The morning of Pakistan's 66th birthday I woke up in the tiny room I have been renting in London and longed for home. I wanted to drive through Karachi and see the strings of fairy lights draped over buildings, the huge green and white flags soaring from rooftops. This nostalgia helped me forget my usual misgivings about celebrating a day that created a free homeland but that also birthed the decades of struggles that this very homeland would be forced to endure. Filled with memories of song and cheer, I celebrated the existence of a place in this world that I could always call home and the identity it gave me.
But when I called my parents to check in with them, what was happening back home was very different from what I had pictured.
"Some dacoits tried to break into your father's factory last night and shot the night guards," my mother informed me, in a crisp voice. It was as if she were telling me where they had gone for dinner. "He has been running between the hospital and the police station." And then, before a slight pause, "This is the second time in ten days."
All day, while festivities rang loud in the background, my father had been chasing doctors at a crowded hospital and waiting at dysfunctional police stations. For a few moments these were the images it seemed I would always associate with 14th August: blood and screams in the middle of the night, the ringing of sirens long into morning. Instead of loving my country, I hated it for producing the kind of desperate poverty that reduces hoards of men to violence and for breeding a system that continues to let them roam free.
It's easy to hate a country like Pakistan, especially when it forces your parents to live every day looking over their shoulder in fear. But it's even easier to love it.
The guards my father had hired to protect his business stood there and defended it when they could have just run. My father could have shut down his offices for a few days, but instead he is choosing to wake up every day and go to work. My mother continues to put on a brave face through all this mayhem, even though she knows full well that the men who have already come twice will come again.
No matter what happens, my parents, like so many other Pakistanis, continue to take everything in their stride. Instead of blaming our country for the troubles that have befallen it, they embrace it and give it all they have. They continue to teach me through the way they live their day-to-day lives what Independence Day is really about -- the existence of a nation full of people who are brave and who hold this country up, even when it pulls them down.