By Shermeen Bano
“Quaid is still among us. He is central to each and every Pakistani’s life; rich or poor. We simply can not survive with out him.”
This is what Khan Muhammad, a poor mochi, had to say when we asked him about Quaid’s Pakistan on his 133rd Birthday on 25th December, 2009.
I could not help but wryly smile at the irony of the statement by a man whose own life was probably a cruel joke, at least by common standards of living. We as a nation had forgotten about our leader and every thing he stood up against a long time ago. The values like honesty, tolerance, and unity that Quaid had endorsed so vehemently had been cast away. Instead corruption, injustice, and absence of law n order were order of the day. I found this reality glaringly obvious on Quaid’s Birthday. Over the years the day had become nothing more than another one of our many futile national holidays. It meant nothing to us…not any more.
So I thought, rather ruefully to myself, that Khan Muhammad was just another illiterate mochi, who had probably spent his entire life fixing other people’s shoes while his own were in most awful of conditions. How would he know any better?
How wrong was I.
My encounter with Khan Mohammad could never have been so enlightening if it hadn’t been for Vision21. While I as usual had decided to spend the day as ineffectually as was possible, Azhar insisted we at vision21 did something that would help someone other than us. Shaista suggested we took comments from the general public regarding Quaid-e-Azam, Pakistan and its future and post it on our blog. Although nothing out of the ordinary and something we have done before it sounded do-able. (At least Azhar hadn’t asked us to do more)
And so we began our little expedition on 25th of December in the streets of Pindi where I would eventually end up meeting Khan Muhammad.
We began our day with Munna bhai who was making burgers on his stall. What he had to say epitomized the very attitude of the majority of Pakistanis towards our current predicament. “Blame it all on America”. My thoughts…this won’t get us any where but where we already are. Not exactly a very nice place.
Then we entered a general store and politely asked the manager what he thought about Quaid’s Birthday. What we in return got was a surprisingly austere reply, it was Muharam and he wanted nothing to do with any birthday whatsoever. What Quaid’s birthday had to do with Muharram was beyond us, but we were in no mood for a religious argument so we headed out.
If we were avoiding to drag religion in, that was exactly what we got. The tailor, the boy who was doing labor work on a national holiday, the lady in the store and the young girl playing in front of her house among many more explained to us, in their own capacities how Pakistan, Quaid’s vision and Islam were intertwined. Which Islam? That of ulema, politicians, Sufis or liberals…? No one was sure.
The most interesting thing for me however, was how we got very similar responses about Quaid-e-Azam from very diverse people. Women, students, children, parents, and professionals had nothing but praise for the man. He was father of the nation. He was honest, determined and selfless in his cause. Plain rhetoric.
Had we really admired the man and meant what we said, we would be trying to follow in on his footsteps (but what were his footsteps?). It is as if we as a nation have been conditioned to merely admire Jinnah and do nothing more. We pick these statements of praise from the speeches we hear on TV and debating competitions in our schools and simply reproduce them. Our frequent tribute to Jinnah does not necessarily prove we understand him.
Personally, through out my encounter with all these Pakistanis that day I found something wholly missing in their statements. I just could not put my finger on it, not until I had met Khan Muhammad. We had found him busy with his clients and thought it would be interesting to ask a mochi about Pakistan. So we asked him and got the already mentioned agonizingly pitchy statement about Pakistan and Quaid’s role in it.
Was he this optimistic that he had chosen to turn his back to every thing that was happening around him; the terrorism, the injustice, the marauding of wealth by our leaders, the hypocrisy and corruption? Could he not see?
Not really. He was exactly pointing at it. What I had earlier missed and later caught on the video recording was his hand gesture. When he had said Quaid determined every course of action in every possible domain of Pakistani affairs he had meant something entirely different. It was symbolic. His hand gesture had enacted the famous money sign. Quaid’s picture on every rupee note, the Pakistani Currency was what he had been referring to in his statement…“Quaid is still among us. He is central to each and every Pakistani’s life; rich or poor. We simply can not survive with out him.”
The realization came as a hard struck bolt of lightening. This is what we had become? A self serving, money-oriented, and conceited nation where everyone was indifferent to the suffering of others? This was not what Quaid had wanted.
Quaid’s fight for the hundred million people’s freedom was not only about the religious differences as this term is generally understood. But it was about setting up a homeland for understanding and practicing the true message of Islam which is justice, peace, equality, honesty, and harmony.
What are we doing for our future generations? Leaving the country in tatters?
I sincerely hope, with all that is left, that the situation is not as grim as I perceive. What I got from Khan Muhammad and found missing in all the speeches by our many leaders on eve of our founder’s 133rd Birthday was honesty. Honesty.
Khan Muhammad got me thinking. I was not being honest to myself either. We cannot move forward unless we are honest with ourselves
I conclude my article with what a taxi driver sheikh Saeed had to say on 25th December… “Quaid made the biggest mistake of his life by making Pakistan. We were better off as slaves”
This is what I have to say. Quaid did not make the mistake; it is we who are making them now. Someone once told me that we would not be who we are if were not who we were. If this is true then it is high time that we, for sake of our own future, evaluate ourselves and make the necessary changes to see our selves emerge as great individuals of an even greater nation. Quaid believed in it. All we have to do is believe in it.