Celebrating Independence a year after the Partition, when I was a schoolboy was a very solemn affair. In the first place there weren’t too many people in Karachi and very few cars. Immigrants, specifically those who were products of an urban culture, were trying to adjust to changing conditions. The intent of settling down was beset by a litany of misfortune and thwarted good intentions. The riots were far from over and there was a shortage of accommodation. But the flame of independence burnt a bright orange in the hearts of the pioneers. On the parade ground there was the traditional march past with the head of state taking the salute, while British-trained soldiers, sailors and airmen marched in measured tread to martial music and the sound of wafting bagpipes, brandishing whatever weapons they had. The national flag was hoisted and there was the usual clutch of speeches with Muslim Leaguers producing elegant arrangements of vowel sounds. At the time nobody had even the faintest inkling of what was in store for the people … and when the irreversible downward slide would be set in motion. And how Independence Day would be celebrated.
I believe there was an anthem that had been composed but I don’t think it was ever broadcast. In fact, there isn’t much information on this. It wasn’t until 1950, when Mr Ahmed G Chagla of 110 Moolji Street, Kharadar , Karachi, who had composed the music for the current national anthem was officially endorsed by the government in power. In 1952, a libretto was added in the form of a poem by Hafiz Jullandhri and the country finally had a complete national anthem which has stood the test of time. Mr Chagla’s son Khaliq, a friend of mine, often invited me to his residence and so I became one of the privileged few who were privy to the musical score before it was presented to the government. The 1950 celebration was held in Karachi which remained the federal capital until Ayub Khan shifted the seat of power closer to Islamabad. People in other parts of the country learned about the event on the radio or in newsreels in the cinema. But once the capital had moved and television had been introduced into the country the ceremony could be seen on the telly. For a number of years after the idiot box became a permanent fixture in the home the old black-and-white newsreels which featured Mr Jinnah, Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Mountbatten were exhumed from the stockpile of memorabilia in the ministry of information and screened on the idiot box ad nauseum.
This year there has been high drama on the 14th of August. First there was this preacher from the prairies, a taciturn, clenched, elegiac avenging theocrat who appears to have been given a season ticket to disrupt the elected government by once again cobbling together a juggernaut to destabilise the current government. But before he could do so the public had to listen to lines of such vapid portentous biliousness that he managed to squeeze out nuggets of loathing even from other detractors of the Sharif Brothers. Imran Khan’s flash mob of happy optimism has finally descended on the capital. He is by far the more serious threat to the Sharif Brothers as his grounds for the revolt are based on the time-honoured Pakistani tradition of vote-rigging at election time which has become an integral part of our culture. It is not very clear why the media is referring to the PTI carnival as the Azadi March. I always thought Pakistan had gotten her freedom in 1947.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2014.
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