The Sacrifices for our Green

imageThis Ramadan among other talks, I heard one from Maulana Tariq Jamil, which resonated deeply within me. It was simply because of its similarity to my father’s history. I wrote about my father’s experience at the time of Partition in Newsline Magazine a few years ago, in the form of a letter to Pakistan.(

Today, the sixty eighth Independence Day of Pakistan, I shall relate what the Maulana said, as it is a very relevant message for those who love Pakistan. I translate and paraphrase :-

‘When I was young, I used to listen to various personal stories about Partition and they were so earth shaking, that at times I felt that my heart would burst. This is the only country which was made on the base of an ideology, no cement or construction involved, just a foundation built on the bones of six hundred thousand people, who sacrificed their lives in a few weeks.

We are local people or have spent too many generations after the Partition, so we did not see or taste that sacrifice, unlike the original migrants. My father’s friend was one such migrant from Jullundur and once while sitting with him, he told us his own story, which I narrate now.

When he left Jullundur, his whole family had been separated, due to chaos and calamity all around. He was very young and the only one who survived. One single soul, in search of Pakistan; trying to hide in the fields during the day and traveling by night. One immediate and compelling objective; to survive the ire of the Sikhs, who were on rampage in the three bordering districts of the Punjab.

Eventually he approached the new border, at the banks of the Sutlej which in August was a raging monsoon river. In front was death by drowning or possible safety and at the back was death at the hands of the Sikhs. So, he grabbed a piece of wood and jumped into the river, risking drowning. As the torrent took him mid river, he saw that the whole Sutlej was full of bodies. Children, young, old, women and men. They had arrived at their final destination and their sacrifice was complete. Now the Sutlej had become a coffin and grave to their bodies. The same was true of the Chenab and Ravi in those few days, all three had become the bed of the migrant soul. But he (this particular young kid) managed to cross the Sutlej into Pakistan and survived to tell his story years later.

We should read our history. It tells us how we started and where we are going. This country was given everything – soul, soil, minerals and people. Unfortunately, it was just sucked into this one cancer. Its called insincerity and dishonesty. It could have been a Jannat on this earth. You know, this country has been bled dry, not by the little people, or the uneducated, or the workers. No, this sacrilege has been committed by very high class people, who are also well educated. Simply, they obtained degrees, but did not learn humanity.

Such big sacrifices in vain, by the many. All we are left with is thorns; we never really saw a spring. Had there not been some great humans, then the country would long ago have been sold. Fortunately, in the far corners there is still some light and it reflects in places. Somehow this caravan still proceeds on its journey due to these good people, despite the evil perpetrated by the so-called privileged.

One day those six hundred thousand will rise out of their graves, and demand restitution from all the insincere, whether they be here in Pakistan or settled abroad. There is no escaping this eventuality, because there has been ‘amanat may khayanat’ here.’

For my part I pray and say Pakistan Zindabad. The sacrifice of the many shall not go waste. In-sha-Allah.

*translated and paraphrased from Maulana Tariq Jamil. All credits are due to him. The figure of six hundred thousand death is presumably only the Muslim number, as many Hindus and Sikhs also perished. Total figures vary, reaching upto 1.5 mn in some estimates.

Letter to Pakistan

pak flag

Printed in Newsline Magazine – August 2012

Dear Pakistan,

I dreamt last night of a young boy who was cowering behind a trunk in a railway bogey. In the background, there were screams, gunfire and one could smell blood. Not to forget the broken bodies. They were everywhere! Then, the dream cut to another scene and suddenly this train arrived at a railway station, the young boy was lifted out of the bogey and there were shouts of relief, as others were also carried to safety. There it is, the signboard says Lahore Railway Station and is that not my father there lying on the platform in shock? He has survived but he has seen hell, my dear Pakistan. At the ripe young age of 14 he has seen hell. Awful dream and I woke with a start, in a sweat remembering those millions in 1947, who suffered just to be with you. Just to belong.

Years later when that boy had become my father, he told me the story. Of the great aspirations and love which went with the commitment to abandon all in India and migrate to Pakistan. For him the horrible events along the way, defined his love for you. It was worth it to give all that for a land where he would be free. Where he could live, marry, earn and not be considered lower than others. Not for skin, nor for sect or religion, nor for his language. He thought it was worth it, for the home this country gave to him for almost six decades. Right up to his last months, then a wasting disease took him to a more permanent abode.

