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Cherishing Independence from afar

August 14, 2011

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Komal and Zoha, adorned in green to celebrate this festive day in the UK. - Photo Courtesy Zoha and Komal

The air seemed to reverberate with enthusiastic delight as it whipped the green and white flag back and forth in an exuberant, almost hypnotic trance. The green and white seemed to merge together in an effervescent and violent sense of rapture. Joy radiated from the faces of the children dressed in green, their faces lit, as their lips moved with the rhythmic beat of the music around them and they yelled the lyrics of Dil Dil Pakistan. The majestic green and white flag also danced along with the vibrant and addictive tune of the song as the wind, filled with an intoxicating vigour, whipped the flag back and forth, making it oscillate in the air full of jubilant elation.

Nostalgia is the word that comes to mind when taking a trip down memory lane and recalling the festivities and joys of Independence Day in Pakistan during my childhood. Starting off with halwa puri at 6am with friends to school functions and plays, singing patriotic songs, wearing green shalwar kameez, painting our faces green, wearing the shiny green badges with pride on our shirts - this day has always been a memorable one.

One realizes the worth of things when they’re taken away from them and indeed that was what my friends and I experienced when we went abroad to study. August 14 is a day when we all miss our country more than ever since we cannot celebrate this great day with our friends and family abroad in the same way that we celebrate it on our native soil.

There are some students overseas who have spent practically their whole lives abroad and for them, Independence Day has a completely different meaning. Despite living away from their ancestral land, most feel that their roots lie in Pakistan and they make every effort to celebrate this joyful day with as much enthusiasm and sprightly effervescence as they can.

Marryam Khan is one such student. She has lived in small town Kingston, in Canada, since she was four but Independence Day still holds the same meaning in her heart as it does for all true Pakistanis.

She says, “My parents have worked hard to maintain strong ties with Pakistani culture, making sure we spoke Urdu at home when we were little and taking us to visit Pakistan every year. This day gives us pardesis an opportunity to commemorate our rich heritage. In my local community, the Pakistan-Canada Association usually holds a lakeside picnic that draws out around 350 to 400 people each year.”

She adds, “In the past, we have musicians that come from out of town for the occasion, henna painting, clothing stalls etc. It’s nice to dress up in green and white and experience such an abundance of Pakistani culture in a town as small as Kingston where the population is a little more than 100,000.”

Muhammad Ali Furqan, studying medicine at Queen’s University, however, feels a sense of guilt when he thinks about August 14.

He says, “Every year I feel that maybe leaving our country was a dishonourable thing to do. That maybe had I stayed, I could have done my bit to help the nation. Many of us from the Pakistani diaspora have done well here, we've realised the Canadian Dream; the big houses, the nice cars, an excellent education but at the cost of losing our sense of belonging and profound sense of conflicting identity. August 14 always reminds me that no matter how long I stay in Canada, people will still ask me ‘Where are you really from?’”

For some, talking about Independence Day brings to mind a strong sense of consciousness and makes their identity as a Pakistani stronger within themselves.

Neha Arif, studying economics in Canada, says, “I feel like a guardian of my identity, a messenger of my beautiful background and a repellant of all the negative images the media has displayed across the environment I live in. When I studied in school back home, I sang all the songs on August 14 as an obligation, but now living abroad, the sense of jazba has developed. On eid, I feel proud to wear shalwar kameez, on the streets of downtown, which previously was just a uniform sort of dress for me. When a sovereign nation is discussed, I proudly exclaim my identity as a Pakistani. Pakistan, you’re in me always!”

Zoha Javed Zia, from University of Hull in the United Kingdom, says, “I think one of the most important things that I've learnt by living abroad is to be proud of our individuality. It’s always better to celebrate our uniqueness rather than trying to blend in.”

For Komal Tariq, Independence Day in the United Kingdom ignites feelings of strong nostalgia as she recalls the things she misses most about Pakistan and says she was jumping with elation when she came back to Pakistan after her first year of university at “the sight of rickshaws, decorated mini-buses and walls with graffiti and the chaat and samosas.”

She exclaims, “There was even a time when we had a few friends over and another friend and I switched all the lights off and lit up some candles because we missed the Karachi load shedding!”

Ali Shahid, who studies in London, feels that it is difficult to make foreigners understand the essence of our beloved nation and the deep sense of nostalgia that it brings to one’s mind as he says, “They don’t know what we Pakistanis know. We know we have the most amazing places to eat some seriously awesome spicy food, they don't know what it feels like to have a smoke that you didn't have to sell your left kidney to buy. Or having that stupendously good doodpatti, available at the dhaaba nearest you. These are the little perks that combine to make this country of ours so wonderful for me.”

Nabhan Karim, who studies in the US and is the vice president of Indiana University’s Pakistan Student’s Association, plans to create more Pakistani events such as Independence Day celebrations and aspires to become a filmmaker to show a positive side of Pakistan through the media.

Seema Surani, whose family recently shifted to Canada, talks enthusiastically about how Pakistanis in Toronto celebrate Independence Day on August 14, “Last year I celebrated Pakistan’s Independence Day in Canada for the first time, and I was amazed to see the Pakistani jazba in Toronto. The day’s celebrations started by going green. A lot of Pakistani families gathered at the Flag Hoisting Ceremony at a local park which was organized by the Pakistan Consulate in Toronto. It was great to see people dressed in green and to hear some Pakistani songs being played on the streets of Toronto.”

She adds, “We were also able to watch some great shows from Pakistani television channels that were special transmissions for Independence Day and were based on the creation and history of our nation. As always, on this special day I pray for the peace of my country and its people and hope for a brighter future of our beloved nation. Pakistan Zindabad!”

August 14 is a day when our whole nation should break down the barriers of ethnicity, religion, language, class differences and joins hands to celebrate. It is a day when we should forget the troubles and turmoil afflicting our youthful country and try to recall the true spirit in which this nation was created. Let us hope that the youth of our country succeeds in contributing towards making Pakistan a better place, reigniting the spirit and principles upon which it was originally founded.

* Filza Naveed is an intern at Dawn.com