I sat listening to retired senator Javed Jabbar’s talk at UT about Pakistan, in Austin, Texas on June 3 this year. The Senator had come on invitation to talk about his new book, Pathways, and share insight about how Pakistan had evolved since its birth. He gave examples of factors that could influence Pakistan’s future and was hopeful about a brighter future for the struggling country.
I had put aside a day in my busy schedule, worked out carpool for my son, brought my dad, braved the traffic, handed dinner responsibility to my husband, driven in torrential rain with amber alert blaring on my phone to reach the university on time to listen to the conversation about Pakistan, a country I had left behind 24 years ago. Why was I here? Had I really left behind Pakistan 24 years ago or was it finally time to let go now as I struggled to put it on my calendar were questions I was seeking answers for.
Thoughts like these crossed my mind as I listened to Javed Jabbar list how unique Pakistan was. ‘ Pakistan was indeed unique,’ he said. It was initially two wings of one nation separated by a country in between,’ he added referring to what are now Pakistan and Bangladesh. I could not help but draw a parallel to my life. I too had parts. Half of me would be Pakistan and the other USA. I had moved here long ago, but had kept going back trying to hold on to both and in the process maturing into a personality which reflected some of each country. Pakistan too had evolved from its birth from two wings into one with many progresses and failures, but never the less had moved along with all its struggles.
The conversation steered towards the role of media in Pakistan. ‘Javed Jabbar had played an instrumental role in shaping the Freedom of Media Act of Pakistan,’ said Dr. Kamran Ali of South Asia Institute. “Perhaps, that is why we in the US have easy access to information about Pakistan,” I thought. This access had led to opportunities of all kinds for people here in the US and there in Pakistan.
Lately, so many Pakistani music bands had been visiting the US too, and even the movie industry was thriving. Artists from Pakistan were regularly taking part in festivals in the US as there was a demand for ‘Pakistan’ abroad. It dawned upon me that I along with family had sought all of these opportunities where I could listen to music and see the movies that made me live with Pakistan abroad and show my children glimpses of what was a part of me.
A gentleman sitting to my right on the big conference table raised his hand to ask the senator a question. He said, “What can we do for Pakistan while living here in the US?” I jolted back to reality as so many times I had asked myself the same question.
Javed Jabbar recognized the funds that Overseas Pakistanis send as Zakat to the country and also gave credit to the people of Pakistan living abroad for being ambassadors of the country and working so hard to give it a good name. He regretted the corruption and political crisis that often disrupted the good work and tried to brainstorm along with us for more answers.
The senator touched upon the concept of Pakistaniyat, a term used to describe the feeling of self-identity and pride that the people of Pakistan feel towards the country. I had heard the word a few years ago in Adil Najam’s blog and at the time had been completely taken in by the desire to give back to Pakistan. When the earthquake devastated Muzaffarabad in 2005, I had jumped into fundraising and sending sleeping bags to the affected area. From then on, I had raised funds for education for the underprivileged every year. When the movie industry improved, I started bringing Pakistani movies along with my friends and jumped into hosting Pakistani artists when they came for SXSW. Recently, I had started writing touching upon my Pakistani background in what ever I wrote.
I realized I had to make some decisions. I was probably already doing all that I could, but my question was why should I go through this entire ordeal to make a place for Pakistan in my life when it would be easier to avoid the struggle.
The evening came to a close with people getting up to talk to the senator at a personal level. I looked at the time and rushed out to bring the car from a parking lot far away to pick up my dad and drive us back home, running the last few seconds as the rain had started again. On the way back I was thinking about dinner and things to do at home. I had things to do.
It had been a busy day, but by night I felt content. I had figured out some answers. How could I leave behind something that was a part of me? Although I had left Pakistan physically, it was still mine. The country had continued to give even with all its struggles, the best of people, culture, music, heritage, ideas and an identity, sometimes in the form of dedicated business men turned politicians like Javed Jabbar., and at other times entertainment through film and more. My attending talks and writing about them or raising funds for education in Pakistan was an act of validating my own identity and doing something for my own self. How can I leave behind something so unique that is a part of me? I will gladly carry it for life.