I am so sorry Pakistan, because somewhere in the middle, while still loving and pining for you, I went away, I went abroad for long stints. Did not show the same dedication my father did. As justification I thought I shall earn and give back to my land. My commercial training and reasoning kicking in! Only, money never equates to action and sharing pain. When I came back, you had been robbed. I had left you undefended and they had come, raped and pillaged you and left you distressed. My fault. I did not consider that my home was worth raising my voice for.

Well I have been back many years now and have seen some light at the end of the tunnel. These young ones they are more like my father. They are ready to live for a cause. Oh I know you would say that the vast masses are insensitive and uncaring. But do not lose hope, my dear Pakistan. These young ones have a vision and a story they believe in and are beginning to awaken. The big, long slumber is over. They have a finger on your pulse, they know you are alive. My dear Pakistan, I feel you will finally get the leaders and people you deserve.


Oh yes, I meant to write and say to you Happy Independence Day. A very Happy 65th Birthday!

Your hopeful citizen


India vs Pakistan, Line of Control tensions

India and Pakistan, please stop before it is too late …

January 23, 2013

It is a confrontation triggered by Indian violations and Pakistan’s reactions. So both sides are playing some role. PHOTO: AFP

With the pressure being built up in India about the Line of Control situation, it has brought to the fore the question of how we Pakistanis respond to it.

Do we aggressively answer back in the press and other media?

Is it better to continue to quietly urge a resolution through discussions?

Or is it an option to just ignore the furor and let everything settle?

The stakes are extremely high, simply because this is a nuclear region and any error can lead to huge unintended consequences. Just to paint a scenario in the future of such a cataclysmic error…


Imagine a few months from now a Pakistani and an Indian are sitting together in the Bay area, around Silicon Valley in US. They are in their early 40s, have seven figure salaries, lovely children and great houses. They are avidly involved in their social lives and have great friends. From the outside you would be envious of their lives, but, the truth is that they are distraught and bereft of hope.

How could they do it, they keep asking each other?

How could they destroy our homelands?

But unfortunately, that is what has happened.

In a nuclear conflagration triggered by frenzy about LoC violations, everything from Balochistan to Assam (including Bangladesh) is now suffering from nuclear fallout. The region will be dangerous for decades due to radiation. No access, relatives and friends dead or missing, starvation prevalent and the world economy is itself , in recession – after all almost one in five people lived in this region.


Hard to imagine?

Well ask someone in October 1962, around the time of the Cuban crisis or those who remember the last face-off in 2001 between Pakistan and India. I vividly remember a drive along the border for almost a 100km to Narowal, when everything had been evacuated. A desolate drive never to be repeated in a lifetime, I hope.

But the lesson is, it can happen and brinkmanship is hardly the required behaviour.

So, to the present line of control situation!

Pervez Musharraf spoke on the issue recently.

“Beheading a soldier is inexcusable. However, knowing the Pakistan Army, I can say for sure it is not in our culture to do something like that. It’s a court martial offence,” said Musharraf. “The politicians and media in India are being hysterical about it,” he added.

I am not an expert to comment on his assertions, but the report by The Hindu on the LoC – which has investigated the actual story – rationalises the events. According to that investigation, it is a confrontation triggered by Indian violations and Pakistan’s reactions. Thus, both sides have played a role leading to this fight.

It is time to sit down and talk it over. We don’t want two countries with nuclear arms to go to war. Both sides can preserve their self-respect and yet have a rational discussion.

Simla in our collective history is a great example of even handed negotiations. However, I guess I live in an ideal world.

What we have going on today, is a barrage from the media in India. Maybe commerce is playing a role and ratings are the reason for this furor – whatever it is, this then drives and motivates politicians. You get hunger strikes and the extreme point of view takes over. One politician gets up in the Parliament and demands 10 heads to be sent back in compensation.

Is this  for real?

Are you really asking for murder to be sanctioned now?

And then the Pakistan media will want 10 heads back!

We could play tit for tat for the rest of the year.  So much for Aman ki Asha!

Oh, for some responsible people who will show maturity!

So why is better sense not prevailing? Maybe it is filters of a thousand years of history and the partition; regardless, sense should prevail because both parties don’t have options left.

