Friday, 14 August 2015

Happy Independence Day

Happy Independence Day to Pakistan and all Pakistanis all over the world. Happy marking of the day the wretched British Raj finally quit India and two nations were bloodily carved. Happy Independence Day to also Nehru's India making its tryst with destiny, to Salman Rushdie's magical midnight children, and the good people of Pakistan who were free to go their temples and mosques. Happy Independence Day to the idea of kicking Western kicking imperialism out but also acknowledging neocolonialism and failures of our nation building. Happy Independence Day to our neighbours, India, who are celebrating their freedom tomorrow. Happy Independence Day to Partition and also atrocities committed in East Bangladesh, now Bangladesh. 
Happy Independence Day to good riddance of bloody British Imperialism but also borders and new nations. 
What does a Pakistani woman living and working in Liberia, West Africa, married to an Indian think about 14 August? Mainly many weird contradictions which became apparent over time. 
As a child of a Pakistani diplomat who also served as Pakistan's Ambassador, my childhood and my identity was closely linked to Pakistan although I hardly lived in Pakistan nor studied there. I have always and still love Pakistan for the identity it gave me, for its rich cultural heritage, and family vacations in Islamabad, Karachi and Faisalabad. 
14 August meant my parents hosting an elegant, demure reception for the diplomatic community and VIPS of the host country. Diplomats spend all the time telling each other now nice each other's countries are and, national day, republic day, or independence day receptions are a good time to do that. 
The next day, my parents would be guests at the Indian Ambassador's house for the India Independence Day reception. I wonder how you congratulate your bitter enemy in diplomatic terms. "Aap ko bhi mubarik ho" 
Abroad, Pakistanis and Indians meet, invite each other to each other's homes, trade Bollywood movies for Pakistani TV Dramas, talk about how much is common between them, and bemoan politics. 
Hooking up with an Indian and producing a love child with him made me think about the actual implications of Partition, for the first time in a non-intellectual way. Decades of messy nation building and propaganda has cemented the idea we are completely different and separate people who have no need to be together other than as polite friends. Not being able to easily get a visa to go to each other's country made me think how stupid and idiotic the idea was to begin with. With the both of us staunch and proud anti-religionists, the idea of Partition really made us furious. We had to have our baby in the US so she could get a neutral citizenship and still be able to visit her parents' homelands. 
Academics, historians, and political scientists go around figuring out how great historical moments were made. Was it an idea that led to revolutions? Do elites or mass struggles create change? Did the common man really support the idea of Partition or were they swayed by the colonially-trained elites vying for political control in the departure of the British? And, how will we ever explain the horrifying blood letting? Was communal tension always simmering beneath the surface or was this also an example of elite exploitation for political gains? The murder of your neighbour? The rape of women from the other faith? How did a people suddenly become so worked up about religion? Or was this just a good time for looting? 
It is wonderful to talk about history and ideas but practically speaking history stinks if you can't get a visa. 
Today, I celebrate in my head my love of Pakistan, the country where my cozy and memory-full family house is, where I go to get a sense of 'ancestral home,' and spend time with my folks. But I am already thinking of tomorrow, too, my partner's country's Independence Day. I am thinking we need to have a joint birthday party for Pakistan and India and get our Randall Street rooftop ready for it. 
Happy Independence Day to the end of colonialism in South Asia, the ongoing struggle for equality and political freedoms and a brighter future for everyone, regardless of which side of the border you are in. 
And just please give me a freaking visa.

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