Micheal Crain had always been a big critic. That was primarily why he was a reporter by profession. He worked for BBC news, and his favorite pieces to run were always related to the troubles of Pakistan. He didn’t have anything personal against Pakistan; he was just a staunch believer in the all the reports of Pakistan being a country overrun by terrorists and corrupt officials, and he hated them for blaming all their troubles on America. Thus the extra dose of criticism from his side when covering a report on Pakistan.
Which was why he was none too pleased when he was told by his chief editor to make a trip to Pakistan and make a documentary on how life there is for the people.
“Are you crazy? You want me to go to that hell hole and DIE?!”
But his chief had been adamant, and Michael had reluctantly agreed. The only positive aspect in this ‘ridiculous charade’, as Michael liked to call it, was that his chief had not laid any imposition on him regarding the nature of the documentary.
A few days later, Michael found himself emerging from the Allama Iqbal International Airport, and out onto the sun-drenched streets of Lahore. The air was humid and sticky, the glare of the sun unbearably bright and piercing, and rivulets of sweat were running down his entire body. It was something he didn’t immediately register at first, for the sight of Lahore was too much for him to grasp at first. People in the hundreds were thronging about in the streets, amongst scores of cars, rickshaws and motorcycles; it was all a seething mass that Michael didn’t exactly relish getting caught up in. Footpaths cracked and the roads broken at places, and overflowing gutters were a common sight. And the noise! Angry drivers honking their horns impatiently, the in-discernible babble of people mingled with their shouting and laughing, street peddlers shouting out to people, the annoying drone of the rickshaws, and the even more annoying buzz of flies around his head… The entire place struck him as one of utter confusion. His loathing for this country deepened.
However, only two days later, he witnessed an event that forced him to feel otherwise. He had been sitting in a café with a cold beverage in his hand, staring out to the street, which an old woman was crossing, a bundle of cloths under her arm. Even as he watched, she swayed, and held up a hand to her head. She seemed to be growing dizzy by the heat. And then she crumpled to the sidewalk. For a few heartbeats she lay there, and then a young boy approached her lifeless form, and prodded her gently. When she did not stir, he started shouting in alarm. Immediately several people nearby rushed to them. They lifted the woman, and carried her to the café where Michael was sitting. All work around him ceased as she was laid on a table, and the staff gathered around as she was slowly revived, and fed a cup of cool water. The fact that the people chose to care for a poor old woman who nobody knew out on the street touched him in a strange way. After watching this event unfold before him, he started feeling his hate for this country (and Lahore in particular) ebbing away, giving way to something he had never felt for this country before: admiration, and respect. And before he knew it, he was head-over-heels in love with the place which had been the focal point of his criticism for many years.
Lahore was a dirty, crude and rough place on the surface, to say the least. The roads were too narrow at times and there seemed to more people on them than cars, so driving here was a nightmare. It was too congested, and gave him a feeling of oppression. Traffic jams seemed to crop up every other minute, and no authority to dissolve them. The buildings were old and cracked. Most places were devoid of even the most basic technological facilities. Yet it was under the veil of this coarse surface that Michael found the true beauty of this place. Lahore was home to a whole CULTURE. It had been 65 years to Pakistan’s independence, yet the traditions, rituals and art here all bore witness to the history of hundreds of years ago. It was most evident in the architectural designs of most buildings, the bazaars, the small, dirty streets, the tongas, the food, the dresses, the furniture; it was everywhere, down to the smallest detail. And yet, Lahore was a very modern place too, with huge shopping malls, cinemas, sports stadiums, the airport and the housing society nearby and whatnot. It struck him as a contradiction. Lahore was a conflagration of new and old, modern and historical, village and city, and he had never quite seen a place like this.
But it was not just Lahore that held him entranced; it was the whole of Pakistan. There was Karachi; a city apparently controlled by terrorists and plagued with target killing, kidnapping, robbery, rape and so. Yet it was also the city of lights, the most modern city of Pakistan, and a more alive place Michael was yet to come across. It was a concrete jungle, but the presence of the sea nearby gave him a feeling of openness and freedom. There were the northern areas of Pakistan, which was an entirely different world altogether. The breath-taking beauty of range upon range of huge, sprawling mountains, lush greenery, gushing waterfalls, streams of crystal-clear water originating from the top of snow-capped mountains and winding down the entire length of the mountain, fast-flowing rivers winding through the mountains, sometimes blue, sometimes green and sometimes milky-white, crashing upon boulders with a thunderous sound and spraying up foam, the fields of every fruit and vegetable imaginable; it all held him spell-bound. The deserts of Pakistan held a different beauty altogether; there was nothing but dry deep sand, high dunes that rolled away under a low, brooding sky. There was no sign of any living thing for miles, and he had never felt so alone before. And then there was the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad. It’s very existence was a contradiction to the image of Pakistan that had formed in his mind over the last couple of days, for here was a city that reminded him most of back home; a planned, modern city where people were caught up in their work and seldom had time for one another. Yet it had the Pakistani touch, for Islamabad was not a concrete jungle; here was modernism intermingled with natural beauty; a city set against the backdrop of the Margalla Hills. Putting it all together, Michael felt like he had seen the beauty of the entire world in that one week, and yet it was all here in one small country.
The thing about Pakistan that truly won him over though, was its people. Pakistan was not just another country; it was a conjunction of versatile cultures, each with its own customs and historical backgrounds. But the people chose not to associate themselves as Punjabis, Sindhis, Balochis or Pathans, but as Pakistanis. And their warmth and care astounded him. If anyone was in trouble, a whole contingent of people would rush to help him/her. One’s pain was all’s grief; one’s joy was all’s elation. Despite their busy schedules, they always seem to find time to spend with their families and friends, something he had hardly ever chanced upon back home. It made him realize that the Pakistanis were not just a nation; they were truly a brotherhood. They were groups of people who hardly had anything in common, but they chose to put their uniting factor before that: love for their country.
It was something that puzzled him greatly. Despite all the wonderful things he had discovered about Pakistan, he could see that this was a greatly troubled place. Suicide bombings, load shedding, depletion of natural resources, no sense of security, corruption, absence of justice; all were dragging this country deeper and deeper into the depths of illiteracy and ignorance. So why this mindless patriotism? Why choose to live a difficult life in this country? Why not seek a life abroad, if possible?
He knew he would forever remember the chills that had run down his spine when a youngster, no more than fifteen, had answered this question for him:
“Pakistan to love hai. Hamara jeena, marna, sab is kay liay hai. Ye zindagi to sirf do, chaar din ka khail hai. Agar ye bhi hum apnay mulk kay liay qurban nahi kar saktay to hum kis qisam k mulki hain?”
Translation : Pakistan is love. Our life, death is all for it. This life is a play of just two to four days. If we can’t sacrifice even that for our country, what sort of nationals are we?
You might feel that I went overboard with optimism at places, and chose to ignore our tribulations completely. But in these harsh times, we often end up needing a reason to justify our love for Pakistan. At times, we need to let go of our harsh criticism, forget our troubles and focus on what is positive. This article was penned down with this very intent.
Happy Independence Day. Happy 65th Birthday Pakistan.
Long live Pakistan.