The past few days have been a political whirl. Everyone is glued to their televisions as scores of people wave flags, dance, cheer and weep listening to their leader of choice. Men, women and a smattering of children have braved the elements to support their movement and have stuck it out for a fair while now (I wonder how many have jobs, and whether they will still have one when this is over). Of course this is complete madness, and the derision and criticism has flown fast and free from all sides. The PML-N are scoundrels for their Gullu Butt-style henchmen stoning the march and who exactly was that mysterious man with the gun at the PAT rally? Imran Khan is lily-livered for saying he’d camp out with his supporters and then going home to eat dinner and sleep in his own bed like a nawab-sahib! Tahir-ul-Qadri says we’re in the shambles because the poor are skimpily clad! What does that even mean? Gadzooks, we do love a good haw-hay and the haws have been haying with glee. But I must be eating something strange for breakfast because out of all this madness, I see something I like.
The numbers are disputed, but I see hundreds, if not thousands, of people believing in a cause, whatever that cause may be or however derailed. They have left their homes and families for an indefinite period of time and have gone to be counted amongst those who did, as opposed to those who watched them from their televisions and snorted. The rhetoric we have been hearing from the container-tops alternates from the reasonable to the truthful to the downright ridiculous. It’s been, and continues to be, inspiring and absurd in equal measures. And yet the believers stay. I have been to enough protests to know it is an uncomfortable endeavour—it’s hot, dusty, people honk horns and laugh at you, sometimes it rains. I can only imagine what a long march can take, or a sit-in that lasts not for a few hours, but days. No matter what you believe in—or don’t—you can’t say that it’s easy.
I believe in the power of the people. I believe that we can change our lives by taking control of it. I also realize this is how the French Revolution happened, and how dangerous misguided mobs can be. But I can’t help but be infected a little by the energy of a crowd cheering. And not just any people, but fellow Pakistanis, this same awaam that hasn’t got the patience to stand in a line or the civic sense to stop at red lights. There they are. One could—and many have—pointed out that a lot of dharna-goers are there to have a bit of fun, that people will go along with almost anything in Pakistan if it means they’ll get a few free meals and a change of scene. That is quite likely true, but not for all of the people there. The halla-gulla people leave when the fun is over, and there is nothing fun about sleeping in a pindaal, being repeatedly soaked by rain and standing at Serena Chowk every day listening to your leader of choice make speeches, day after day.
Political movements are complicated. Depending on whose side you’re on, they can be wildly exciting and inspiring or complete bosh. You could be apolitical and think all of them were a waste of time. But what is interesting is that one way or another, we are all political, even when we say we aren’t. And that, to my mind, is splendid. It means we have an opinion, that we have thoughts. That we don’t just get on with our lives grumbling about the weather or the price of vegetables, but are even in a small way involved with the events that are shaping our collective future. It’s a sign of hope, the people sticking it out at Serena Chowk. They may seem imprudent or naïve, but to me they represent a desire to believe that things can improve for this country, and that this change lies in our own hands. One can of course debate the motivation and the modus operandi of this dharna. Some of it makes sense and a lot of it is bizarre. But I cannot help but feel proud of my countrymen and women out there because they want a Pakistan that is more just, one where they have a voice that is heard. They are putting their money where their mouths are, in a manner of speaking. And in a way, they have achieved a modicum of that voice, because no matter how wild the demands they have made, the government has listened. Baby steps, but it seems like a wedge of this nation has roused itself, and how can an awakening be something to be ashamed of? We have ways to go, and jhapatna, palatna, palat kar jhapatna/lahoo garam rakhney ka hai eik bahana. Let’s keep our blood warm, our eyes keen, our hearts hungry for the Pakistan we deserve.

The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.

m.malikhussain@gmail.com