Thursday 14 August 2008

Pakistan Independence Day

I forgot it was Pakistan Independence Day today until someone reminded me they were going to have a flag-raising outside the town hall I work in and sing the National Anthem. The Civic Ambassador who is Pakistani gave a horrendously bad speech, The Deputy Mayor reminded us, that we may be Pakistani, but really we were British, or British Pakistani at least and that we should be proud of our achievements in education and the way our youth were setting the business world alight – "literally sometimes" the lady next to me muttered. The South Indian Councillor wore a bottle green sari, the Indian and Pakistani councillors green salwar kameez, The Deputy Mayor wore a green check blazer and the Barbadian Councillor wore a green tie. As it’s the school holidays, there were lots of cute kids dressed in green. I wish I’d remembered I’d have made a spectacle of myself and worn my pea-green jilbab and scarf.

The music played for the national anthem and no-one knew the words. Although I did notice that one of the English councillors (Mrs Cockney pie-and-mash and net curtains) did seem to be singing along (a bit like footballers who pretend to sing along when their national anthem comes on at the start of a game). I couldn’t stop giggling and one of the Pakistani councillors gave me some very stern looks.

In previous years I went to Green Street to celebrate as husband misses Pakistan and insisted. It was rowdy and anarchic to say the least and a gentleman dancing on top of a telephone box dropped his coke on me. At least it was in a coke bottle, but stunk suspiciously like something else. This year Green Street is being shut and traffic diverted, a relief for the poor bus drivers who last year spent up to an hour-and-a-half at a time negotiating this road which usually takes 10-15 minutes.

Our local main road won’t be shut though, so I expect to be kept awake at 2am by the noise. My religious, sensible husband has had a stonking horn like the kind on Pakistani busses fitted to his van in preparation and I expect to go home to find my kids looking like Martians (all dressed in green).

But the anarchy, the singing and dancing and the drinking makes me sad. Does anyone remember the bloodbath at the birth of Pakistan? The rape and abduction of thousands of women? My granddad said he saw train-loads of dead bodies going in both directions towards Pakistan and India. At the end of that suffering at least we had a safe place to practice our faith with freedom. Sixty-one years on people are calling Pakistan a failed state: corrupt, impoverished and for most of its history ruled by various dictators.
Dividing up a library at the time of 1947 partition [Photo: Life Magazine, August 1947]
I know this photo is not relevant, but I love books and it just touched me.

I look at the way we celebrate: the alcohol and screaming and hooting, the dancing and singing. Yep, we’re celebrating the birth of an Islamic country. I heard an Imam say when the youth of a country fall to music and song, their hearts are already dead. I don’t know, maybe he’s right.
But then I think of the fight-back: the beleaguered judiciary fighting to do what’s right, the hounded media, banned and taken off air, but not giving up their fight with Musharraf, the youth going back to their faith – the trend for a hafiz (memoriser of Quran) in every other household and I think maybe there is a little something to celebrate. The people are beautiful, the country itself is stunning and there really is no-where else like my Granddad’s village– maybe I’ll pray two nafl and make dua for my brothers and sisters in Pakistan, will you join me? Oh and best wishes to India for tomorrow too – for you were our kinsmen once.


  1. i bet the police love it too!
    i could hear horns blearing until at least 11.30! Happy Independance Day!

  2. Very well written peice! must say it made me wana cry about all the things that happened when Pakistan was created, people seem to have forgotten all the bloodshed caused for it.

  3. I saw the flags and all the celebrations.

  4. Happy independence day to u too sis.-).