Today I turned 64. My system may be broken down, but my spirit refuses to die. My pockets may be empty, but I still have a rich fund of hope to fire up my engines. My engines may need cranking as they creak with years of neglect, but I still have brains to figure out how to overcome the energy and gas shortage. I may live in darkness — my energy spent — but after darkness comes light. Soon, I may be dehydrated as water runs out, but if I am a smart conservationist, I will not face drought. I am near famished, but I also know I am the sohni dharti with miles and miles of fertile land to feed my hunger.
Let’s then light the candles and celebrate. My father brought me into this world and named me Pakistan. He was very proud when I was born. It was a very difficult birth. He didn’t live long to see me grow. He told me to keep my chin up, straighten my shoulders, put some fire in my belly and join the other nations in the march to the future. As you know, my father’s portraits adorn the walls of all the VIPs offices along with portraits of the VIPs themselves. By just waving the flag or wearing it on their jacket’s collar or displaying huge photos of themselves, convinces no one of my identity. In fact I find the display obscene.
Want to know more about what’s in a face at 64? Okay. I have natural beauty that is the envy of the world. In fact, not too long ago, I was a runner-up in the ‘Beauty of the world’ contest. People travelled from distant lands to stand and stare at my snow capped mountains, some of the tallest in the world. The skiers could not get enough of me. They returned summer after summer to conquer my peaks and go back home to narrate the tales of romance, mystique and the presence of ethereal spirits encircling craggy snow laden landscapes where heavenly silence is interrupted only by the whistling wind. Here neither time nor man can ravage my beauty or trample my peace.
Want to know more about my contours and vital statistics? I have stunning looks of hills and vales so verdant, so endowed with tall pines, wild flowers, running streams, million meadows and grasslands stretching out into the heavens above. Look up my pictures in this newspaper. “If I had the voice of Ray Charles, I would serenade you,” says a Pakistani-American who loves to go to Dawn.com to see my colour photo display in the Photo Feature daily. “I miss you!” he declares. He then starts to croon Ray Charles’s unforgettable lines:
You are so beautiful ... to me You are so beautiful ... to me, can’t you see? You’re everything I hope for You’re everything I need You are so beautiful to meee..
But listen, life is not all hunky dory for me. “When someone looks much older than his age, he usually has a chronic disease that’s been there for some time,” warn doctors. My well-wishers think I could do with a facelift. But my Prime Minister has a better idea for my birthday present. He has invited “eminent” writers, poets, intellectuals, artists, actors, educationists, social workers and media people to tell him what’s eating me up.
Ms Nargis Sethi, the PM’s indispensable aide, plans to slip the data in the PM’s address commemorating my birthday thus fulfilling my father’s dream of making me “truly modern and progressive.” My ‘accidental’ President, who likes to take off for greener pastures whenever I get too hot for him to handle, thinks by taking “notice” and holding meetings with the same guys repeatedly, he can cure me of terrorism, wanton killings, load shedding and crime. It’s getting boring, hearing tall promises of making me great. Sigh!
The khakis, claiming to be my defenders, too are busy elsewhere. All they seem to care about is defending their interests, perks and privileges. They tell me that they want to rid me of terrorists. ‘That’s not the case!’ Shouts America. Anyone who is someone in America has accused the khakis of double dealing in secretly supporting terrorist groups, the same terrorists who are destroying me.
“It hurts a lot to say that Pakistan has become a hopeless country which has totally isolated itself from the rest of progressive world. Zia, indeed, had a much more lasting effect on Pakistanis than Jinnah. This is a fact,” say my overseas Pakistani friends. One such person is Munawar Mir from Canada. He began his education in a southern Punjab madressa, matriculated from an Urdu medium school and got his master’s from Government College, Lahore. He joined the army only to end up as the youngest officer in the POW camp in India. “A prisoner’s camp is the best place to learn about humanity with all its charms and warts,” he says.
He was in the counter insurgency operations in Balochistan (1974-75) and fought at Siachen (1984-85). “In 1985 I parted ways with the army. We mutually agreed that we were unsuited for each other.” Munawar never wanted to leave Pakistan, but when he realised that his kids didn’t have a future in a country where “hatred is not an emotion but philosophy of life” he migrated to Canada.
Munawar waxes eloquent on how I can be fixed. “Replace the web of hate woven by demonic forces of differences with the charm of love and understanding.” He’s a year older than me and now having attained the glorified title of a ‘senior citizen’ he can go back to college free! “Pakistan needs an education system that ensures homogeneity, uniformity of societal values and a cohesive national character…you should pay more attention towards unity and forget about the ‘purification’ aspect of society. Love others the way you want others to love you.”Don’t forget to blow out the candles and kiss me many happy returns of the day! Everyone sing ‘May you have many more!’