Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Song for Our Fathers

A little over six decades after Independence, a momentous struggle which ended in the long sought after freedom from our colonial masters, another battle is underway. However, rather than being fought in the theatre of political emancipation, this struggle is taking place in the hearts and minds of people. And just as any struggle can be characterized by the relationship between oppressor and the oppressed, this endeavor is a slave to the same dynamics. And in this way oppressor and oppressed are locked in a brutal slow-dance, leaving broken souls in its wake, until something gives.
The draining Lahori sunlight was cut into thin strips by the austere blinds that draped the windows as the family settled in their respective positions at the family table. Like any other middle class household with young children, the disquiet surrounding their collective activity was calamitous yet heart-warming. The mother silently fusses over the table setting, dedicating herself to her task with the resigned determination so many other faceless women have had to show in her position, as her children rollick about with the enthusiasm and carelessness that is expected of them. And whilst her children blissfully revel in their universe of candy canes and unicorns, the silent mother anxiously awaits an arrival; an arrival potentially beset with a whirlwind of unspoken expectations and unilateral unease. However, in spite of her muted apprehensions, she hoped –much like Anarkali would have hoped for a loose brick somewhere, anywhere within the walls of her ill-fated romance –for today to be the day. The day she finally gets to hear a few elusive words of appreciation from the person who mattered the most in her life; the person who had to matter the most. And just as she was on the point of being consumed by these troubling thoughts she heard keys jangling in the front door. A pall of silence descended upon the house: the once boisterous kids, roughhousing like a litter of pups, now quiet. Her husband, the father to her children, had arrived.”Is today the day?” He said.

Elsewhere, in a small rural hamlet situated on the rich, alluvial plains of the Indus, 90miles south of Lahore, a young girl was busying herself over a book containing the marvels of the English alphabet. As she furrowed her eyebrows in concentration she could not help thinking of a future, in which she envisioned herself as a nurse in the Basic Health Unit, situated in the main bazaar of her village. She thought fondly of how these letters, so simple in form, would open up an avenue of new possibilities for her and her family. No time for daydreaming now, she told herself. The wonderful future she pictured in her mind’s eye was far beyond the reach of her feeble arms now. She was almost of school going age. She would, no doubt, have to master the work at hand to enroll in the local government primary school, which was the first step in a long journey that would culminate in the realization of her dream. Of course, she would also require her father’s proverbial stamp of approval if she had any hope of realizing her dream. And although only a few of her playmates had been lucky enough to convince their fathers to send them to school, she had high hopes. A slight smile colored her features as she thought these lofty thoughts. And as fate would have it, at that very moment her father walked into the room. “Bring me some water, my child. Your father has had a tiring day in the fields,” his voice resounded. With a jolt she got up and attended to her fathers request. This would be the perfect time to bring up her plan, she thought to herself. However, almost as if he could hear her thoughts, his gaze fell upon her open book of alphabets. “What is this nonsense?” he inquired, slightly irritated. “Don’t tell me you’re trying to learn how to read? Do you not know that as a girl, the only thing you should be doing is doing the household chores and…”
“But Abbu, I want to become a doctor when I grow up,” she interjected.
“NO! You are my daughter, and you shall obey…” She had a feeling that she knew what he would say next and her heart sank.
Although the two situations related above could not be more diverse in terms of social and cultural setting, it goes without saying that there is one glaring similarity between them. It is sad to note that such a similarity exists in a remarkable majority of Pakistani households, whether they are urban or rural. The song that could have flowed from these suppressed voices is inaudible. Their future looks bleak. On this auspicious day I beseech our nation of fathers to let these songs –of beauty and of life –to ring true and free. It is in your hands. For what is the morning without the mellifluous sound of a nightingale, regaling us with its heartfelt ballad.

This article was printed in Dawn, issue of June 20th, 2010.

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