Learning to breathe again

A response to the Political Rally held by the Tehreek-e-Insaaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice Party) in Karachi on the 25th of December 2011. Led by Imran Khan, the rally saw over 100,000 Pakistani’s come out to support the cricketer turned politician. (Written in 2011)


25th December 2011.

Tonight I wanted to bare my feet to the earth, dig them deep into the soil of my home and feel my nation pulsating beneath me. The razor edge of transition, and hope grinding against my soles, I would have let it slit my soul. Tonight I would have bled for my country if I had been asked. Standing on the rocks of a revolution, I would have forgiven anyone, anything in the promise that with dawn only a sunrise away, things might begin to look differently for those who have held their breath for far too long.


March 1992.

I was celebrating my first birthday when Imran’s Tigers took Pakistan to victory in the Cricket World Cup. He was a leader then, not a politician. In Pakistan, cricket takes on a spiritual significance. There is a lot of praying that happens in the stands, on the pitch and at home. Our cricketers are not our prophets, but our saviours. For a day there is no caution in our step and our untainted emotions are left bare to the world. This love affair with cricket is bound to last, for it is in a stadium that we learn how to heal best.


December 2003.

My father’s work decided to move us to Romania. In my wildest dreams I had never imagined such a nightmare. I had never toyed with the idea of living elsewhere. Pakistan was the only place I had wanted to know. Why?  It is something to do with belonging. It was in my years abroad, from Romania to Yemen, Wales, Australia to the US, that I realized how fierce my sense of belonging was. Nowhere else have I found the quiet inside of me as I have under a smoggy sky in the middle of Lahore’s winter. I can still hear the crickets murmur in my grandmother’s garden. The way the dust settles after a monsoon shower. Even if full of contradictions and hazy childhood mosaics I had pieced into portraits of home, I have always just been Pakistani. My mother believes this longing for; belonging to a country has something to do with the food we eat as infants. The nourishment we get from the soil. That soil stays within us. Knows when we are far, and pulls us back. You cannot un-learn a nation if it runs through your being.


September 2010.

When I began my undergraduate degree at Brown University I did not understand how so many Americans were ignorant of the relationship between the US and Pakistan. Perhaps it is only those who have suffered who concern themselves with such things. While we do have our share of culprits, the innocent have paid dearly, for much that has happened since 9/11. In fighting a global war, we ignored our own country. The realities of no electricity, no gas, soaring food prices and low morale have hit every household. It has become a national problem but none of our leaders seem to care about anything other than filling their pockets.


March 2011.

My Pakistani friend, Amina and I sat in a New York apartment glued to our computers, watching the live stream of the India vs. Pakistan semi-final. Our friends knew not to bother us as we sat through missed catches, and clumsy wickets. For those who are foreign to the world of cricket, a Pakistan-India match is perhaps the only thing both countries stop for. In the midst of a tsunami of devastation the match sparked hope in us. I saw an excitement and a national unity no other force had been able to instill in us for a long time, perhaps since our 1992 win. Even after we had lost to India, the air was still heavy with pride, flag up high, we stood under the green and white, wanting to belong. Once again, cricket had healed us. 


25th December 2011.

My breath played manic melodies only my fingers could contain, condense, into words. I was witnessing history, inscribed in the fumes of a nation burning beneath its covers, as I watched the political rally on TV at my home in Perth. With the Quaid’s tomb in the background, flags raised high and countless faces, the night was nothing but electric. I gulped down Khan’s promises in mouthfuls, though some sane part of my brain kept telling me he was still a politician. Could the man, who had healed us once, do the same in the political arena? I wondered if people believed in Pakistan’s sweetheart as a politician, or a cricketer. Whatever their conviction, let us take heed.


Corruption. Inflation. Education. Taxes. Every Pakistani dinner party conversation always falls into politics. Always the same discontent. Complaints. Accusations. Questions. How long before we break?  Who will save us?  The answer is always: no one. Imran Khan has brought these conversations to the political arena. He dreams big for Pakistan, and frankly we haven’t had many dreamers lately. We have watched him deliver, time and again, and while people still question his ability to do so in the political realm, now is not the time for skepticism if change is what we are seeking. Conspiracies will always be there but at 64, Pakistan is trembling under its own weight. Our only hope is in someone who is honest. While there is no guarantee that he will remain so in the future, as politics has a way of making the good, ugly. Still, we find in him a man who cares about Pakistan the way our parents and our children do. It is not just any love, but ishq – madness in love. One in which every wound hurts, and every accusation is a stain on our reputation because our flesh is something of the soil. 


In a country where people would be willing to sell their passports for some gas, because they’d rather be fed than have an identity, what have we left to lose? This nation was built to be a home, to house a people. To keep them safe. It is about time we let that happen. If it means blindly trusting a man into a future we cannot be certain of, then let us have faith in God. This nation may be full of thieves, and extremists but it has been running on the spine of good people, who continue, in their quiet ways to fulfill the dream of every man, woman and child who never made it across the border in 1947. If we do not make the sacrifices of our parents and grandparents worth our sweat, then surely we have failed not only them, but also ourselves.


26th December 2011.

My thirteen-year-old brother knows nothing of politics, really. He knows things are bad when we go back to visit but nothing of the intricacies that have tangled Pakistan into a ball that has too many knots for things to become better overnight. He watched the rally with me on television even though he didn’t understand much. This morning, he woke us all up with the Junoon and Strings songs from the rally that he had looked up. They are still playing on repeat. He does not know what they signify but this is the only thing that makes sense to him. This is the only way he knows how to be involved in creating a nation with the jazba –e- junoon of our forefathers, a place where roti ho gi sasti aur mehngi ho gi jaan. A nation where the good people refuse to be silenced any longer. 



Let us begin somewhere. If there is one thing I have learnt in living abroad, it is that we will not be the right shade of skin anywhere else; no matter how hard we try. If we do not have a nation, what will we belong to? Who will shelter us? It is not for our parent’s generation to fight our cause anymore. It is for us, the next generation to rise up. To fulfill the purpose Iqbal, the inceptor of Pakistan once dreamt we would. Our nation needs reviving. It needs the loyalty of a whole generation who will be committed to seeing it through the many more downs to come before progress is made. The fact that Karachi, one of the most dangerous cities in the world could hold such a political rally without any hiccups, that under a night sky brimming with fervor, we were able to see the stirrings of a revolution – a call to change, means we are on our way to winning. Pakistan lives within the depths of our souls, in the core of what makes us human, in the identity we cannot remove from ourselves. It is time we built our home again, all of us, together. Imran Khan may be the answer; he may not, but let us begin the process of change with him. Let us be willing to risk. Let us not be afraid to get bloodied for the truth and for justice as we walk on sharp ground. It is the only way we will know how to breathe again.

Zainab Zahra Syed, Dec 2011.