Diary of a regretful septuagenarian

On its 70th birthday, Pakistan rues the decisions it made and the roads it didn’t take

 

I knew that the journey ahead won’t be easy at all. What I was not aware of was that it would be so perilous that my very existence will be imperilled before I turned 25

 

 

Born of excruciating pain and in a dark, dreary time sans light, still I outwitted, overpowered, defeated many a foe, seen many a mighty empire crumble like castles of sand as it was their time to bite the dust and be remembered no more, I survived even after being truncated, during my younger years I triumphed and savoured the success with pride and confidence and accepted the defeats with courage and hope. The bruised, battered world that had recently fought its greatest, bloodiest war and barely made a return from the brink of annihilation had great expectations for me, the new kid on the block. They called me Pakistan.

I came in this world with a heavy baggage, the first smell I smelt was rotten reek of a million dead bodies, the first sight I saw was of homeless folks whose faces told a thousand gory tales of man’s cruelty towards man that they lived while en route to their Promised Land, the first and only thought I had was to survive come what may, and the first emotion I had was a mixed one, it was gush of energy one has after achieving a goal and being frightened at the cost it came at. I, dearest sirs and ma’ams, was destined to regret my most cherished decisions down the line.

I knew that the journey ahead won’t be easy at all. What I was not aware of was that it would be so perilous that my very existence will be imperilled before I turned 25.

Always bent to pick sides, occasionally resorting to cheating and double game, ill at ease with my neighbours, one minute, I was on the heights of euphoria, the very next scratching the bottom of the barrel to make do. These were my sins, I, the precocious Pakistan, landed myself in troubles that neither concerned nor called for my involvement. I thought that it is best to choose sides, rather than stare as a spectator. I was wrong.

Soon after coming into being I developed an aversion to slow, foot-dragging, back-biting, always conniving and plotting politicos, the so-called leaders. The prime ministers and their cabinets came and go so rapidly that even the keenest of historians have to struggle to keep track. And who came in their place? Well, those who promised to save me from aggressors, decided that they are the best people to mentor, discipline, educate, and take care of the 10-year old me.

Now, I am 70, finally a septuagenarian. As I sit and take stock of what went awry and what didn’t. All the roads not taken haunt me, all the choices that proved wrong have become nightmares, and I have yet to find out my ‘why’ of living, as only then I could hammer out all the ‘hows’ of living

A new dawn for a new nation, they said. A new but false dawn, it turned out to be. I spent my adolescent as a military brat. Disciplined, brainwashed, confident, and shallow. And when I learned to take orders, salute perfectly, polish my boots and iron my shirts, my masters were changed. I was entrusted to them same old lousy civvies.

Soon the very code of conduct was scraped and a new one took its place. And it has been ever since, the moment I start to get hold of the rules and regulations, they are either ‘held in abeyance’ or ‘amended to suit new ground realities’.

After outliving two constitutions, I was fitted with a third one. And four years later, even before I got comfortable in plain clothes while working in a secretariat, I was back to the barracks donning that khaki suit I’ve worn for the better part of my life.

As I matured and reached manhood and realised that there is no running away, no chance at redemption, no restart button, no new beginnings and no deus ex machina. I was in for a surprise, when a plane crash changed everything. And from then on, slowly and steadily, I came out of barracks, donned the wrinkled plain clothes and once again resolved to never allow soldiers to do what they are not qualified to. In every nook, every wall and every cranny, a new writing was visible. ‘All of this should better end as we have too many ‘weary’ generations before us’ said those few of weary generations who were left alive.

Alas, the gentlemen of barracks, again made a comeback. I was 52 and hopeless. There is no way out of Sisyphean cycle I was condemned to. The more it persisted, the less I resisted. As I knew the futility of resistance.

Now, I am 70, finally a septuagenarian. As I sit and take stock of what went awry and what didn’t. All the roads not taken haunt me, all the choices that proved wrong have become nightmares, and I have yet to find out my ‘why’ of living, as only then I could hammer out all the ‘hows’ of living.

‘Your heroes divide you. Your villains define you,’ I often have this internal monologue. ‘What is my big lie? I know what a big lie is, right? Well, a big lie is a lie that is so mighty, so humongous that everything and everyone dwarfs in comparison. My big lie is my inability to question what led to certain happenings, certain phenomena, certain accidents, certain mishaps that shaped me?’ it finishes only to start anew.

Shah Nawaz Mohal

The writer is a law graduate and member of staff, Islamabad Bureau.



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