Holding a cigarette in one hand, Zahra – portrayed masterfully by Shohreh Aghdashloo – sits down, somewhat defeated. “Today, I am old – a hundred years older than yesterday. But I know right from wrong. What happened here yesterday was wrong” says she to the French journalist whom she has chosen as her confidant.
The journalist till now comfortably settled in his chair, leans in. “Yesterday?” he asks.
Zahra lets out a puff of smoke. “The devil himself visited this town” she whispers.
“The devil himself visited this town.”
Above is a scene from the rising action of a ‘harrowing’ true story made into a movie by Cyrus Nowrasteh – The Stoning of Soraya M. The words of Zahra, Soraya’s aunt, come closest to capturing what happened on the 16th of December in Peshawar, Pakistan.
16th December sounds familiar to most Pakistanis. It is what we recall as Sakoot e Dhaka, or as our history books had it, The Fall of East Pakistan. Now, though, we have another event to blot the books. And though year after year for 42 years we have lamented how the lessons from the tragic events of 1971 have gone unheeded, they are no longer open to debate. From now on, the question will not be ‘Who failed Bengal?’, but ‘Who failed Pakistan – again?’
It is most certainly us. We, who are always poking noses elsewhere, thinking we have some business there. We tend to think that our person and profession are both irrelevant in the national context – that there is nothing we can do here, that can make a difference there. Somewhere in the course of our education, in glorifying heroes and hailing revolutions, we lost all faith in ourselves and everything our humble selves in their humble capacity had to offer. No one taught us to look at ourselves ‘Through Heaven’s Eyes’ – as a single thread in the tapestry with a purpose in the grand design.
No one taught us to look at ourselves ‘Through Heaven’s Eyes’ – as a single thread in the tapestry with a purpose in the grand design.
All my school life, I kept wondering what my relevance to the national fabric was. For years, I couldn’t figure it out myself and no one could explain it to me. When I did figure it out, it was in the works of Ashfaq Ahmed and in some words of wisdom Sartaj Aziz says Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah shared with him: “My boy,” he had said, “diversion for students, means diversion in studies.” In identifying your educational interests, then devoting yourself to them.
Addressing students on another occasion, Quaid-e-Azam is recorded to have said “Your main occupation should be in fairness to yourself, to your parents, in fairness to the State, to devote your attention to your studies. If you fritter away your energies now, you will always regret.”
Now that sounds boring, does it not? Who would’ve thought that with all the hysteria surrounding ‘change’ these days, what lies behind the promising façade is nothingness? And that the answer, in fact, lies in professionalism. In fair play. In integrity. In faith, discipline and selfless devotion. In those quotations of Quaid-e-Azam that we had to cram to ace our Pakistan Studies exam. This is neither in defence of impractical revisionist forces, nor in that of monopolizing status quo-ists. This is just to uphold that neither of these is capable of turning things round for us. It is only we who can help ourselves.
Designed and administered right, Education is the one thing that cannot be subdued and the enemy knows it.
What really disturbs me, though, is that the enemy understands this. That is the reason why, even with all the coercive devices at their disposal, it is children with books and pens that they fear most. They understand, and so fear, the lethality of the weapon of Education. Designed and administered right, it is the one thing they cannot subdue and they know it – even as we do not. And this, as Virgina Woolf would say, is a ‘thousand pities’.
I have been part of the Army Public School and Colleges System (APSACS) for ten years. From 1, 2 and 3-D, through 4, 5, 6, 7-Red, and 8-Pink, to 9 and 10-Grey. I was an alumnus of the chain of military-run schools spread across the length and breadth of Pakistan even before it was officially stylized as APSACS (it was plain Army Public Schools back then), or before the white and green uniform that now characterizes APS alumni replaced the blue and white one. I was an alumni before Rise and Shine replaced Emaan-o-Amal.
Emaan-o-Amal. Faith and Action.
Maybe it was not Ashfaq Ahmed or Sartaj Aziz who answered the long unanswered questions in my head. Maybe it was not Muhammad Ali Jinnah, either. Maybe it was these words carved on the wall that we stood facing in the morning assemblies on the hottest of summer and the coldest of winter days. They were unconsciously etched on my mind, incorporated in my being.
Emaan o Amal. Their greatest weakness. Our greatest strength.