The partition of Punjab is an event, which occurred prior to the existence of a fair market share of the modern readership of the Daily Times. But what is written on the souls of men and transferred by human tongue to the succeeding generations continues to impact the manner in which communities relate to one another.
The upheaval of the human anthill, which was both anticipated and precipitated by the Radcliffe Award, brought about, in tumultuous manner, the birth of a modern nation. Too many nations are birthed in water and blood, symbolic of the elements of cleansing and carnage. But what a blood-covered baby it was, when it was born! With nary a midwife nor a breast to suckle from the onset of first hunger, the cry, which rose up from the face of the earth echoes within the ears of historians to this day.
Politically, the first signs of hunger were seen during the 1920s when the All India Muslim League (AIML) underwent a metamorphosis from a fairly sturdy and compact political organisation concerned with adequate Muslim representation within the public government sector to an entity seeking political purchase on a much grander scale. Having acquired modest regional gains, the AIML experienced the political bifurcation which occurs when diversity of views and strong parallel opinions begin to emerge amongst the players. And, as with all such internal struggles, leadership begins to rise to the top. The names are familiar and there is no need to recount the leadership grid.
It was during the 1930s when the seeds of self-determination began to sprout within the Muslim populations emerging from under the shadow of colonialism. Whether considering the nascent political structure of Al-Ikhwan in Egypt, or the rustlings of change in Algeria in a post-WWII environment, the Muslim world was experiencing a shifting political landscape, where fertile ideas clashed with harsher realities.For the Muslims of India, the possibility of a separate piece of real estate, where a national taproot could flourish and the expression of a cohesive national identity be cultivated, exploded from the imaginations of the few to the hearts of the many in the early 1940s. There is nothing quite as tantalising and seductive as the call to freedom. And there is nothing quite as disastrous and tragic as flights to freedom accompanied by anarchy.
Aspects of the ill-clad policy — of all involved — were brought home to me in the last two months whilst I provided my skill as a copy editor to a friend. The 500-page manuscript on the partition of Punjab offered a most compelling reason for me to share my thoughts. Men were butchered, women were dishonoured and family trees stripped of their branches for the sake of Pakistan. These pictures are brutal enough. But there is one memory, which must never be forgotten. It is the memory of the many babies who were lifted aloft on spears during the birth of a nation.
Most people are not inherently brutal. Were that true, our world would not be so vastly populated. But history shows that with a certain mix of societal ingredients the mass is reduced to animal herd and mob mentality prevails. Policy measures lacking implementation capabilities harm community amity and cohesion. They are the messengers without legs. Sectarian division is a mere rumoured whisper or solitary incendiary act away when conditions are volatile enough for communal crisis. Such was the nature of the birth of the bloody baby.
Pakistan moved along in somewhat of an orphaned status from the beginning. This produced the tenacity of spirit required for survival. In more than the 60 years since the birth of a nation, the poor have done what the poor do best: procreate. This is not necessarily bad. Children are a blessing. Minus a citizenry there is no true national treasure. But the geometric nature of population requires policies, which work in a multi-streaming manner to reach all the layers of society. Citizens must be reminded of an overlay of governance with the shadow of paternal guidance to retain their belief in the good of the state.
Pakistan has many challenges, which exist as ground floor opportunities for improving the lives of the poorest of the citizens. My own childhood was spent within an indigenous tribal belt of Mexico where nine distinct tribes with their own dialects, manner of dress and traditions taught me basic lessons regarding the nature of poverty and the propensity for happiness. Leaning back on my heels whilst squatting inside cane huts to savour blue corn tortillas with fried grasshoppers, or perhaps, Oaxaca hot chocolate served in a chipped clay mug, taught me the lessons of life. The poor require a source of water, a plot of ground for a small ancestral home, and education sufficient against functional illiteracy. These things made life bearable and kept desperation at bay. My mother tells the story of visiting a home high in the mountains of the Sierra Madre where a baby less than 24 hours old had been placed in a crate and wrapped in an old shirt. The child’s mother was busily preparing a meal for the family. I have often wondered if the baby survived. My heart likes to remind me that the spirit to survive is strong, even amongst the smallest of humans.
But what must be done for Pakistan? The strength was there for the birth. But where are the political midwives to monitor the labour and birth of new policies which stream out into the communities? And where is the breast of nourishment for today? Turning populations from liability to asset requires wisdom. It also requires the hard work of policy implementation. But all that I have written today is the simplest of gifts: that of a pen dipped into an inkwell of love.