It was bitterly cold and windy as I stepped aboard the KLM flight from St Petersburg to Amsterdam via Helsinki. As I settled myself in my seat for the short journey, a robust-looking Westerner politely excused himself for disturbing me and sat down next to me.

The first 10 minutes passed without either of us starting a conversation, but I could see his interest rising as I asked the stewardess if the snacks she was serving were kosher.

Curiosity having got the better of him, he finally cleared his throat and extended a chubby hand with the words: “Hi, I’m Adrian.” I smiled and shook hands introducing myself and waited for the inevitable question: “Where are you from?”

I could sense a subtle change in his body language, as I disclosed my nationality and then his next question bowled me out. “You are from the country that Jinnah created?” I nodded ascent as he continued: “Your Founding Father has been my role model and I have read everything that has been written about him.”

My wonderment increased as this stranger from the faraway land of South Africa began asking questions about Quaid-i-Azam and Pakistan that left me grateful for having done extensive reading on this great man’s life and work.

I left Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam with a promise to send my newfound friend some exclusive photos of the Quaid from my personal collection and conflicting feelings, for just last month, while calling on the family of a colleague in Islamabad, I had been shocked to see that while my host’s son could write a thesis on the latest international rock band, his knowledge of the Pakistan Movement and the people who made it possible was less than rudimentary.

Needless to say that on my return home, my first act was to get the promised photographs copied, framed and sent to Adrian along with a CD containing Jinnah’s speeches.

December 25th each year often engulfs us with an all-pervading sense of guilt because, while we give only lip service to the ideals that our Founding Father held dear, we have in reality sunk neck deep into the fetid mire of all things abhorred by him.

I can recall the octogenarian who met me during a recent wedding reception and held my rapt attention, while he recounted his experiences of 1947. As I got up to leave, this venerable old man caught my wrist and with fiercely burning eyes said: “You know, it’s a good thing that Jinnah passed away when he did, because this nation would have shamed and humiliated him.”

I drove home with these words ringing in my ears and feeling as if someone had stripped me of all the make believe patriotism that we are apt to display, while in reality our politicians and those that matter in administering this country are busy gnawing away at the very roots of Quaid’s vision.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s birthday also happens to fall on the same day as Christmas. There was a time when Pakistani Christians celebrated this event with gay abandon sans fear. A childhood friend from this community recently confided to me that every time he attends a congregation, he does so with lurking apprehension.

Whenever I hear of an atrocity committed against any minority, I am reminded of what my Quaid said in reply to a question put to him during a press conference held in New Delhi on July 14, 1947: “…....Let me tell you that I shall not depart from what I said repeatedly with regard to the minorities. Every time I spoke about the minorities I meant what I said and what I said I meant.

“Minorities to whichever communities they may belong, will be safeguarded. Their religion or faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship.

“They will have their protection with regard to their religion, faith, their life, their culture. They will be in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste or creed.”

Just yesterday, I asked a couple visiting us from Washington as to how Pakistanis celebrated Jinnah’s birthday in the US. “Nothing much, it is the Pakistani Missions that hold some event or another, but the Pakistani community lets the occasion pass as any other day” - so much for a simple gesture of thanksgiving to remember a man, who gave them the opportunity to inhale the sweet air of freedom.

As far as my own family is concerned, I know that come the evening of December 25th, I will receive a series of photos online from my daughter, who lives in the US and who never fails to drape her house with her beloved green and white flag adorned with a crescent and star and that she will also excitedly tell me as to the number of people who stopped by and discovered that Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s gift to us is not just a hotbed of terror and mayhem, but a place replete with nature’s beauty and an even more beautiful people.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.