Till now, Pakistanis have been cooler in their reactions. The media here has also not taken as much notice, perhaps because Tahirul Qadri, the Supreme Court and rental power case have taken prime importance. This quiet handling should continue and more discussions should occur sooner than later.

The LoC mechanism to sort skirmishes has already been activated. If that does not work, then the Foreign Secretaries or even Foreign Ministers should meet.

More headlines, alarmist columns or beating the drum is not the answer.

Exhibiting maturity and dignity is.

Read more by Sarfaraz here or follow him on Twitter @sarehman

If I could have a chat with Jinnah…

December 18, 2012

The apparent dream of Pakistan he saw in 1934, which may have led him to come to India, all the more makes one want some answers.

Like many, I often wonder what it would be like to talk to an influential historic figure. One wants to sit with them, ask questions and find out what they think about things around them, but they no longer exist to answer.

I personally wish I had a chance to interview Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah – Jinnah now. The apparent dream of Pakistan he saw in 1934, which may have led him to come to India, all the more makes one want some answers. He isn’t here to answer, but one can conjecture, right?

I wonder if Jinnah would have given the following answers if I did, in fact, interview him.

Me: “Sir, what were you thinking when you came to India to lead in 1934?”

Jinnah: “I had been alternatively lectured and cajoled to lead. Generally, I do not change my mind; then perhaps because this was on my mind, I had a powerful dream. I do not want to go into the details of the dream but it almost immediately moved me to return to India and lead the Muslim League. The objective was clear – unite and move with purpose to form a separate homeland for the Muslims. We were not sure in what form or how autonomous it would be, but it would franchise the Muslims as a separate independent authority.”

Me: “What did you think of the Muslim League leaders?”

Jinnah: “Unfortunately it is true that the followers all came from the Sardari class – Raja-this, Nawab-that, Sardar-so-and-so. But that’s all we had. The common Muslim was uneducated and struggling in vocations. They were also not conversant in English or well acquainted with the prevailing 20th century culture. To move forward, we needed the landlord class. I hoped in time our people would arise and progress. Alas! I hear they still maintain their dominance. That was not part of my plan.”

Me: “When did you decide a Muslim homeland can happen?”

Jinnah: “There was never a doubt from 1934 onwards about this in my mind. Having started this struggle and gone on this route, there was no turning back. We knew the struggle would be bitter and long.

From 1937, I was certain; then, of course, the Lahore Resolution in 1940 defined our lands, which had been unclear till then.”

Me: “Do you think we could have compromised with the Congress?”

Jinnah: “You do not realise the backwardness of the Muslims and therefore our weakness in the coalition. I had already spent 20 years working on this unity, however, to no avail. You cannot blame the Hindus alone on this. They did not have an equal partner and in politics the stronger takes the lead and leaves the other to follow.

A separate homeland allowed the Muslims within their own security, to advance and become equals. And it seemed from the passion created, that we would be able to do it. If you have a vision and a value system (and we did back then) then the lacking ingredient is dedication and passion. We seemed to have that to spare.”

Me: “How did you miss out on Kashmir? And what about the loss of Gurdaspur?”

Jinnah: “They are both interconnected. You would say that it was naive to expect that it would work out. India wanted Kashmir, Hyderabad, Junagadh and other protectorates. We should probably have expected it. But then, remember we were totally focused on Pakistan’s creation and had no other thought. Our fear was that Pakistan may be lost. We were frankly ready to take a truncated Pakistan.

I knew my health was bad and it was passion which was keeping one going. So, really, the Gurdaspur factor did not enter our minds. Nawabzada Liaquat was heading the Muslim League delegation to the Radcliffe Border Commission and some games were played with the recommendations. It was extremely unfortunate and led to a huge loss of life. I class that as our biggest miss and I wish we could turn the clock back on that one.”

Me: “Sir, what about not taking Bengali as our language along with Urdu?”

Jinnah: “That, as events have shown, later turned out to be a misjudgment. But the reasoning was straightforward. Bengal made 50% plus of the population, however it was another province. Had we allowed Bengali the same status as a national language, soon all the others Sindhi, Punjabi, Pushto and Balochi would have demanded the same. Perhaps had we left English it would be better, but then people would say ‘why achieve freedom’? So you see our problem?”

Me: “Do you still believe that Pakistan was the right thought after 65 years?”

