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.
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.
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
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.
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.