Today you have turned 71 years old. That is a milestone which deserves to be celebrated. You went through so many sacrifices to create this nation.
It is a day to reflect about the Partition of the Indian subcontinent, where 15 million people were displaced and two million lost their lives as a result.
I listened to my nani describe the horrific details etched in her memory of how she fled from her home with her five children. It always sent shivers down my spine. It sounded surreal, as though she was recounting a nightmare.
Although my nani isn’t alive anymore, I vividly remember her heart wrenching accounts of that day. And finally, the feeling of being in a safe land that was independent. A place where her children would finally have food after weeks of suffering through the blood, sweat, and tears.
Oh Pakistan, you have been through a turbulent political history but you kept persevering. You stood strong through military dictatorships and our corrupt, so-called democratic governments. You stood strong when all the rest of the world could see was sectarian violence and terrorism. You stood strong through the suicide bomb blasts, the wars, and the lives lost outside your mosques, temples, and churches. You stood strong when nobody had faith left in you anymore.
On your 71st birthday, I want to step back for a moment and apologize to you. I had a completely different vision in my mind of you. I thought I would be miserable if I moved to you, my land. I didn’t feel at home here and I’ll admit, sometimes a part of me still doesn’t.
I would flinch when my parents would suggest to come to you in the summer, merely because of the heat. I rejected rishtay partly because they were based where you are. I fled after trying to attend university here for several months. I didn’t accept you for who you are. I was terrified, lost, and confused.
My life flashed before my eyes when I heard the gun shots as I was crouching behind the sofa in a store. The blinds of the store were hurriedly shut to block the bullets. All I could see was the darkness shrouded around me. This isn’t the feeling I wanted to ever come back to.
Now that you have called me back to you at a time of grief and anxiety last year, you welcomed me with open arms. You did nothing but take me under your wing and never reprimanded me. You didn’t bring up how I detested you and felt no reason to come to you. You always accepted me for who I am, although I never did the same in return.
But today is different. I want to celebrate you on this special day. I would like to tell you how much I love you and why.
A major part of my childhood was spent with you when I would visit and stay with my grandparents every summer. There are so many countless memories that I cherish which I wouldn’t have had if it wasn’t for you.
Let me give you a glimpse of the laughter, joy and precious moments you have given me.
I remember my nani and nana’s faces filled with joy as we came into the gate of their home, 78 Bahadurabad.
I remember my nani telling me the stories she read from Khawateen Digest in so much detail, it felt like it was real.
I remember the sheer joy of playing cricket with my cousins in the garden and scoring so many runs one day.
I remember the smell of motia on nights when I would pace back and forth in the beautiful garden at night, which still reminds me of my nani because my nana would give her a handful everyday which she wore as earrings.
I remember the delicious flavors of the aloo gosht Anwar would prepare and his green eyes lighting up and crinkling at the corners as he smiled when I told him how tasty the food was.
I remember the soothing sound of the silver chimes in the garden as they swayed to and fro in the evenings.
I remember my nana sitting me down and taking out his brown chest of homeopathic medicine to feed me in a folded, white strip of paper when I was down.
I remember the sweet smell of the mangoes bobbing up and down in the big red bowl filled with water, which I didn’t like to eat (until now!).
I remember how much I would scream when my mamoo would pour water in my glass from way above in the Mitchell’s squash bottles that were recycled.
I remember the peaceful bedroom of my nani and nana that was much cooler than all the other rooms of the house.
I remember trying to solve a riddle for hours in the garden, which achay mamoo would never tell us the answer to.
I remember the sound of the pouring rain when we shared scary stories of jiins and how my cousin bit all her perfectly manicured nails.
I remember laughing at the men who used to climb like monkeys up the coconut trees to cut them as my nana watched them from his chair.
I remember the excitement of playing oonch neench with my cousins in the garden and the fear of getting caught every single time.
I remember the hilarious time with my cousin when I prank called the airport, only to say aagaley lagja.
I remember my eldest sister signing her nikkah form with trembling hands as my family stood by her side.
I remember shrieking then laughing when I saw a bug on my shoulder and woke up my concerned grandparents who thought a robber had come in.
I remember…I remember.
I will always remember because of you, Pakistan. This is only a small part of all that you have given me. Without you, it would have been impossible. So I thank you for all of these precious memories and many more that will be made in the years ahead.
I want to wish you well for the future and I hope you will see better years ahead. I pray that all those who are still fighting for their independence in this country will finally taste the smell of freedom. I wish people’s mindset of keeping you a clean and safe nation will finally change for the better.
I salute all of those for their countless efforts to do so and hope that more of us will strive to do the same. You deserve honest and sincere leadership from someone who is dedicated, passionate, and not selfish.
Your people are in desperate need of a compassionate leader who looks after all of you. The minority community, women going through abuse, men who feel pain every single night while putting their hungry children to bed, and the destitute are all waiting for that day. And so are you. My hopes and prayers are for real change to come soon.
Here’s to you, Pakistan! Continue to stay strong and resilient, just like you have always been.