that for a land where he would be free. Where he could live, marry, earn and not be considered lower than others. Not for skin, nor for sect or religion, nor for his language. He thought it was worth it, for the home this country gave to him for almost six decades. Right up to his last months, then a wasting disease took him to a more permanent abode.
I am so sorry Pakistan, because somewhere in the middle, while still loving and pining for you, I went away, I went abroad for long stints. Did not show the same dedication my father did. As justification I thought I shall earn and give back to my land. My commercial training and reasoning kicking in! Only, money never equates to action and sharing pain. When I came back, you had been robbed. I had left you undefended and they had come, raped and pillaged you and left you distressed. My fault. I did not consider that my home was worth raising my voice for.
Well I have been back many years now and have seen some light at the end of the tunnel. These young ones they are more like my father. They are ready to live for a cause. Oh I know you would say that the vast masses are insensitive and uncaring. But do not lose hope, my dear Pakistan. These young ones have a vision and a story they believe in and are beginning to awaken. The big, long slumber is over. They have a finger on your pulse, they know you are alive. My dear Pakistan, I feel you will finally get the leaders and people you deserve.
Oh yes, I meant to write and say to you Happy Independence Day. A very Happy 65th Birthday!
Your hopeful citizen
I want our country to be on the top economically and in all aspects. I wish that us Pakistanis could attain education of all sorts and you, Pakistan, could once again be a beautiful country. As of now, poverty and a lack of education cannot make you beautiful. That is the kind of beauty that we need and deserve.
We also do not want discrimination, or any sort of racial or religious profiling. That only fuels inequality. We want everyone to be equal here and live peacefully, no matter where anyone comes from or what they do. We want to serve you and our religion, Islam.
We Pakistanis would readily give our lives for you, our beloved homeland.
It is that time of the year when one stops and takes stock of where things stand. My first instinct is to list all the miseries you are riddled with, and thereby break into yet another round of mourning. But I am tired of doing that. The fact is, that I have made every effort to destroy your future. I have spent my life deconstructing you bit by bit. Never abandoned an opportunity to cut right through your heart. I have drenched your sands with blood of my own. In short, I have done everything in my power and beyond, to shatter your dreams and snuff out the hopes of your mothers and daughter.
But, my dear Pakistan, this is an interesting year. Once again the holy nights of Ramadan are in sync with the night of your creation. Shab-e-Qadr, i.e. 27th Ramadan will be just two days away from 14th August. And I feel we should take this moment in time to renew our azm-e-alishan (determination to succeed) and instead of mourning for what we don’t have, look at what we do have and build upon that.
My dear Pakistan, my country, I remember how you protected me and gave me shelter when I was oppressed. You give me water, even though I do not make the job easier for you. You feed the entire population, even though I have not bothered to reduce your burden of population. My dear Pakistan, you have given me an identity, a culture, a rich history, an ancient inheritance, and more than anything else, freedom. You have given me the freedom to be whoever I want to be; freedom to grow and succeed. You have given me the freedom to hold myself accountable — but I don’t.
Pakistan, I beg your forgiveness for my indiscretions, for my carelessness. I beg you to give me another chance to be a fair son of your soil. I beg you to forgive my failures and to protect me from my own evil hands
My dear Pakistan, keeping in mind the struggle of my forefathers and for the promise of my children’s bright future, I pledge my allegiance to you. I promise to uphold your honour; to stand together with my brothers and sisters, in unity, in faith, and with discipline.
My dear Pakistan, last but not least, I thank you for letting me be a Pakistani.
It must be white-hot right now, your sun shining strong above the canals of Lahore, where children come to wade in the brown water to cool themselves off. Summers reminds me of siestas in my Nani Ami’s home on the baanson wali sarak, when all the bedrooms would turn ink-dark by pulling down the bamboo blinds after a long, lazy meal of her spicy ginger-laced chicken stew, scooped up with light-as-air tandoori rotis from nearby Dharampura. I would love to have mangoes from your fertile Punjabi earth, those fragrant chaunsa mangoes, egg-yolk yellow from inside, through which my knife slices like butter, the juices running down my arm with each bite, seated at my grandmother’s dining table. Or maybe one of your anwar ratols or the parrot-green skinned langras, all reminiscent of my childhood in my city of birth, Lahore.
Do you remember when I used to walk alongside my Mamoo in the evenings, grasping his hand, under the shade of the bamboo canopy outside Nani Ami’s home? I so wish you had not cut those bamboo stems down to widen the road. Our local samosa wallah used to be seated under that shade, forming triangular pastry parcels with his dexterous hand, pushing and pinching in cumin-spiced mashed potatoes, then frying them in his orb-like karahi. I loved watching them bobbing up and down in the musky oil. He sold them hot and steaming in a khaki paper bag, to be taken home and enjoyed with our afternoon tea. But after you cut down those bamboos, one by one, all the food hawkers in Nani Ami’s neighbourhood disappeared, and with it, so did our evening walks.
Even on the canal bank, I wish you had not decided to cut down your beautiful willow trees. Don’t you remember the challi wallah on the canal bank near Aitchison College? He always sported a yellow and white checkered scarf, resting lazily on his left shoulder, and a perfectly-starched kurta, even when your sun shone almost unbearably. As a bemused child, I remember looking on as he fished the challis out with his bare hands from the smouldering heap of coal dust. After removing the husks, he took half a lime, dipped it in chili and salt and smeared it all over the golden, blistered challi. And surely you remember that across the street from the challi wallah were those weeping willow trees lining the canal bank, drooped and in prostration, praying for the monsoons to come. I was very saddened to learn you had given people permission to chop your trees down last year. I hear the children have no shade to shelter them when they come out of the water from their swim. And the challi wallahs are also long gone. When I arrive in Lahore this year, as our car drives along the bank, the canal will be bare and naked.
I hope you don’t continue to change, because my family and you, well, we go back a long way.
I wanted to wish you a Happy 65th Independence Day and thank you for the childhood memories. In your honour, I’ll slice through a sindhri from a desi store here. And I’ll even add a dollop of clotted cream in place of the malai I had in Nani Ami’s home all those summers.
If there is heaven on earth then it is in you. Fortunately for me I belong to that heaven, but all is not well there. I came to Karachi for a job eight years ago, to earn well and help my family back in Swat. If things were better there, I wouldn’t have had to leave in the first place. So Pakistan, please be good again. Control the inflation that has essentially destroyed everyone’s lives. Your current President Zardari should step down and let some good man, like Imran Khan take charge. I do not say this because I am a Pathan, but this is a man who has not been tried and tested and I believe things would be different under him. Ultimately, for an ordinary man like me, and millions others like me, I only ask for peace, patience and tolerance that would enable us to go back to the Pakistani heaven that once was, where we could live without any fear of the Taliban or the military.
These letters were originally published in the August issue of Newsline.