Finding meaning in a post-hope Pakistan.
It's okay if you're not feeling positive. I'm not either.
When I was younger, I was obsessed with astrophysics and the possibility of intergalactic travel. At the age of 15, I learned something that flooded me with existential dread. The galaxies are moving away from us. By the time you finish reading this sentence, one of our closest galaxies would be roughly 3000 km further than it was at the start of this sentence. As I learned this, my heart sank into a newly opened abyss. In this dark and uncharted expanse, our small mohala of stars was are growing lonelier by the second. The longer we take to reach our goal, the farther it gets from us.
About a half a million countrymen left Pakistan in 2019 for better work and living opportunities abroad. Most of them are fresh graduates from local universities. Emigration has increased, but the pattern is hardly unusual. Most reputable Pakistani universities are adept at preparing their students for work abroad. Certain medical colleges, for example, are dedicated to maximizing their students' chances of clearing the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE); service to the homeland set aside as a consolation prize for those unable to succeed.
I will do my part of reaching out for the stars, and I forgive myself for not being able to snag one and put it in my pocket
I cleared a similar exam a few years ago. I went to England, dipped my toes in walayti waters, and then returned. I didn't need to return, but I wanted to. I've begun to question my decision, as many others in my position probably do every now and then.
I've decided to pardon myself for feeling this way. Some days when one wakes up to the news of another child mistreated at a madrassa, or grave injustice at the courthouse, or the unbridled concentration of wealth and power by an elite few, one feels less willing to rise for the national anthem in a cinema. Relentless positivity can be a bit exhausting.
Yes, we are grateful to Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and we're cognizant of the sacrifices that went into the creation of this Islamic Republic. How could we not? It's peculiar that our Pak Studies lessons have not precluded the flight of 10,000 engineers, 3500 doctors, 2500 pharmacists, and 9500 accountants out of the land of pure towards greener pastures. If only we could pay our bills with our infinite reserves of patriotism.
The afternoon I read about Junaid Hafiz's punishment, I found myself once again questioning my decision to return to Pakistan. What is love without trust? What's love without a sense of security in my country's embrace? What becomes of those unused reserves of patriotic love once the lover disappears in the back of a mysterious van? Six years of solitary confinement followed by a death sentence, is what might happen to a Fulbright scholar who returns to serve his country. The citizen is required to love his state, but the state appears to be under no obligation to reciprocate.
Every 'issue' that you can think of- from poverty to patriarchy- comes down to a fight between those with way too much power, and those with far too little. An 'issue' is a broken window, a wobbly table, or a ceiling that won't stop leaking. What's faulty is the foundation itself on which the house is built; or rather, the foundation on which we continue to build. The struggle is not to fix one 'issue' or the other, but to challenge the basic order of things. To keep the rich from getting richer, even when it's supposedly legal. To keep the poor from getting poorer, even when it's supposedly inevitable.
By the end of January, the left was protesting PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen's arrest. A week later, the left was protesting Manzoor Pashteen's arrest as well as the arbitrary arrests of activists and artists of the Awami Workers Party. Most of the activists were eventually released on bail, and we were asked to be grateful for marginal victory in a fight we shouldn't even have been fighting. How do we change the foundation when the crooked house keeps adding a new storey every week? We couldn't change the foundation last year. How do we change the foundation now that our country is 10,000 engineers short? As we fly 3000 km a second towards a North Korean model of autocracy, how do we keep the existential dread from overwhelming us?
At the age of 15, I gave up hope of witnessing intergalactic travel. But in this post-hope state, this youth science-enthusiast found comfort in an old cliche: the journey is the destination. We will not succeed today, or tomorrow. We will write our placards every morning and march in the sun every afternoon with the foreknowledge that, come evening, we'll return home empty-handed. We will however, return with our collective conscience thoroughly cleansed. We walked in line with our values of fairness and human decency. I will do my part of reaching out for the stars, and I forgive myself for not being able to snag one and put it in my pocket.