Why I celebrate 23rd March…

Originally published in Us Magazine, The News.

As the day has dawned upon us, there are heaps of all sorts of comments doing the rounds. (Pseudo) analysts are wasting bundles of paper writing soberly on how the day is a sad one, since everything seems to be going the wrong way in the country. Students all around the country have had their bated breath paid off for a long-awaited holiday. And (pseudo) experts are bracing themselves to dive head-long in exhaustive debates on the real character of the resolution that was passed on this day. I’m not much interested in either, it all seems to me an oft-repeated episode of been-there, done-that! (That said, a holiday is invariably welcome!)

But what I’m actually interested in is celebrating. For the meek reason that the celebration is my country’s. Agreed, there’s chagrin in the country. Things aren’t going the way they should be. They should change, most definitely. But until that happens, I’m not playing party to that group of country-bashers who keep on telling you there’s no hope for the country. For had patriotism been about perfection, I would have hated my country since always. But I don’t. As a mother doesn’t love her child based on the talents he possesses or a child doesn’t love his mother owing to her achievements, I’ve never tried loving my country for what it offers. (Had it been the opposite, we’d have applied for immigration long ago).

I love my country for what it is. I love it because it’s mine. And here are my other reasons. (And if you’re expecting it to be a run-of-the-mill stuff that you find on the internet, you better turn the page and log in to the internet!)

We believe. And always have…

In between the heinous incidents of religious extremism and narrowing escapades of tolerance, religion still stands chaste and unadulterated in the core of my country. We are the proud inhabitants of the place where the Pandavas spent a handsome chunk of their banbaas, Draupadi by their side; choosing the path of humanism over shedding blood for power. This is the place where Guru Nanak graced the world by his birth, teaching communities to embrace each others’ differences rather than killing for the same. Here lies the soul of Sufism, where saints settled to impress upon the simple fact that love isn’t governed by laws; all creatures of God are to be loved. This is where believers from a variety of faiths blend with each other to bow before the divine…

We love. And always will…

Our country has had an enviable history of love, to love; spanning from the tragic, unrequited love of Heer Ranjha, Hani Shay Mureed and Sassi Punno to the valiant and strong love that Marui had for her people. When Madho Lal Hussain, a Muslim saint, adopted the name of his non-Muslim ally as an emblem of his love, little would he have had known of the impact that it were to have on generations to come. Of how this would make the people of this region romantic by default for centuries to come. We churn out incredulous amounts of romantic literature (which, truthfully, can be a pain sometimes). We love, and we keep on doing so. We are just programmed that way; it flows in our blood…

We live. Amidst the skies…

While the metros of this country keep with their competitive spree of erecting sky-scrapers and building impressive malls, there still remains a part of my country untouched by this wave of change. There still lies a place where the sun rises pure and fresh every morning, shining on the lush green fields and converging upon the dew-drops off the wheat stalks. Where life resumes from a state of deep slumber by the azaan of the cock. Where women toil with their male counterparts in the farms, engendering a flamboyant kaleidoscope of life. Where the scent of the soil is held more sacred than the cologne of David-off. Where every dusk, as the birds return to their nests, the elders aggregate beneath the peepal trees, smoking hookahs against the cool night breeze. We might not have swimming pools in some areas, but we sure have fresh-water ponds entertaining buffaloes and mischievous children alike…

We give respect. And try to take it…

Of all the tantrums the many throw about basic rights, they sometimes miss out on two important things: dignity and respect. I know a number of women who take pride in the simple fact that in Pakistan, a man so wilfully empties his bus-seat for a female stranger. (If he doesn’t, you can always turn on him with the aid of others). And on how a man lowers his gaze and shifts to the side if women approach. We revere our elders. We might not always listen to our parents, but we still don’t bark in their faces. And before I’m tagged as some hopeless conservative, I completely give in to the idea of embracing new trends and modern values. But some traditional values shouldn’t change. And for the most part in my country, they haven’t…

We dream. Against all odds…

Talk about resilience, should we? We almost top the list of nations in that regard. Now, for those pointing loopholes in our ideology, there’s a place with a greater bunch of those. And that’s our ruling elite. In fact, the promise of our nation has been so recurrently raped by its rulers that we’ve forgotten if there was a promise to begin with. Or maybe, we haven’t.

That’s why we still continue to strive for a better tomorrow. We still hope, and struggle for a change. We still come out on the streets to protest wrong-doings, though completely realising that there are so many of those that if we start protesting on every go, we’d spend the rest of our lives on roads. But we do, all of that. We give to charity. We work for a brighter tomorrow. We help each other. We stand by each other through thick and thin. And we still dream…

We bond. And re-bond…

No where in the world would you find a bunch of people so eager to trust, so keen to make bonds. No where would you witness the practice of labelling complete outsiders as ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’ in the first go. No where; but here in Pakistan. We come out in hoards to make merry at others’ joys. We come out in even larger hoards to share the grief of others. Sure enough, we fight, we quarrel, we battle (we even break each others’ teeth, which is not that cool). But, at a certain juncture, we always let bygones be bygones and start anew. And after all this, we start with a heart that gives wholly, trusts forcefully and loves unconditionally. A heart that is ready to take risks and make more space. Like a good heart. Like our country’s heart.

Hence this is the romantic, sensational; almost classical side to my country that keeps me connected to its roots. For all this, and more, I love my country.

And for all this, and more, I celebrate 23rd March!

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