How does one even begin to express one’s love for a homeland that is everything? Alpha and omega. Home, journey and destination. A sandbox where you make all mistakes and in a heartbeat, everything is forgiven and forgotten. Motherland and fatherland. And must one express this love? Or is it communicated and understood without saying anything like a son’s is towards a parent. But then again this is the age of expression and children today remind you of their infinite love every five minutes. This is where the poverty of one’s abilities holds one’s tongue. I, for one, am no Tagore whose alchemy of words would create pure gold, or who had the company and help of titans like Yeats. I can only try to talk of the visceral nature of affection that powers my heart and preoccupies every waking hour of my modest existence.
Perhaps Tagore’s these words would come close to what I want to say: “I am here to sing thee songs. In this hall of thine I have a corner seat. In thy world I have no work to do; my useless life can only break out in tunes without a purpose. When the hour strikes for thy silent worship at the dark temple of midnight, command me, my master, to stand before thee to sing. When in the morning air the golden harp is tuned, honour me, commanding my presence.”
74 is an interesting number. Just one year shy of platinum jubilee. An age quite mature in human years but rather young in the comity of nations. One number further than 73, that Dr Sheldon Cooper of Big Bang Theory fame calls the best number. “Why? 73 is the 21st prime number. Its mirror, 37, is the 12th and its mirror, 21, is the product of multiplying 7 and 3…. In binary 73 is a palindrome, 1001001, which backwards is 1001001.” But it is neither 73, not 75. Almost there but not quite. Stuck between being and becoming. But let us not forget that it is the mirror of 47, the year of the country’s birth.
When you look at the nature of the 74 years of our collective cognitive experience, the first word that comes to mind is survivalism. Seriously. I have not seen another country that burns so much midnight oil mulling over existential threats, both real and imagined. This could be because of the spontaneous nature of Pakistan’s birth, the trauma left behind by the violence that accompanied freedom, India’s constant predictions about its failure, the fall of East Pakistan or a million more trials that it has gone through. While others sing of their country’s greatness, we pray for its long life. Humility is good, and prayers useful. But when you have lived long enough you do not need to revisit and re-litigate the causational factors of your country’s birth. It is there, we inherited it and it is the only place we have ever called home. Instead of justifying it every 10 minutes, we need to concern ourselves with the task of making it better. Dreams and visions matter here. Today’s aspirations for tomorrow. And actions affirming those visions.
Reflecting on the independence day and journey so far proves to be a bittersweet experience for my generation. Sweet because it is the independence day. Bitter not because of the day or the country, but for who we (my generation) are. I call us the lost generation. Not the one that was led astray, but the kind that falls through the cracks when you are not looking. Heavy traffic on streets forces cars to switch to the slower lanes, where once boxed in, it may take hours to cover a journey of minutes. This is the story of my generation’s life. As Faiz put it, ‘Kahaan se aa’ii nigaar-e-sabaa, kidhar ko ga’ii, abhii charaagh-e-sar-e-rah ko kuchh khabar hii nahin’, (Whence came that darling of a morning breeze, whither has it gone? The lamp beside the road has still come no lessening.)
For a lifetime how many crises have we seen? The worst earthquake of the country’s history (2005), the worst floods (2010), the worst existential challenge since 1971 (the war on terror which left around eighty thousand dead including women and innocent children), perhaps the worst climate change challenge, economic hard times, belligerent neighbours and constant erosion of opportunities. The first Afghan war, refugee crisis, Afghan civil war, Taliban, the second Afghan war, now Taliban again. Modi, Doval and their defensive offence. Only God knows how many more upheavals we have to see before we meet our maker. And what leadership did we provide? All our national leaders are in their advanced sixties. My generation has never led the country. Perhaps the next generation will. We, my dear sirs, are truly a lost generation.
Then there is the matter of memory and introduction. The country’s memory is not what it once was. In the American romantic comedy 50 first dates, when Adam Sandler learns after falling for Drew Barrymore that she suffers from anterograde amnesia and he will have to re-introduce himself to her every single day, he does not baulk. But that’s why stories are just stories. It is one tough job. And it must be a South Asian thing because recently an Indian poetess Rehna Sultana wrote: Ma, ami tumar kachchey aamar porisoi diti diti biakul oya dzai (Mother, I’m so tired, tired of introducing myself to you.) I know it was said in a different context. But it fits this context too. Like a glove. Doesn’t it?
So, you get it. Bittersweet. But here is the thing. This country’s most emancipating gift and one can die because of the intensity of love due to this, is that it is almost a blank slate. Too much can be written. And perhaps the best that has ever been written, anywhere. A paradise on earth, a city of love, a dreamer’s best dream come true. We owe it to our next generation to leave a better Pakistan than the one we inherited. No political pipe dreams or delusions of grandeur. Just a beautiful, peaceful, pluralistic place one feels proud to call home. From our eastern neighbour, we are getting too much hate these days. We have seen enough hate to last a lifetime. We will only deal in love and humanity now. As the prime minister so aptly put it, we will be partners in peace, not in war.
Great nations are built on the backs of many generations that die unrecognised. It seems my country needs only one. Perhaps, that is the only way for my lost generation to be found.
Happy 75th Independence Day everyone.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2021.