Dreams of the elders of Pakistan
It was late in the afternoon when I arrived at his house. Islamabad was going through one of its worst spells of heat but as I was shown in, the antechamber was cool and the drawing room cooler still. I was informed by his caretaker that he was sleeping and would be joining shortly after Asar. I nodded and took a seat, waiting.
The room was decorated with black and white pictures that I could make out were well before my time, some on the wall and others on cabinets and tables. Except for him, a considerably younger him, I could not recognise anyone. It was not long before he came, as frail as one can be, his head streaked with white hair and his body being all but withered. He walked slowly, taking very small steps, towards me and greeted me eagerly asking about my health, my parents and especially my grandparents – he was a close friend of the family.
He guided me towards the adjoining dining room, making sure that I went first and sat me down at the dining table; all the while telling me how glad he was that I had come to visit. His etiquette was immaculate and the kind of person he was, I’m sure it must always have been. This room, I saw, was also adorned in more black and white pictures, again of people that I did not recognise.
I confess that I had not come without purpose. I informed him of this and we dispensed with the matter quickly. During this time, he kept on asking his caretaker to serve me refreshments. I was embarrassed. He was treating me like royalty and I was not used to such a level of etiquette, and that too from someone who was over half-a-century older than I.
Thereafter, I asked him about the pictures. He brightened up and told me a short story about each picture. There was one picture in particular in which he looked very young, perhaps in his early twenties. Like all Pakistanis born after our independence, I asked him the age-old question of whether he had seen Quaid-e-Azam to which he replied that he had, many times.
But that was not all.
He said that he had even had a one-on-one meeting with the Quaid. Thrilled with his answer, I asked him to narrate the whole story to me.
This is what he said, or at least this is the gist of it, my memory fails me on names and dates that he mentioned but thankfully the essence of the story has not been lost.
It was a time not far removed from the days of the partition of British India. Violent riots had erupted all across India and many had taken up arms on either side. He told me, that he at the time was a student leader in the Punjab Muslim Student Federation in Lahore. Muslim students were fearful for their life and security. After careful deliberation among the members of the federation, it was decided that someone would have to be sent to Quaid-e-Azam to devise a future course of action. One of the leaders nominated his name and everyone agreed unanimously.
A few days later he left Lahore for Bombay. Once there, he went to Quaid-e-Azam’s office and was greeted by his secretary and was shown in soon after. Quaid-e-Azam was expecting him and asked him straightaway,
“How is everyone there and what brings you here?”
He replied that everyone was fine but pro-Hindustan students had taken up arms in Punjab and he wanted to ask whether they could also bear arms for their defence. He said that the Quaid immediately, in his formidable tone, said,
The echo rang in the room, he felt, for a while before the Quaid continued, stating,
“Tell them education is your weapon now”.
He left for Lahore and communicated this message to the federation, who acquiesced.
He played an important role as a student leader in the Pakistan movement for which he was only recently awarded a gold medal by the Government of Pakistan. Later on, he joined the United Nations and served for 30 years in Paris retiring as the chief of division of recruitment as well as chief of division of administration of the UNDP and UNESCO experts in the field. He never gave up his Pakistani passport nor did he take on any other nationality.
Pakistan is going through a tumultuous time. On the face of it, everything is going wrong with the country. The never-ending political turmoil; rampant and widespread corruption, the unresolvable energy crises and many other problems, looming large on the horizon, spell a recipe for utter disaster. But over 65 years ago, the situation was much worse and the reality of obtaining a separate homeland for the Muslims seemed all but lost. On landing in Karachi for the first time after the independence of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam told his Aide-de-Camp,
“You know I never expected to see Pakistan in my lifetime”.
Today, the very hope that was the driving force of our forefathers, which we should not have forgotten, has been lost. But all is not lost yet. We have one of the largest population of youth in any country and like generations before us, they can, through education, play their role in turning the wheels of fortune for Pakistan.
For this the students need to understand that education is not a means to an end but an end in itself – they need to be able to differentiate between what is right and what isn’t, they need to be able to take a stand for their principles; they need to be disciplined; they need to know that while they may have high expectations of their country, their country needs them now the most. Just like in the past, sacrifices are required; and lastly they need to know that a time may come when they will have to fight for their rights.
The independence of Pakistan was not won behind closed doors and through idle talking. It was won through the blood of our ancestors, it was won through the sweat of its youth, it was won through countless sacrifices that millions made – something that we haven’t done and are unwilling to do for the time being. However, we don’t have any more time left to while away. The youth has to cast off their apathetic attitude and take charge.
Mr Naseem Anwar Beg, did not die in the clashes of the partition of India. He lived to a ripe old age and passed away in the early hours of June 24, 2012. He saw clearly what had become of his Pakistan. But he did not despair because he knew what the youth of this country are capable of.
God rest his soul. I pray that he did not live in vain.
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