To all the leftist liberals and the beghairat brigade, my blood is still green!
Nostalgia is a funny thing. It’s like looking through the window of a bullet train passing by downtown of a metropolis at night. You only see the well-lit boulevards and tall skyscrapers while the darkened slums are blurred out of view.
Today, when I look back at my 29 years in Pakistan, I can’t remember the pitch dark slums of the late 80s or early 90s. The memories that have remained or those which my brain has chosen to record are the ones where only the metaphorical boulevards and skyscrapers remain.
Before a myriad of Pakistani television channels sprung up, before a number of musical bands with idiosyncratic names popped up, before the ‘with us or against us’ moment, before the Kargil fiasco, before the mushroom growth of satellites across city rooftops and even before silly old cynicism crept into our collective minds, I remember watching Shaista Zaid, formerly known as Shaista Jabeen on state television. They would read the government’s version of the news every night and we would take it to be the truth and nothing but the truth.
I remember coming home from school and waiting for the PTV broadcast to start at 4:30pm. I remember the Al-Quran program. I remember playing cricket in the streets in pouring rain and in scorching heat. I remember singing ‘Lab pe aati hai dua ban ke tammanna meri’ in school. I remember reading the textbooks on Pakistan’s vast mineral resources and its amazing canal network. I remember reading history books on the Mughal Empire and feeling a distinct connection to our proud history as Muslims. I remember listening to binaka geet mala on radio with my siblings. I remember listening to Dil Dil Pakistan for the first time and having goose bumps just by the sheer patriotic feelings that would engulf me. I remember watching the National Day parades shown live on TV and taking pride in our armed forces. I remember the jazba and the junoon.
I remember being patriotic.
I remember being optimistic.
I remember being a proud Pakistani.
But that was then and this is now. I sometimes wonder what happened to the Pakistan I grew up in. The country where my mother won’t bat an eyelid if I stayed out on the street playing cricket, where children used to be passionate and proud Pakistanis, where the armed forces of the nation were our pride, where August 14 and March 23 were not just holidays for relaxation but meant something, where on September 6 we’d listen to ‘Aye Puttar Hattan Te Nai Vikde’ and relive the memories of the 1965 war, where our heroes were of the sort of Aziz Bhatti Shaheed, Muhammad Bin Qasim, Allama Iqbal, Jehangir Khan, Shahbaz Senior, Waseem Feroz, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Imran Khan. The country where children did not care what politicians were doing and not doing, where entertainment was not watching talk shows but playing on the streets or watching a Pulse Global movie on the VCR.
Even when I look back at the late 90s and early 2000s, I remember the highlights. The euphoria at Nawaz Sharif being toppled, the hope of prosperity from Musharraf, the growth of private cable networks, the telecom boom, the early promises of accountability, the high GDP growth.
But wait, the late 90s and early 2000s highlights are all a rational human being’s feelings when he has grown up, when he starts to care about bigger things and, ironically, things that he doesn’t have any control over.
Where was another Dil Dil Pakistan, another junoon, all the things that we cherished in the previous decade?
They’re all gone; replaced by material shenanigans without any emotional attachments. The GDP, the power struggles, the war on terror, media proliferation, cable TV, internet, cell phones, leased cars, leased refrigerators, leased air conditioners, leased nationhood and finally, the leased terrorists who finally broke their leases and unleashed their terror on the lessors themselves.
Hope started to dwindle, slowly but surely.
Mili naghmays were replaced by hip hop radio pop mumbo-jumbo. Our national sense of pride started being replaced by a national sense of shame – shame at our passports, shame at our ideology, shame at our leased terrorists, shame at our armed forces, shame at the media, shame at hiding Osama Bin Laden and most importantly, shame at being Pakistanis.
They say that objects in the rear-view mirror appear closer than they are. But I say that objects in the rear-view mirror appear brighter than they are. Maybe while growing up in the 80s and 90s, we were fed a lot of bull on our history, our moral superiority, our culture, our armed forces and our Pakistan. And we grew up and found out that they were all just baseless lies and assumptions to keep an entire nation snuggled comfortably in a state of denial.
Maybe that’s the truth, but if that truth means that I have to forego my sense of pride at being a Pakistani and I have to start feeling ashamed at being one, then I’m not sure I want to come out of that denial.
I want to keep looking at the rear-view mirror. I know I’m heading for an accident by doing so but I’ll die being a proud Pakistani than being a shamed nobody.