I am a third generation Pakistani in a family that began its patriotic life to the tune of loss: stately homes, land, extremely successful business, the family silver, a new bicycle and beloved pet goat. Things were discarded, set aside, for an ideal and that was that. And ever since, we’ve been raised like homing pigeons to come home. Wherever we perambulate in the course of our academics and careers, Pakistan is our perpetual North. Of course you’re coming back, is the underlying assumption. Of course, we are utterly mental to mean this, given how unstable and impossible this country is, but the good part is that we’re not the only insane family.
Love is ridiculous that way. So is loyalty. What on earth has this country “given” us technically? A passport that gets you ‘randomly’ checked at airports for hours? Political apathy with a healthy dose of corruption? A sheepishness when meeting Bangladeshis? Excellent mangoes? The Pakistani who went to private school and had a generator and water bore-pump at home can quite assuredly claim that it wasn’t Pakistan that gave her an education, electricity and water—her parents did. The other reason we should owe allegiance to our country is identity, which you could also well say your family gives you, because in a multicultural, multi-ethnic country like Pakistan there isn’t anything you can point to and say “this is Pakistani”, because it’s an ajrak from Cholistan or mangoes from South Punjab or shell headdresses from Chitral and they all come with their own distinct tradition and culture that combines to be a part of being Pakistani. “As American as apple pie” doesn’t exist for us because we just aren’t homogenous in that way (which, to my mind, is wonderful because it is liberating to be diverse).
So why do we feel like this about Pakistan? Why have countless families sent their children abroad to study, have worked abroad for years themselves and then packed up and come right back? What is so compelling about this beleaguered country that makes people leave lucrative jobs, health insurance and general security and a certain lifestyle to come back here? Love, and loyalty. Nobody likes the implications of having a green passport which is why so many people try to get dual nationality—it is tiresome and tedious to be denied visas when you need to go abroad to study, or get a Schengen for one week like some annoying bureaucratic joke. It is embarrassing to be pulled out of lines by airline personnel for double-checking because you’re Pakistani. It’s being punished for something you didn’t do, or had no part in, but you’re still paying the price.
But that’s where the complete irrationality of loyalty kicks in. You roll your eyes and stand aside in the line. You smile at strangers who assume you’re Indian when you’re abroad and gently correct them—no, I’m Pakistani, and feel a little glimmer of pride. We don’t have much to be proud of in the grand scheme of things. But we’re also still here, pushing back. We’re still here, writing books and running schools and making art and taking pretty photos for Instagram because that’s what you do when you love something. You stick around. You try to keep finding the beauty in a maelstrom of horrible. You keep looking because you believe it’s there, that nothing is irredeemable. We are the product of generations of determined hope.
And we criticise because we have a right to. Everyone who doesn’t turn a critical eye on Pakistan is letting her down. You don’t make your child look bad if you tell them sharpish to behave themselves—you’re training them to be better human beings. And you do it because you love them, and don’t want to let them down by not helping when you had a responsibility to. And that’s how I see patriotism—like a parallel to a parent. Yeh watan tumhara hai, tum ho paasbaan isskay. We’re the protectors of this country, she is our amaanat. They say it takes a village to raise a child. What does it take to raise a country? Courage. Honesty. Compassion. Justice. You and I can’t topple the government or start dispensing vigilante justice like desi Batman, but we can start by being the Pakistanis that Pakistan needs. Adbul Sattar Edhi was one person. Mohammad Ali Jinnah was one person. Now imagine what would happen if we all decided to be that one person.