This fourteenth of August, beset as we are by troubles of all size and shape, my mind goes back to the very beginning. A nation made on the backs of millions of people looking to a new world. One where they would finally not be a minority, one where they would be able to live in peace and prosperity. To get a real chance at making a new, good life or simply motivated by the great and powerful pull of a philosophical fervour. Millions, my grandparents on both sides included, left behind their entire lives to be a part of the grand and wonderful idea of Pakistan. Many, many people left their houses with the clothes on their backs because they thought they would be able to return in a week or so. Some people were luckier and could pack, but how do you put your entire life in a suitcase or a sack? Some people never got the chance to pack, leave or even run very far before being cut down by the neighbors they had known for years. Men, women and children suffered, traveling miles to get to Pakistan. There was little food or water and many people did not survive the journey. But at the end of their road was always the promise of Pakistan, and they doggedly carried on, through hostile territories and in trains regularly attacked and on weary foot to reach refugee camps which were another kind of hell.

We often look back with nostalgia to our brave ancestors, their struggle and trauma almost mythical in our minds now. They are our original heroes. What we edit out, largely because we cannot ever comprehend the enormity of it, is the cost this new country exacted from them. But the thing to remember at all costs is the hope that carried them through Partition and the first turbulent years of a new country. It was always a stubborn kind of optimism, the particular kind of cussed hopefulness of people who believe. Humans have over the ages believed in utopia; that the perfect and ideal world is one within the grasp of our endeavour. Our ideas of how governance should be, the moral codes we live our lives by and the value judgements we make are all deeply rooted in a sense of what we feel the world should be like. We want to believe in a world that is beautiful and truthful, a place where everyone is equal, where there is justice and honesty and kindness amongst all. More than just wanting to believe it, we keep trying to create it, and that is where hope lies. For Pakistan, our redemption lies in the spirit of adventure of the father-son duo that recently perished when their aeroplane crashed on the last leg of their journey around the world. Our hope flies proud in the icy winds at the summits of Everest and K2, planted there by intrepid men and one woman. Our hope ebbs and flows with our cricket scores. Pakistan is saved a little every time young men and women get together to clean up streets. Every time someone volunteers at a free school, spontaneously buys lunch for a beggar or hands a tired, hot policeman a bottle of cold water. We have our many dismal ratings on international charts- corruption, minority rights, general safety. But we are also amongst the foremost charity giving nations in the world. When Nawaz Sharif started his “qarz utaro, mulk sanwaro” scheme back in the day, people flooded the bank with donations. The Eidhi Foundation has rarely, if ever, been short of funds (fun fact: Abdul Sattar Eidhi was born in Indian Gujrat and came to Pakistan at age nineteen).

The generation before mine- the baby boomers- have been under fire globally. They are blamed, amongst other things, for causing the recession we suffer presently, for the pollution and increase in violence all over the world. In Pakistan this second generation of Pakistanis are blamed for letting this country deteriorate to the point it is at today, leaving us to pick up the pieces and try to make a go of things in this country where you don’t know when two men on a motorcycle will shoot your Shia friend or your child won’t be kidnapped outside his or her school or if there will ever be any electricity or gas. But there is that one thing left, the same thing that got left behind in Pandora’s box: hope. No matter how cynical, we cannot help but feel there is still a swell in one’s heart at the rusty, muffled sound of that classic, ancient recording of the national anthem. A little flutter of pride when you see the chaand-sitara flying outside an embassy when you’re far away from home. Even our despair is symptomatic of our star-crossed love, because your heart can only break when it cares. This August fourteenth let us remember the utopia the first Pakistanis saw. Let’s remember them today of all days because they believed, fiercely and truly, and they made this crazy, beautiful country out of nothing. They didn’t only have a dream, they lived it and they made it come true with their own blood, sweat and tears. Of course it didn’t come easy, and it still isn’t. It won’t be for a long time yet. But as Pakistanis, courage and fortitude is our inheritance. If this country stands for anything, it is the power of the human spirit and the unshakeable determination of millions of people who believed in Pakistan. There is no messiah, no politician or celebrity who can rescue us, and nor do we need one. We are the change, the same way our grandparents were before us. We are Iqbal’s shaheen, we are the ones who will relearn how to walk with our heads high again. We are Pakistan.

The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.

m.malikhussain@gmail.com