View from US: Spirit of superbia
Remember the last time you screamed your lungs out? In joy? In solidarity? In national pride? Or furiously waved a Pakistani flag and sang the national anthem? No, not the kind of ‘fervour’ we see at rent-a-rally, where the hoi polloi are bussed in to fill open spaces and holler out the leader’s name. The louder they shout, the more food/money they are promised.
Can one dream of the return of hours in the sunshine, moments of glory, hours of pure, undiluted joy? Yes, we too had it once. Pakistani nationhood was strong and respect for the law and the leaders unflinching. But, everything changed. We got stuck with trashy leaders who put the cannons of law into a shredder to make new laws that suited their personal interests. The awam lost out; it lucked out and has since
cursed the establishment – civil and military, and its own misfortune.
I am no fan of British royalty, or the reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth. But last week, I sat watching the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London on TV. Seeing the roar of the million plus Britons standing in the rain and singing ‘God save the Queen,’ my spirit flew back to the day the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh visited Lahore, 51 years ago. Flashbacks poured in. What I remember most is the spirit of superbia that swallowed us. Superbia as you know is defined as ‘pride: unreasonable and inordinate self-esteem (personified as one of the deadly sins.)’ Hey! What’s wrong with a little pride? Pakistanis are boisterous boasts, so what?
Better to be proud, noisy and loutish than play the victim most of us do presently while watching helplessly our image vanquished.
Days before the royal couple’s arrival at Lahore, the phone never stopped ringing. The British embassy and our Foreign Office protocol wing constantly harangued mother and father on how to behave; what to wear; when to speak; where to walk; which food to serve and why to walk five steps behind the couple. Darn it! Pakistanis in the eyes of the English were still the ‘natives’ who needed tutoring in good manners!
“Don’t wear red,” mother was ordered, “Her Royal Highness does not like the colour on other women.” Mother panicked, as the only decent coat she had for that February winter was the colour red! “At the airport, don’t be the first to extend your hand to the royal couple,” father was told. Despite the ‘do and don’ts’ the visit was an affair to remember. We showed off our historic past and present with grace and charm.
When the royal couple drove through the Lahore streets, everyone came out to cheer and welcome them lustily waving mini Pakistani flags.
At the Shalimar Garden tea party, Lahore’s Mughal splendour, the royal couple walked past small tables on the side lawns, waving and smiling as the police band played catchy tunes. We could not stand up and jiggle, but the many fountains around us did! The royal guests made their way to the white marbeled baradari flanked by Governor Kalabagh and the Mayor of Lahore as they soaked in the golden sun and took in the sights and sounds below where thousands of Lahoris dotted the majestic gardens. A wave of polite laughter ripped through the crowds when the Mayor stood up to read his welcome address. He mauled the Duke’s name a couple of times by calling him “Duke of Hendenburah.” One noticed a slight smile cross the Duke’s face.
Oops! The mayor had not rehearsed the name!
The Queen was treated to yet one more tea party hosted by the Girl Guides and the All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA). Mother had been fully briefed on what to serve to the royal guest; how to greet her at her arrival and then lead her up to the stage. “Don’t insist on her eating what you offer her,” mother was reminded, nor conduct idle “chatter” with her. The keyword in short was “keep your mouth shut unless spoken to!” The Queen appeared enjoying her meeting with the ladies of Lahore in a background of Mughal architecture showcasing a unique legacy of Islamic civilisation at the zenith of its artistic and aesthetic era.
The women events sailed through without any glitches or howlers.
Three years later, one saw the Queen at home in Buckingham Palace. It was the summer of 1964. We dressed in our saris and father wore his sherwani. Our embassy in London had instructed us to arrive in good time to be let in. Dutifully, we waited at the iron gates of the Palace, clutching our invitations to the royal tea party that the Queen and the Duke routinely hold every year. While waiting in the queue, we met Prof. Abdus Salam and his wife. He was dressed in his native outfit sporting a huge turban that men back in Jhang wear. The misses wore a simple, non-descript shalwar-kamiz. Salam was the chief scientific adviser to the President. He wanted Pakistan to have a nuclear programme. A year later, he succeeded in establishing the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology. It was this great man who set up the International Nathiagali Summer College on Physics and Contemporary Needs (INSC). It continues till today. A week from today, scientists from all over the world will arrive in Nathiagali for the 37th INSC. They will interact with Pakistani scientists.
For this alone, the Nobel Laureate Dr Abdus Salam should have received the highest honour from Pakistan. But what he got instead was rejection. Even when he died in 1996 at Oxford, Pakistan didn’t want to own him. The epitaph on his tomb in a cemetery reserved for the Ahmadiyya community in Jhang district initially read “First Muslim Nobel Laureate” but, because his community had been declared ‘non-Muslims’, the word “Muslim” was later erased allegedly on the orders of a local magistrate, leaving just the words “First Nobel Laureate.”
Okay, we need not have called him a ‘Muslim’ but the word on his gravestone could have been replaced by the word ‘Pakistani!’
Sixteen years after Salam’s death, the Lahore University of Management Sciences now wants to create an Abdus Salam Chair at LUMS! As one of the most respected educational institutions in Pakistan, surely it could have scrambled funds to name a chair after the only Nobel Prize winner Pakistan will perhaps ever have? Better late than never – Adil Najam, LUMS new vice chancellor deserves all our support in bringing back bits of the lost superbia through the Abdus Salam Chair.