Saturday, 15 August 2009

Azadi mubarak! (belated I'm afraid!)

Salaam! …, OK, so I am more than a little late with this, and reading it, you might be fooled in to thinking I was sending greetings to another nation!
But hey; better late than never! Put it down to the fact that I’m still ill, still on a funny time zone; I slept almost 18 hours today at once; can you believe that? Its worrying; I can’t decide whether its nazr (something I’m sadly very susceptible to), or if it’s a strange Middle Eastern parasite which bights you and condemns you to a life of perpetual exhaustion!! Allah kher!

Any way, I digress; here’s wishing every one a very healthy, happy and joyous independence day (well, in retrospect), azadi mubarak!!
The 14th August always brings real tinges of sadness to me now; on the 14th, I was here in Glasgow; feeling ill; I slept allot, went and had my hair cut after reading jumah, and watched the Azadi coverage on geo (and had a cry to myself). Its been around 5 years since I visited Pakistan, after my 3 years stint of living in Karachi I’ve not been back, yet my love for the country and the feelings that 14th August stir up for me are as fresh now as they were back in the good old days in the city of lights!

I dreamt of Pakistan long before I ever visited it. I don’t really know where my Asian fascination came from, but its always been with me, as much a part of me as my own skin! In fact it shaped my own skin (or at least the deep bangle grooves on both wrists!). I was gifted a shortwave radio for my 8th birthday, and used to spend nights Dxing (hence the insomnia!), and Pakistan was always there. I still have tape recordings from those days, mostly of music shows featuring Naheed Akhtar and Tahira Saeed, along with some arts features which, although I didn’t understand, got me attuned to the Urdu language, and doubtless assisted me subconsciously when I eventually got around to learning. In the eye of my mind, Pakistan was beautiful and exotic, a vibrant nation filled with colour, excitement, music and drama, the air thick with flowers and aromatic spices. The warmth of the people would surround me, and I always felt that when I did finally visit, I’d be engulfed with a feeling of coming home (which wasn’t too far from the truth). Those childhood dreams still haunt me, and reached their peak when I did finally have the honour of visiting radio Pakistan for myself! I sat drinking tea with the controller and weeping like a baby (I don’t think he really understood these emotions when I attempted to recount them, perhaps you have to be a woman, or just an oversensitive strange person like myself to get it!).

14th August is a beautiful day in Pakistan, (or at least I made it so). I’d always stitch myself a salwar suit in the colours of the Pakistani flag (no kidding! I even had my dupata especially dyed for the occasion!), matching bangles, shoes; the lot!
Then we would visit the mazar of Mohammed Ali Jinnah early that morning for the presidential address, and enjoy the celebrations of the people! Most people then just go home and crash in front of the TV, but I made a point of inviting every one over for lunch. Most of the shops were closed, so every one had to bring one dish, we’d eat, watch TV and then we’d launch in to a round of patriotic songs (being the anal creature that I am, I even had these printed out!). I don’t know exactly why 14th August became so important to me, perhaps it was about assimilation, or a subconscious need to fit in. Maybe it was just yet another throw back to my childhood days, or perhaps it was just about the spirit of independence. 14th August became allot more important to me, after I produced ‘may nay Pakistan bantay deca, a programme telling the real life stories of those who had fought for, and established Pakistan in the early days. We interviewed every one, from politicians, to soldiers, to women who had lost their husbands, sons, every thing, and to humble fruit sellers who left their properties to live in poverty in this new Muslim nation. The divisions of India and Pakistan were ugly, and will forever remain so; the scars of separation still bleed, and relations between the 2 are far from ideal. Younger generations too cling to hatred they don’t really understand, but holding on to it seems to give them a purpose, a reason to hate and a reason to fight. I don’t however, believe that independence does this, rather it is the reluctance to acknowledge, discuss and recognise the hurt and the injustices committed at that time which fuels the generations of cold separation that we witness today. Here in Scotland, we are no strangers to freedom struggles, we’ve been battling for independence ourselves for generations, and, as a nationalist myself, I certainly do not hate the English as a nation, but I hate the institution that raped my country of its pride, dignity and fortune. I am disgusted by the systematic attempts made to water down true Scottish history, and to conveniently obliterate any references to English war crimes, to the fact that thousands of farmers lost their wealth and livelihood thanks to the pillaging, and how the Scottish language was all but annihilated thanks to supremacists who would happily kill those who refused to speak nothing but English! To strip a people of their history is to leave them inferior, and psychologically dependent, in a place where they can neither move on nor go back, where they can neither rectify nor recognise the wrong that was done to them. Nationalism is a funny thing, no matter how much you pretend that its all politics, and has little consequence for the average man on the street, be assured it will come back and bight you with a vengeance! I believe this is in part why 14th August and celebrations like it are so important. They offer the nation 1 day to detach from the pain, to forget their current difficulties and the past they are still reeling from, and gives them a glimpse of what can and should be. It is a time to reflect on the successes (however small they may be), the achievements which are often lost in the business off living from day-to-day. No matter how much the country might be divided on the way forward, or on which politicians to support, or on which religious leaders ought to be taking centre stage in the battle for power, they will all come together unconditionally on the 14th to say ‘jeevay Pakistan, and this is a sentiment that I for one consider invaluable. Here in Scotland, we tried to stage similar celebrations for the 10 year anniversary of the Scottish parliament, but the nation did not really run with it, I guess generations of being indoctrinated in to thinking you have no rights to patriotism are a natural consequence of this reticence. For me though, Pakistan has got it spot on! The nation might be poor, it might be dealing with hugely complex power struggles and highly sensitive political juggling acts, but Pakistan is a nation built on incredible resilience and hope, a hope that remains burning in the hearts of many. A hope that keeps people living, breathing and fighting even when it seems the world is against them. Many say that Pakistan is unjust, and perhaps it is, but if one is to analyse Pakistan, you’ll doubtless find much more being done on the ground to implement practical justice, rather than the policy speak propagated by the west, which for the most part is there in order to justify doing nothing!
Only last week, my dearest friend and colleague, Zahid Abdullah (a disabled activist, lecturer and writer), was appointed to a senior post within the electoral commission of Pakistan, in recognition of his campaigning work within freedom of information. Zahid got this post on merit, because he is immensely talented and by far the best candidate for the job, an irony when you consider how much the UK has invested in so-called “equal opportunities”, yet we have no such figures within senior political and social positions. Moreover, we have an equalities commission which spends its time trying to score points off other equality strands!
Pakistan has its faults, (which nation doesn’t!), but so long as it holds on to its hope, and the rope of Islam on which it was founded, coupled with the strength and creativity of the activists that are immerging on today’s social stage, then the future holds many treasures for the land of the pure.
Azadi mubarak one and all,

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