The spirit of independence touches not just Pakistanis living in the country, but also those who are far from their homeland on August 14. However, there are two sides of the coin: many Pakistanis celebrate the day wholeheartedly with their compatriots, while others do not have many to share their enthusiasm with.
Living in the Netherlands since 1995, Shahzad Tanoli says Pakistanis there always look forward to occasions such as Independence Day or Eid, as they feel a sense of affinity with their nation and their community. Events are organised by mosques and community centres in the locality to commemorate the occasion. The day starts off with dua or prayer, after which ambassadors are invited and community dinners are arranged.
“Naat khuwani, Quran reading and fun fairs are organised. Food courts are also set up,” says Shahzad.
Sometimes, concerts featuring Pakistani celebrities are also arranged. Dressed in green, Pakistanis enthusiastically attend these events. The Pakistani consulate also sets up food courts and stalls selling items from back home including jewellery, clothes, mehndi, audio CDs and books.
Shahzad reminisced about Independence Day celebrations in Pakistan.
“Pakistan was always fun. Here we miss visiting families on this special day, the décor on the streets, the lighting, food and the special media shows,” he fondly recalls.
Kulsum, living in Dubai, says that Pakistanis usually dress in colours of the flag and attend family gatherings on the day. However, as 14 August is falling on a weekday, it will be difficult for them to spare time to celebrate this year.
A major moment of pride for Pakistanis living in the UAE was when the Burj Khalifa, the tallest landmark in the country, was lit up in green and white last year. Hundreds of Pakistanis flocked to the building to view the glimmering spectacle up close.
Amynah, another Pakistani resident of Dubai, says that Independence Day is usually just a regular working day for them since it is not a public holiday there. Kulsum and Amynah recall the enthusiasm in Pakistan on the occasion. Kulsum misses decorating the house in green, topping it off with the national flag.
A Pakistani studying in Turkey for the last four years, Arsalan Mureed, narrates emotional moments of Independence Day celebrations in Istanbul.
“On 14 August, I had the opportunity to attend an Independence Day event at the Pakistani consulate in Istanbul. The hoisting of the green flag and seeing it wave in the air brought tears to my eyes and made me feel proud. Pakistanis attending the ceremony celebrated the day with great zeal and zest,” he says.
According to Arsalan, the Pakistani community in Istanbul often organises events on the day, which every Pakistani is invited to attend. Those who do not attend make plans of their own. After morning prayers, it is a ritual on Independence Day to meet, cook Pakistani food and enjoy the day. Arsalan describes how overwhelming it is to see a large number of Pakistanis gathered at the same time in a foreign land, united as countrymen.
The events usually start with individual introduction of those attending. Arsalan explains that initially the consulate hosted these events, but now they are organised by community centres. Arsalan, being an eloquent speaker, also gave a speech at one of the events.
However, he misses being home with his family in Quetta on Independence Day. He has fond memories of the festivities in Pakistan, including watching the green flag flutter on the streets and national songs playing in public places.
Twenty-four year-old Moiz Qazi also talked about the jubilant atmosphere on Independence Day in Pakistan. He vividly remembers buying Independence Day badges as a child, distributing them among class fellows, and trying to ensure that the flag at his house was the largest in the neighbourhood.
Moiz says that in Germany, events are only organised in bigger cities such as Berlin and Hamburg, but even they lack fervour. In Dusseldorf where he lives, there are no festivities.
“Here in Europe, I just don’t feel the same vibe. I think it’s a community-based festival and out of Pakistan – I can talk about Germany only – it’s hard to live that shared community experience,” says Moiz.
Another Pakistani living in Europe, Sana Khan, also expresses similar views on Independence Day in Italy. She says that since it is not a holiday there, Pakistanis do not have the opportunity to celebrate the occasion. Sana has little memory of Pakistan and feels a sense of displacement, saying, “Aisa lagta hai ke na insaan idher ka hai na udher ka (It feels like a person neither belongs here, nor there).”
Jamal, a Pakistani student in Australia, says that although there are no Independence Day celebrations on a large scale in Sydney, people do organise small get-togethers and enjoy Pakistani cuisine on the day. He misses the atmosphere in Pakistan and remembers that his father used to take the family to visit the Quaid-e-Azam’s mausoleum on August 14.
Overseas Pakistanis like Shahzad and Arsalan, who live amidst a community of fellow countrymen, actively celebrate Independence Day, but for others like Moiz and Sana, it feels more or less like a regular day. Even though it is difficult for foreign residents to celebrate the occasion as fervently as those living in Pakistan, most overseas Pakistanis have warm memories associated with the day.