sania ashiq

islamabad - My association in politics with Maryam Nawaz started before the 2013 elections. I found in her a great mentor, a selfless team player, and a passionate leader. All these years, her pure and honest attention towards every junior, colleague and senior party leader has been a trait unparalleled.

It never occurred to me all these years as to how much I would miss her in her absence. It’s been more than a month since I last met my mentor. Since then a lot has happened: sudden deterioration in Begum Kulsoom’s health, the conviction in a NAB case and the decision by the father and daughter duo to return home despite the questionable and partisan application of law. Not to mention a vicious media trial and an election campaign that our party carried out without the presence of Mian Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz’s firebrand speeches. It was 2002 election all over again.

I reached Adiala jail, in the suburbs of the garrison town of Rawalpindi, for a scheduled meeting that happens only on Thursdays. A routine but strict security procedure was in place, making sure no one could carry any electronic devices inside the premises. We were taken to a room where Mian Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Captain (R) Safdar were already present. The room was large enough to accommodate almost 25 people, and PMLN leadership occupied more than the available space. The benches were rusty and two fans covered the entire area.

Mian Nawaz Sharif looked in apparent good health. However, the real health of a heart patient is usually difficult to determine. Maryam Nawaz seemed to have lost some weight though.

They greeted us with big smiles; Mian Nawaz Sharif was his usual fatherly figure for all. Maryam hugged me and inquired about my health. I was awestruck at her resolve. I should have been the one asking this particular question, but she made me realize again that injustice was barely ever going to shake her strength. She seemed more attentive and responsive than anyone of us. Emotions ran high, and many party leaders were teary eyed.

Maryam remained very calm and composed; she told everyone not to worry, nor to feel dejected. Turning to me, sensing that I could not understand where her strength came from, she said tough times are for self-reflection, and if you are on the right path then your resolve should become stronger every day. When a young former MNA from Faisalabad arrived, Mian sahib hugged him and kissed on the forehead. This is his unique style of showing his appreciation for anyone.

I told Madam Maryam that we miss her a lot. She looked at us with her signature smile and said, “I am here in my country with my people. You could have missed me if I was not in the country.”

In her daily routine, she hardly sees any person all day long; others are probably barred from contacting or talking to her. Her cell is completely sealed from 7 PM to 5 AM. I inquired about the living conditions of her room, and she told me there is a room cooler that is non-operational but Alhamdulillah (Praise to Allah) she still gets sound sleep. Hardly anything reflected the media and authority’s claim that the family has been provided with any comfort inside the prison.

She said that her time is usually spent reading. Her current reading list includes “An interview with history” by Oriana Fallaci. She was delivered about half a dozen of her books recently; most of them are on the history of the subcontinent and the great Muslim rulers of the past.

The worst thing to know was that the food being provided to her and Mian Sahib is usually transferred between multiple utensils in the name of “checking” and is highly unhygienic when it is finally delivered to them.

All the time we remained there, Maryam kept playing with her newborn granddaughter and said she missed her younger daughter. The meeting was brief, but the emotions that I collected there are going to be with me permanently. The high spirits of these political detainees were an inspiration for all. Mian sahib said he knew he would have to face the mental torture in jail and that he was more than ready to face the circumstances. He said he would follow the course of law for his case and was hopeful that political condition in the country would not remain the same for long.

We remained there for around three hours, and even while parting, Madam Maryam stayed very calm and high-spirited.

Mian sahib gave his signature hand wave and we left. I was very moved after we left the building. Too many feelings ran through me. The world outside still moved at the same pace, apparently unaware of what was happening in the prison building behind me.

It’s saddened me; it suffocated me. However, there was also this feeling in me of passion, of motivation and of ambition that came from the strength I felt in my leaders. It was as if they had talked to me through their vibe, through their general attitude of dealing with the prevailing injustice. They gave me hope in our fight for a better Pakistan; they strengthened my determination to fight for a better democracy. I felt more powerful and more focused towards our goal: vote ko izzat do (respect our vote).

–The writer has been nominated on a reserved seat for the Member Provincial Assembly Punjab. She tweets @saniaaashiq