“He was a weak, frail man. But when he spoke, his voice was like a lion’s. He stressed each word. Strong, determined voice.”
Dementia is ruthless. It doesn’t give you a choice about what you want to forget and what you don’t. But while the words may disappear at the cruel hands of memory loss, the feelings often don’t. My mother may at times confuse the names of her children, but she never forgets that she is ammi and we are her children. She also never forgets what Pakistan means to her, and to us. Her eyes still light up when she hears the name “Quaid-e-Azam”.
She hasn’t forgotten the most important things in her life – the good ones and the bad. Milestones are etched in her mind. Her days as a young girl in her teens who volunteered in the partition movement are a milestone for sure.
And so, for me and my siblings, Independence Day can’t be just another day. Every year, we sat around her, and in later years my nieces and nephews as well, listening to those anecdotes, stories and patriotic songs till they became a part of our own memories. The tradition of telling stories verbally is sadly fading. Thankfully, my mother kept it alive for us. Those sessions have been an inspiration for the activism in my life, I suspect, though at that time they were nothing but stories we enjoyed listening to because ammi – a poetry lover and a literature buff – told them so beautifully.
On August 14, my mind is filled with random excerpts of those sessions with my mother… oral history from the lens of a teenager who saw Pakistan being formed and got a chance to contribute. Through the glimpses from her memories we were acquainted with a revolution that changed the lives of millions; a revolution, the essence of which is now being doubted.
“He was a weak, frail man. But when he spoke, his voice was like a lion’s. He stressed each word. Strong, determined voice. As a child, I stuck close to the radio, waiting to hear his voice; hanging on to each word. My elder sisters were part of the Women’s Guard and although I was young, I would tag along.
Thousands of us. One cause. I don’t even remember any of us asking each other who was a Punjabi, a Pathan, a Balochi or a Sindhi or any ethnicity for that matter. We hadone leader, and we trusted him. I would have literally given my life for him as would have all the young people of the time.”
Ammi would then sing in her lovely voice:
“Millat ke liye kya hee ghaneemat hai tera dam
(What a blessing you are for this nation, Quaid-e-Azam)
Maana ke hai purpaich buhut zaada-e-manzil
Darpaish hai mushkil
(Agreed, the path to destiny is winding and we are faced with challenges)
Tu qaafila salaar humara hai to kya gham
(When you are our leader, why should we worry, O Quaid-e-Azam)
My mother, a Punjabi by descent, lost her father at a very early age. My nani (grandmother) widowed with five young children faced a tough challenge.
“But when we heard that trains full of our muhajir (those who migrated to Pakistan) brothers and sisters are coming to us, the doors of our hearts opened! We saved every penny and with that cooked loads of food and took it to the Lahore train station, waiting for them, trying to make sure they don’t go hungry or thirsty when they arrive. Sometimes, the coming of the train was not a very happy occasion. Many had already embraced martyrdom,” she’d say.
Through it all, my mother’s narrative never reeked of hatred. She talked of her Hindu friends, whom she missed because they migrated to India. These were not memoirs based on anger and hatred. These were actually memoirs based on unity, faith and discipline.
Today, we are in a different world altogether. Some of us even doubt if Pakistan should have come into being in the first place but thanks to my mother, I never do. I know the purpose behind this country; it was a nation’s way of asserting their right to their identity and to practice their faith. That never meant denying that right to followers of other faiths or those who differed in opinion. It was taking everyone in the fold of Pakistan.
In some ways, it’s nice that ammi is not as awake to the bitter realities of today’s Pakistan.The killings of the Hazaras in Quetta and the Punjabis in Mach, the children in Lyari and the innocent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – my mother’s peaceful soul would not have not taken all this well.
Thanks to ammi and her memoirs, I refuse to give up hope in better tomorrows for Pakistan. I refuse to be jaded and refuse to stop trying. Things may look bleak, but hope is all we have.
So today, on August 14, I am going to sit with her and remind her of those chants and slogans and show her the green and white flag fluttering away; just the way she did for all her children.
The slogans are not all obsolete. Specially “Hum Pakistan banayein ge” (we will make Pakistan).
It is time once more to re-build parts of Pakistan that are hurt and damaged; maybe this Independence Day we can all get the wheels of transformation to start moving.