Once Upon a Time on 14th August

While there are many perks of growing up as an army kid, perhaps one of the biggest ones is growing up with a patriotic heart. As kids, no one told us that we HAD to love our Pakistan. Kids are clever and they pick up on things. I saw my father donning his uniform every single morning and I knew that his job wasn’t an ordinary one. Sometimes news on the TV would be received with a tell-tale glance between my parents and I knew that the news had more meaning than I could grasp at that age. My mother would tell me that my father would leave for an escalation soon, and while I had no idea what that meant, I’d still spend many recesses whispering about it with my best friend whose father would also be leaving. 


It is these little things, and numerous colossal things like these, around which I, and thousands of other army kids like myself, grew up. The patriotism I feel for Pakistan isn’t just because I am a Pakistani and I am supposed to. It feels a little more personal because the person in that khaki uniform was my father.

On this day, he’ll come to know that his father’s job is not an ordinary one. While I learnt that quite early on when watching my father go to office in his khaki, my son would know that by the absence of his father. Even though there will be no words said and no explanations given I know that he will pick up on this with his curious little mind. He’ll miss his father at the Independence Day school function and wonder why he’s not there when everyone else’s fathers are. To satisfy him I’ll reply, like I always do, that, “Baba’s in office.”


I grew up as a military baby and I still remember everything that we did to celebrate the Independence Day. There would be the obligatory flag display over the rooftop and little green and white jhandiyaan (buntings) hung up all across the verandah very haphazardly with the help of Ahmed chacha (the batman). My mother would promise us every year that we could put up candles or diyay (oil lamps) across the wall. But she almost always wouldn’t let us because of it being dangerous and all. 


Schools would have Independence Day related functions in advance and on the actual day we would enjoy a national holiday. The evening of August 14th would always be reserved for an official ceremony/family event/meet-and-greet within the cantt. Every family would flock to the venue where we kids would run about playing games that only 90’s kids could fathom playing while the grownups did their own thing. Sometimes there’d be milli naghmay (national songs) blaring in the background, a fun little program including skits, speeches, games for everyone to enjoy and sometimes there’d be booming calls of Allah-hu-Akbar as dazzling, deafening fireworks lit up the night sky. The day would be infused with a patriotic spirit and even though I was only a kid I’d relish every second of it.


So, when I had my own military baby back in 2014 I vowed to myself that he’d grow up to love his Independence Day celebrations just as much as his mama did. Naturally, he was too young to recall anything about the first two Independence Days of his life. We did the mandatory stuff, a photo op followed and while that’d be something he can look back on one day he still hadn’t actively participated.


As my son’s third Independence Day is just around the corner, much to my dismay, this one would be without our soldier by our side. While we won’t be together as a family this year we’d still be together in the spirit of the day.


As an army officer’s wife, I consider it a privilege that my son is committed to the cause of Pakistan by blood. And as a Pakistani mother, it is my duty to pass on the spirit of patriotism to my son. On this day, and every day of the year, we must never forget the sacrifices which were made only two generations ago, the blood that was spilled and the countless lives laid down for the cause of an independent Pakistan. We must never forget and we must never let it be forgotten. Passing down the legacy of patriotism is a vow that I made to myself as a Pakistani mother and a military wife.


Hum laye hain toofan say kashti nikaal kay, is mulk ko rakhna meray bacho sambhal kay. As a second generation to grow up in Pakistan we have been given a huge responsibility by our parents. And now the time is ripe to sow the seeds for the next generation to reap. It is the right of every Pakistani child to know about the labors which birthed this country they call home and it is the duty of every Pakistani mother to do so. August 14th is so much more than just buying a flag, sporting a pin, sending out an emotional tweet, swapping the Facebook display picture for something more suited to the occasion and bobbing our heads to anthems booming from the TV and stereos. The stirrings should go deeper.


The celebration we will have at our home this year will be an important one. This would be the first Independence Day amongst the earliest memories of my son when he grows up. The impression this year’s August 14th would make on his young mind would be a lasting one. It has to be a day which he will look back on and recollect something more than just flashes of green and white. On this day, he’ll come to know that his father’s job is not an ordinary one. While I learnt that quite early on when watching my father go to office in his khaki, my son would know that by the absence of his father. Even though there will be no words said and no explanations given I know that he will pick up on this with his curious little mind. He’ll miss his father at the Independence Day school function and wonder why he’s not there when everyone else’s fathers are. To satisfy him I’ll reply, like I always do, that, “Baba’s in office.” And that little answer will contend him for a while. But he’ll grow up soon enough to realize on his own what ‘being in office’ had meant.
For my son, it would mean his father missing out on his childhood. It would mean missed birthdays and the first day in school. It would mean him holding my hand as we made our way onto a football field for the very first time this summer as he started his football camp. It would mean me tucking him into bed every night and reassuring him that Baba loves him very much. It would be series of WhatsApp calls. And it would mean so much more than that. 


What it will also mean is that my son will grow up realizing that his father had an important duty. All of us owe a debt to the motherland and all of us have to repay it in one way or another. My son will know that his father has put his very life on the line to fulfill that debt. He will grow up to respect that profession and inherit the same passion. This year’s Independence Day will not be any other day for us; it’ll be a remembrance.


Another thing which it will not be is a somber and muted celebration. It will be memorable and cherishable. I can’t promise my son diyay (oil lamps), them being dangerous and all (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, now) but there will be balloons, a flag to wave around, some confetti, stories, crafting activities (my son is only three, you guys!) and probably, but most definitely, a cake! There will be a Skype session with our soldier away from home but closer in our hearts, forever. While there won’t be a family photo op this year, hopefully, there’ll be one next year.


A very happy Independence Day from my home to yours.


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