Pakistan…a country so improbable that it could almost exist.
-Salman Rushdie, Shame.
For some odd 61 years now, we have been living an almost, not quite there existence. In the eyes of the Western powers, we exist at times when a strategically important partner is needed, when military bases and mujahideen are the order of the day.
But this is not about the West. This is about us, the people. And what we have lived through in the years that Pakistan hung on by a rapidly fraying thread, a thread that seldom attempted to repair itself, and when it did, was snipped by a military dictator.
We, the unfortunate children born in the 80s, when Zia was in the throes of his Islamization fever, and Benazir was a much loved icon, will never be able to talk about the golden era of Pakistan, when nightclubs and bars were common, and Karachi was on the hippie route.
Instead, we talk about the days of the operation in Karachi, of being mugged in broad daylight, and share stories about robbers pausing to discern designer pens from the fakes. We talk about sneaking into our forgotten province Baluchistan, where there are more military personnel than actual Baluchis. We talk about Musharraf, and are fiercely divided on whether we hate him with a passion that disturbs us on sleepless nights, or whether we think he was really our saviour. Whether Iftikhar Chaudhry is all that he seems to be, or what would have happened if Benazir was still alive. We have seen bomb blasts and body parts, and have mulled over who Baitullah Mehsud really is.
And we were reminded, time and again, that in our moth-eaten country*, ours was a fragmented existence…not quite there. Years from now, our children will read some semi-fictional version of history in their schoolbooks, and ask us what really happened. What will we tell them? That yes, the intelligence agencies were really responsible for detaining people without charges for years? Or that we saw people being baton charged and tear gassed in front of our eyes, because they demanded the freedom of the pen, or wanted an independent judiciary? That the milibus was not part of Ayesha Siddiqa’s imagination and really did exist, and as a result we saw bridges constructed by military owned organizations collapse into piles of rubble, with children trapped beneath them and no one accepting responsibility? That our brief moment of sanity came on the night of the elections, as we saw moderate political forces winning seat after seat and we knew, for once, that tomorrow would be a better day? Or that our sense of patriotism died, and we barely felt it?
Perhaps it is this oddly chilly night, or the new Nine Inch Nails’ instrumental album, but I am, more than ever, filled with a sense of despondency, that perhaps we will never have to tell our children what really happened. Perhaps, Pakistan will cease to exist by then, and will forever remain only in history books.
Till then, we continue to live our almost-existence.
*from Rushdie’s Shame, again. I quote Rushdie shamelessly.