A Letter to Pakistan on Independence Day 14 August
My story begins with you even before I was born. Mum always used to tell me that when she was pregnant, there was one Pakistani patriotic song “Har Ghari Tayyar Kamran Hain Hum” that would often play on PTV. While listening to it, she would pray to God to bless her with a son so she could name him Kamran. That’s how I got my name. It’s because of you!
My earliest memory of you is when I used my pocket-money to buy mini-flags. There used to be so many varieties of them. But I always looked for the pure ones, without any wordings or images. How neat and evenly spaced those mini-flags looked when I glued them on the parapet wall of our old house using flour paste!
Everybody knew dad as Pakistani Sahib. Such was his love for you that he even got his name in National ID card written as “Zafar Ali Pakistani.” The nameplate on our house still says “Pakistani House”.
In your dusty streets, I learned to walk, and here I used to roll a motorcycle tyre. Here I learned to ride a bicycle and did my first cycle tour as thirteen years old. When I flew to Germany in 2002 to study, and the plane was flying above Turkey, while looking through the window and marvelling at the landscape below I made a promise to myself to return to you from Germany on a bicycle.
How long did I have to wait for this? Thirteen years in total!
During these years, whether I was writing dissertations, working, or partying, all I was thinking was this—crossing your border, pushing the last pedal and seeing the bicycle roll and come to a stop, mom appearing from behind the door and me falling on her feet. The dream, I had seen so many times that it felt like a memory. When I eventually began riding to you after nine years and was still in Turkey, the country where I had first conceived this idea, you made me catch a flight to Multan where mum passed away a few weeks later. I felt betrayed by destiny and vowed to never cycle back to you again.
For the next four years, every night when I laid my head on the pillow, you reminded me of an unfulfilled promise. You made me listen to the voice of a dream over and over. I left everything for you, my job, my career, and all belongings, and jumped onto the bicycle. How many countries, uphills, and rivers I crossed before we met again!
And when I was finally home I had brought nothing but your flag that I had carried all the way. I laid it on top of mum’s grave. You were the most precious gift I could give to her.
My relationship with you is like a spring. The farther I go from you, the more you pull towards me, but when I am with you, I get pushed away. Sadly, that’s how things are here today.
I am a citizen of the world, but everywhere I go, I tell people about you. The people living in remote corners of the planet, those who don’t even know where you are on the map, I have told them about your magnificent beauty, rich culture, and hospitality. In Mexico, I even installed a signpost pointing towards you from over 13,000 km away. But I must also confess that there have been times when I didn’t tell some people about you. Don’t worry. They were immigration officers only.
I know the world is against you. People call you and us with what not names. But my travels have taught me that our perceptions of other countries can be wrong.
I hope on this day, amongst all celebrations, we will take some time for introspection and realize that there is a lot more to patriotism than just waving the country flag or shouting slogans. Hopefully, one day everyone all around the globe will understand that one doesn’t have to hate another country to love one’s own. After all, we all are the children of the planet.
Thank you, Pakistan, for your land where my legs took first steps and rode the bicycle. Thank you for the words I learned at your schools, the songs and cries my ears heard, and every turn and road I took, and the siblings and friends I received. Thank you for embracing the bodies of my parents in your soil, giving me the dream on the first flight to Germany and for coming to see me at Khunjerab Pass. Thank you for all the laughs and tears, and my first love.
Little did I know that they were all preparing me for the journeys I would take on later in life. I went away from you, but that’s how I truly got to know you.
Everything I am today is because of how you raised me.
For that and everything, my dear Pakistan, I will always love you!
Happy Independence Day!