09 July 2011

‘Now’ can be a different time, I learned in Pakistan

Mazar-e-Azam of the National Mausoleum is an iconic landmark of the city of Karachi and refers to the tomb of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, widely known as the founder of Pakistan. Built atop the highest point in Karachi and surrounded by an elegantly landscaped 61 acre garden, the monument exudes the sobriety, peace and reverence appropriate to a man of Jinnah’s stature and accomplishment.

Nation-birthing is never a clinical affair. The politics leading up to the parting of ways between the Hindu dominated and Muslim areas of the subcontinent was traumatic, bloody, forgettable and unforgotten. Leaders never have it easy at such times and as a result invite much invective. They are revered even as they are vilified. Jinnah was no exception.

Pakistan today is and is not the Pakistan of Jinnah and Jinnah’s imagination.  Nation-birth does not mean national peace from birthday onwards into foreseeable future and tomorrows beyond imagination. So it was and is with Pakistan. That however is a longer story whose narration would necessarily be interrupted by the fractures inherent in unfolding. It is a matter for historian and political scientist.

In the inner sanctum there is silence. Outside there is enough space for reflection. Retired Major Ather Mir, Project Manager of the Bagh-e-Quaid had a lot to say about the leader and the history of Pakistan. He knew the details and slipped in anecdote deftly to colour his narrative with allusion to the ways of the world, in their generality and specificity.

A nation is not made by a single individual. A leader helps lay foundation and charts avenues into what are perceived to be better tomorrows. An edifice is not built by the architect. Everyone, from cement-mixer to bricklayer, craftsman to painter and countless others have to chip into turn design into visible monument to labour and sense of national belonging. It has to be inhabited too. No nation is ever built to perfection. Approximating perfection takes centuries. Pakistan is young, in a sense, and its achievements are considerable and applause-worthy given the circumstances in which it was born, the battering it has had to withstand since and the convulsions it had to suffer from within.

In its today and tomorrow, Pakistan like any other nation look to its leaders and its monuments, both those associated with founding and those that are resident in artifact, landscape and culture going back to the Harappan times.  There is history in this land. There is commerce and trade with centuries long histories. This land has known civilizational encounters second to none.  Culture have met, warred, embraced and synthetized into new ways of being. Philosophies too.  There is wealth in resources that many would envy. Then there are human beings, flawed as well as exceptional.  In the end it all comes down to what people do with what they have.

Pakistan will do what’s best for Pakistan.

Nations learn from one another. People too. I listened to a retired soldier. He spoke of a man called Sardar Abdur Rab NIshtar, a close associate and friend of Jinnah and Governor of Punjab. He was one of the 6 people who made up Jinnah’s first cabinet of minister. He was powerful, one might say.  He was respected and loved, Major Ather said. He belonged to a different time, literally and metaphorically, apparently.

This elected official was deeply religious. He prayed at the Data Durbar. Everyday. The mosque was located some 5 miles from his office.  As Governor, he had an official vehicle and a chauffeur. He walked. Everyday.   When he left office he didn’t have a place to stay.

This is a Pakistan story and a South Asian one as well. It is a global tale, come to think of it.  It belongs to the Book of Yesterday. Today, half a century later, almost, it is hard to see it as relevant to a collection of essay under a title such as ‘Our Today’. Things are never right at the present and that’s a truism that cuts across time and space. At best we would it to be a part of a collection called ‘Tomorrow’s Tales’.

Time-location notwithstanding, it is a story that we can read and move on or else make a part of who we are, as individuals and collectives.

Nations learn from one another. People too. A retired soldier and a statesman who has passed on wove a short story. I listened. 


fayaz said...

i could tell you lots of things about pakistan/..

sajic said...

I always felt an admiration and deep sense of pity for Mohammed Ali Jinnah
at the time of Indian Independence. He stood isolated, quiet,dignified in the crowd of noisy belligerent Indian politicians-like Nehru and Patel. It was clear that the 'world' favoured India.
He did what he thought was right for his people at that time.