Jinnah: “The concept is still sound. We are two different nations and ensuing 65 years have made it even more of a divide. Culture and society are further apart than ever before. The problem is that it was our fundamental belief, and so we would not have gotten a good deal in undivided India. Nothing has changed that.

Our execution post partition has been bad, but do not despair. This is just 65 years. In North American plains, the US was a wild country throughout the 19th century. It started with fighting the Mexicans and then drove out its Indians and almost exterminated them. Simultaneously it treated its black population as slaves. Then they fought a war to sort that out, and for the last three decades, the white killed the white to gain power in the Wild West.

We are nowhere as bad. We will InshaAllah grow to be a nation yet. Without belief and optimism, nothing can be accomplished. Get your belief right and then all the others will fall into place.”

Me: “Thank you, sir.”

Read more by Sarfaraz here or follow him on Twitter @sarehman

Restless Ambition?

Restless Ambition?

Roll the clock back to the years before partition of the Indian subcontinent. Think of a common man in his seventies and the life he lived. Born in a reasonably well-off family, he went to school in the local community. His family lived together, not too far from the extended family. As a child, he played with his cousins and friends out in the grounds; other recreational activities being evenings in the marketplace. Eventually, he joined his father at the shop and settled into an existence of earning his daily bread. Marriage and a few decades later, his children took over the same shop. Decades of daily grind, lived in peace without any desire to expand, change or move.

Seventy, and just as content, he now sits with lifelong friends, out in the veranda, enjoying a cup of tea as his grandchildren play around him. Fascinating! What a life! What roots and what stability. You could have replicated this story in most communities of the world, till the 1950’s and 60’s.

But things have changed since then. There is a mood of restlessness today. In the past people took jobs, progressed up the ladder and somewhere in late career hoped to reach the top, if good enough. Otherwise middle level would suffice. People lived the daily routine, worked, socialized, went home, interacted with the family and stayed content.

Fast forward five decades and you have the likes of myself! I represent the majority. We are the lot who, despite a long career of substantial jobs and success, have still not quite hit the satisfaction button. We have better cars, bigger houses, more means, travel more, eat better and entertain richer than people fifty years ago. Yet, there is that ‘restless ambition’, (for lack of a better phrase). We are in the hunt for more. Always and constantly.

What that ‘more’ is may be different from person to person, but it is always there. ‘More!’. I still have friends from my school days, but most of them are abroad. We do not interact, except on facebook or through email. I don’t even know how many children they have or what their names are. Some friendship! Think of the old gentleman sitting having tea with his friends in the old days.

So what has changed? What has caused this shift in the thinking of societies? Is it the apparent lack of religion and spirituality in our daily space? Is it the hard commercialism of modern day living, which has taken the soul out of our existence? Or is it the brash ‘in the face’ awareness (partially through advertising) which makes us desire for ‘more’. Could it be, that with so many ideologies vying with each other, we are simply muddled. When muddled, does a human simply grab whatever comes his way? And hence the case of men and women running around wanting more? This reminds me of Pepsi’s slogan “Dil Mange More”!

I am not a social scientist and therefore am unable to quite see why this so called entropy exists. I believe studies done in US universities have shown that when you compare years 1900 to 2000, entropy is hundreds of multiples higher – but this is a challenged theory.

Are we now in a field of unintended consequences? When it first started, it was good that our children went for higher studies and then of course, we expected a return on the investment. They had to earn to justify this expenditure. So, knowledge which for centuries was an end and a means to acquire wisdom, was no more so. Now, you look at it and say “must have payback”. And so, our children drive themselves ever harder, breaking and bending the rules in the process.

But along the way, something else happened in stealth. We forgot about what living should taste like, as we went further down this hole. We forgot family and children; family systems became redundant and relationships unimportant in the process. We went on a spiral of unintended consequences. And when we hit the bottom, we were all alone; without any real belonging, roots, cause or larger purpose.

So we concentrate on the one thing we have left. Ourselves. And we occupy ourselves in our minds twenty-four-seven without even realizing it. Our perpetual question:  what is next for me? In reality, all there is now, next and later, is restless ambition.

Back in the eighties, if a young man said he wanted to be CEO, he would be considered brash. Today, if he does not say it, he is considered unambitious. These are hard facts. This is how we have come to be.

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