Better days: Throwback to an Independence Day with colourful Jhandis and inaudible Bajaas
Recalling simpler times when celebrating Independence didn't mean being loud and aggressive
Growing up, the days following August 14, the day Pakistan got its Independence, were full of excitement and anticipation. Not fully knowing what Independence really meant apart from all that was taught in school, it was an occasion that called for a mighty celebration. A public holiday on most days and even when not, it was a school day with patriotic songs blasting on speakers, green badges and a day without any textbooks.
It seemed like the whole city had a green and white filter on. Houses were decorated with flag-coloured buntings, lit up with fairy lights, and sprinkled with long flowing rows of jhandian all over. Commuting to work or otherwise meant watching flags standing tall upon vehicles, all sorts. From motorcycles to rickshaws to cars, everything had a flag flashing as people were hypnotised by the whoosh of patriotic air. Footpaths on every street had small push carts selling Independence Day merchandise and the most popular of them were the loud bajaas. The whistling, although annoying, was a sign that Jashn-e-Azadi is close.
But then I stopped hearing the shrieking sound of the bajaas or instead they turned into a loud deafening sound that made it really difficult to romanticise the holiday anymore. Bajaas and their use became questionable, jhandiyan are barely sighted, and flags as if vanished in thin air. What was more alarming, and most confusing, was the fact that the sense of patriotism didn’t just die within me but also outside me. I rarely see the shenanigans anymore; I can barely hear them now; for that, I am both happy and nostalgic.
What are we celebrating essentially? Is it independence from India? From the British? How long will we continue to honour the sacrifices our ancestors made before realising that we are making sacrifices to meet ends and get our basic rights here; because the nation fails to provide support to majorities even, let alone minorities.
But how? It's hard to find reasons to romanticise the city anymore. Now, beyond the Azadi sales, some long-forwarded full-of-blessings Whatsapp message chains, flag-themed cakes and pins and campaigns at corporate spaces, and a few garment shops selling Independence Day merchandise, there’s no spirit left. Or perhaps, the performativity is an echo repeating itself over the years, hoping for the Bajaa's sound to settle in our bodies and make us numb to the deprivation of identity.
The feeling does not just limit itself to Karachi. Thanks to technology and the digital era, we're connected with all that happens in the country. A country that was divided on the basis of demanding a home for everyone to live in peace has now been divided into groups; groups that are blood-thirsty. Something as little as the shriek of a bajaa or a car honk can trigger violence in this country and there’s no accountability for it. People who speak up against it are in trouble, people who justify it are heroes.
Maybe that’s why the romanticisation feels so alien now. The definition of who’s a hero completely changed growing up. People often say how desensitised we are to violence and terror given the frequent bomb blasts, suicide attacks and the very casual occurrences of muggery around us. While it's not widely talked about, the trauma is time and again brought up by curious college students for their thesis where they analyse the root problems in our society and cash on them—and to be honest, there are far too many to pick from.
It’s as if the rulers and people in authority fear allowing good things. Films with quality substance and storylines are often censored and religion is used to take advantage. Watching Netflix goes against Islamic principles but blatant abuse on screens is the depiction of reality—and mind you, I'm not against Islamisation per se but the hypocrisy gets to me. Either stand tall with your religious flag high up in the sky or bury it in the ground, don’t go parading it when it's needed for you.
It was always the songs that’d melt me on Independence Day. Singing Dil Dil Pakistan in a crowd full of Pakistanis at the top of your lungs, whether it's the community feeling or the lyrics, brought a bright glare of hope and love for the country. It can’t all be just the lyrics, right? Yes, music impacts mood but nation states were born on emotional values and that often hits the chord more than the music itself.
But no number of patriotic songs can fix the void that is growing inside the heart. 75 years later, the quality of education has improved for the privileged and gotten worse for the masses. More than seven decades later, people only rely on philanthropy and not the government itself for aid. 75 years later, the public continues to be deprived of their rights and manipulated into thinking it’s their fault. 75 years later, the major class divide in the country almost makes some deserving cries unheard and ignored because someone else’s bajaa rings louder.
Yes, the country does give enough to be proud of it, our people put our identity high on the map with their global victories and achievements and we’re highly stereotyped otherwise but at this point, whether it was ignorance or blissful days, I wish the simpler days were back, except for the bajaas of course. No noise this time, so the country doesn’t open itself later like a bad fruit that looked great on the outside. Here’s to better days ahead that don’t demand resilience to survive but love and empathy to uproot.
Happy 75th Independence Day — hope you woke up to a green and white filter on but perhaps, not a blinding one!
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