Much has been said about the cricket, and our dismal performance. I stopped watching cricket two World Cups ago, when we lost the final to Australia. My nerves were so shattered by last-minute victories and the changing of bat grips on the field that I never again returned to the emotional rollercoaster that is Pakistani cricketing ever again. I’ve been happily insulated since. I wake up early to do the school run, but not to blearily subject my heart and mind to the caprice of our greenshirts. The one thing that stays with me though, is a photograph of Wahab Riaz wiping his tear-filled eyes. I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind: it’s a close-up, over the blurred shoulder of a team-mate, of a heartbroken face. His eyes are the kind of sad that you only are when you knew you did your best and it still wasn’t enough. It’s that crushing disappointment and helplessness of knowing someone has to lose, but hoping against hope it wouldn’t be you. And you tried, you really and truly tried, and it wasn’t your fault but it still wasn’t enough. I know Riaz bowled the most phenomenal attack the tournament has seen yet, and if we take anything away from this World Cup it should be this: that there was someone who put his entire self into his performance. There was at least one or two people on our team who tried not to let us down. People who keep on at thankless, unglamorous, underpaid but vital jobs like teaching or running NGOs say if they could help even one person then they would feel like they made a difference; for us it’s players like Wahab Riaz who make our inglorious fall from cricketing glory a little less painful.
We are celebrating Pakistan Day properly after a long, long time. Part of me is glad to be able to see the parade again, to get the children in front of the television to watch the march-past and the aerial show and the schoolchildren doing their qaumi tarana thing. But like our cricket team, our commitment to our country—our team, in a manner of speaking—is just as volatile. Sometimes we’ll be amazing; the Edhi Foundation has never wanted for donations. People packed box after box and personally took trucks up north after the terrible earthquake of 2008. When Joseph Colony burned my house was filled with food, medicine and clothes bound for organizations that were working with the refugees. And sometimes we’re so busy in our own lives and preoccupations and weddings that we just can’t connect with what matters. We usually don’t.
Pakistan Day is a two-edged sword for us. On the one hand it commemorates the passing of the Lahore Resolution in 1940, the first time the demand for a separate state for Muslims in India was articulated officially. It is also the day in 1931 when Bhaghat Singh was hanged in Lahore, and also the day the first constitution of Pakistan was put into place. Ayub Khan muddied the waters by abrogating said constitution on the same day too. So what do we celebrate? The dream of freedom? The struggle against oppression? The military, who has never let the democratic process be? Even the way we celebrate Pakistan Day is all about the armed forces, with some token Baloch handkerchief dances or little girls in Thar-style white bracelets doing some kind of Sindhi folk song to give it some ‘culture’. It’s confusing, and reflects our own ambivalence when it comes to how we feel about being Pakistani, and what that means to us. Is it the cricket? Is it pride in our troops? Is it just the very choice of sticking it out here for better or worse, a choice that is, in all truth, available only to a select few anyway? Do we have the courage to be Bhaghat Singh, dead at 23 for a freedom he believed he could help make possible? Can we give this country our best shot, and be able to bear the consequences, like Wahab Riaz? Do we have the gumption to stand up to our gormless leaders for them to do their jobs, and let the military do theirs? This Pakistan Day is one to really think about what Pakistan means. It isn’t saying the kalma, because Christians and Parsis and Hindus are Pakistani too. It isn’t singing the national anthem and feeling all puffy and teary and proud. It’s having the integrity and grit to play the good game, win or lose. To give it your very best shot. To do your best not to let your team down. Social media bleats about ‘bleeding green’ whenever we play cricket. We should be bleeding green all the time. We should be coming out all guns blazing for Team Pakistan. We are all the team.