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Tag Archives: 14th August

The hands behind the flags


Karachi – “I am quite old,” he says, contemplating in reply to a question, as his nimble fingers continue working on a huge Pakistani flag of synthetic material. “May be I am 12?” says the podgy child, sitting on a heap of about a hundred flags. “He is ten years old,” yells out his brother from the other side of the huge room where at every turn of the head, all one can see is flags of Pakistan. Mukhtiyar smiles, clicks his tongue non-chalantly, and goes back to work. There is lots of work to be done as Pakistan’s 68th Independence Day is a few days away. Mukhtiyar and his colleagues work in a kaarkhana (factory) in an industrial area of Karachi. He works on almost a 1000 flags a day in peak season.



Just some eight kilometres away, alongside a main road in an affluent part of Karachi, 15 years old Shazia and her younger brother have set-up a stall on a small table. The national flag in cloth and paper of all shapes and sizes, and many other items that help fuel patriotism are on display. “We buy all of this from lighthouse and sell it. We earn about 200 to 300 rupees a day, that’s all. Is dafa dhanda naheen hai (there is not much business this year),” says their mother Shehnaz who works as part-time domestic help in nearby bungalows. She swings by the stall every few hours to see how her children are doing.




Hoisting flags around the world

Every year, Pakistan is a splash of green and the minimal white. An entire industry springs into action weeks before the 14 August, and goes back into dormancy after the day is over. But for the workers at Pakistan’s only flag-based company, VIP Flags, flags are made all year round and provide livelihood to around 100 workers and their families. The factory is situated in Korangi Industrial Area, Karachi, and the products they churn out have been record-breaking, literally. “We set the world record of the time for the World’s Largest Flag on the occasion of Pakistan’s 57th Independence day in 2004. The flag measured 340ft x 510ft which is 173,400 sq.ft,breaking the previous American Super flag record, which was 255ft x 505ft,” says Asim Nisar Parchamwala, Director, VIP Flags. The record may have been broken but the pride with which he talks is permanent. From ceremonial and table flags to taking export orders of flags in the thousands that they take from all over the world, this is where most flags are made in the country, including the flags for all political parties. While smaller factories and industries make more economical versions of the banner sporting the symbolic star and crescent, most flags used for official purposes are made here. “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has commissioned us to make a flag for this year’s Independence Day which will be hoisted on the world’s tallest flag pole in Lahore,” says Parchamwala.





The workers here are mostly young, the oldest ones in their 30s. The volume of work is challenging. The factory is clean and the workers are well looked after. “They get a ten per cent raise in salary every year,” says Parchamwala, talking to The Express Tribune. When asked why he hires such young workers, he replies by saying, “what do you think these children would be doing if they are not hired? They would be running about in the streets or become members of gangs and mafias.”


In another room, two young “cutters” are cutting out flags that will later undergo finishing. The weather is hot and humid, but they are not putting on the fan. “Maal urta hai phir (the flags flutter with the wind the fan produces,” says Ghani.


Shahid, a 21 years old worker at VIP flags, agrees. “I have been working here for the last three years. My two brothers also work here. Initially I did not know this work, but overtime I have learnt the skill,” he says. Shahid’s salary is a reasonable sum, between 12 to 18 thousand rupees a month. “We make enough to support our family comfortably.”




A condensed version of this photo feature was published in The Express Tribune here:

I would have given my life for Quaid-e-Azam: My mother’s Pakistan

“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

Ae Quaid-e-Azam

(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

Ae Quaid-e-Azam”

(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.

Pakistan Zindabad!