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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!

Peaceful Co-existence – Possible in Pakistan?

As a die-hard patriot who still harbours hope in the goodness of the Pakistani people, and the resilient strength of this nation, this 23rd March 2012 I found myself thinking. The day commemorates the resolution which became perhaps the most important founding document of this country. Our forefathers believed in why Pakistan was created. My mother’s most important memories as a young girl are of the times when she worked as a political activist in the Women’s National Guard in which women worked to support men in the Pakistan movement. When she and her family were struggling to help out their brothers and sisters who had migrated to the newly founded country called Pakistan. Migrants who had sacrificed homes, lives and more, just for the dream of a country where they could live on their own terms.

And the reason both the muhaajireen (migrants) and the Muslims already living in the areas that today comprise Pakistan did what they did was because they believed in the cause – that Muslims, like any other race or followers of any faith, have the right to live life on their own terms – terms that may be religious, traditional or cultural. At the same time, minorities, it was very clear, in this new state that was to be called Pakistan, would have a right to co-exist in complete peace and security, and will not be punished for believing in a different god.

Some 64 years later, sad things have happened. If we just take the last couple of years as an example, we see examples of the oppression and persecution of minorities like the Ahmadiyyah sect. We see stories of many who are forcefully converted to Islam. The recent most story is of Rinkle Kumari who was forced to become Faryal, while her heart I have no doubt remained that of Rinkle Kumari. Over the last 120 years, claims of caretakers of the Bherchondi shrine in Sindh point in the direction that on an average at least 250 people are coerced into accepting Islam every year.

This is insane. And it saddens me at many levels.

It saddens me because, at the risk of being called an apologist, and a risk I am willing to take, I know that Islam is not about force. Faith, like love, is a matter of the heart.

Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful, says in the Qur’an: “Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth has been made clear from error. Whoever rejects false worship and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. And Allah hears and knows all things.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 256]

What, then, are we forcing people to convert to? A soulless, dead declaration which will in fact act as a repellent against Islam? If I ever meet Rinkle Kumari, I would want to go hug her, and tell her that my dear sister, please know that what they converted you to is not Islam. It is a product of bigotry and a complete lack of awareness about Islam’s true essence.

Having said that, I will not say to Rinkle Kumari that I have failed her. That WE have failed her. Because the obstinate believer in goodness of my people that I am, I believe that a bigger majority of Muslims in Pakistan would not and will not commit or approve of atrocities and hate crimes against minorities.

This saddens me because many Rinkle Kumaris have been wronged on my homeland….my home land Pakistan,  for which I refuse to use the sarcastic slur word “land of the pure” because I believe that a lot of purity still does exist here.

But on 23rd March, in retrospect, what saddened me even more was that because of these extremist incidents and attitudes, we are borderline apologetic for having believed in wanting to create a homeland where Muslims could peacefully practice their faith. And may I add, without harming or marginalizing the minorities. Ever so often, we hear people say “what was the whole point in getting an independent homeland for Muslims?”. It seems we are being forced to choose sides. If you believe that this country was rightfully created to safeguard rights of Muslims, does that make you someone who is against the rights of minority communities?

Politically correct or incorrect, I still believe it was the right thing to do… want to have a homeland where the sound of azaan resonates through the air five times a day, but where my Christian brothers can peacefully visit the church whenever they want to…..that was the idelogy on which Pakistan was based.

Muslims were not getting their rights back then, so they struggled for them, fought for them, and got them, under Quaid e Azam’s leadership. We may not realize that today, but we are blessed that they did. So here I say it, loud and proud, that I am thankful for the gift of an independent homeland where I can practice my faith. And that does not make me a bigot who is aiming to undermine minorities. There is always a middle ground. Always. Let’s stay there.