From Ignorance to Enlightenment (ظلمت سے ضیا تک)

Five months and twenty two days before I was born, my country of birth under the rule of Bhutto decided that people of my community were no longer allowed to call themselves Muslims. So, when I was born, I was born a kafir according to the Constitution of Pakistan. My earliest memories are of a hushed conversation at my nana’s house in Lahore, while everyone was at the dining table and the news came that “Bhutto’s dead!” I must have been around four years old.

The Move

The facade of a brick home with many windows.
The family home in Faisalabad

When I was five, we moved from Lahore to “Gali Wakilan /گلی واکیلاں” in Faisalabad, the street of lawyers, that included my dad and my dada (paternal grandfather). I did not accept Faisalabad as home till adulthood. I told anyone who asked that I was from Lahore since I was born there. Tell that to my dreams though, they are populated by the high arches of the verandah that overlooked the lonely guava tree in the courtyard.

It was a large house, but not quite large enough for the number of people who lived in it. 

Childhood Memories

We were four families, totaling twenty three people. It was an ideal situation for little me, but not so much for my parents and older sister. I got to play the whole day long or spend time with cousins my own age climbing over walls to get to the roof, since our bamboo ladder had some rungs missing and I was too short to make it to the top without falling through. I learnt to ride a bike, play cricket, hockey, football, badminton, and also how to fly a kite. I would often have fights with my cousins Guddu and Tariq, a pair of rascals who would tear any kite that I would be fortunate enough to catch. The kite flying festival of Basant was one of my favorite times, and we were horrible little stealers of any kite whose string dared to dangle within the reach of our long bamboo stick.

The Pain and the Prejudice

Behind all this fun and laughter was also a deep pain. The pain would become pronounced at times when the laws were further tightened to criminalize being an Ahmadi in Pakistan by Zia in 1984, or when someone we knew, our family physician Dr. Abdul Qadir, was killed for the crime of being an Ahmadi.

The Bahishti Maqbara (Heavenly graveyard)  near Faisalabad where many of the slain Ahmadis now rest in peace

The Bahishti Maqbara (Heavenly graveyard)  near Faisalabad where many of the slain Ahmadis now rest in peace

The Enlightenment

I, as a naïve teenager, had only seen Zia as the ruler of Pakistan; and in my naivety, I thought that if he died, our troubles would be fixed. I vividly remember 17th August 1988 when we turned on the TV in the evening and found that PTV was relaying Quranic recitation instead of our favorite English language sitcoms.  My father asked me to go turn on the car radio and try to find out what was going on, so I was the one who heard the news first and skipped back to tell my dad that “Zia’s dead!” I must have been beaming with happiness because I still remember my dad’s next words. He recited a couplet by Mian Muhammad Buksh (a Sufi mystic):

دشمن مرے تے خوشی نہ کریئے/ سجناں وی مر جانا        

Do not celebrate the death of an enemy/for your friends too are mortals.

A woman with a veil standing on a street in the US

Bushra was born in Pakistan in a family surrounded by lawyers—her maternal and paternal grandfathers, her uncle and her father—so she grew up questioning everything. Bushra completed her bachelors in English Literature from Kinnaird College, Lahore. She taught until she moved to the USA in early 2001. Now she is a full time mother of two girls. 

12 Comments »

  1. Very interesting and nostalgic as I also knew both BHUTTO and ZIA era terrible times for the country and zia esp that took Pakistan at least a few decades back and was the beginning of the terrorism and milantancy beginning of MQM and SIPA SAHABA really beging of the end for Quaids Pakistan
    As I also found myself in Faislabad in 1973 after a two year trip from UK I know how out of place one feels especially at as a teenager and a Girl
    So you were not just a girl but also a religious minority I can’t Imagine what suffering you endured I’m so sorry and Appolgise to all Ahmadies for my people and leaders from the bottom of my heart if it makes any difference

  2. Thank you for reading and sharing your kind words. You don’t have to apologize for the acts of the few. Your words of solidarity are balm enough.

  3. Ha Ha I like “Rascals” they might be trying to save kite from your over excitement (Red face)and big nails,
    Anyways i am still confused with enlightenment you may wish to write more about it.

    • It takes one (rascal) to know one right :). Anyway the enlightenment was in the fact that one persons death will not change anything and that death of anyone is a time for somber self reflection and not celebration, even if it is your enemy.

  4. I was fortunate to be in Gali wakilan as a guest other than the big family that resided there the thing that fascinated me was the kitchen how everyone used it in turns and of course your Dada those after Maghrib gatherings of children around him ❤️

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