By Bina Shah
ONE day over lunch I was discussing the issue of national and regional identity with my brother. “You know, the problem with us Pakistanis is that we define ourselves as what we’re not, rather than what we are,” he observed; very astutely for a young man not yet a quarter of a century old.
“You’re right,” I replied. “But that’s just one phase of development. Look at it this way. When you’re a teenager, you’re rebelling against your parents and saying you don’t want to be anything like them — what you are not, as you said. In your twenties, you start getting an idea of what you want to be. In your thirties and then beyond, you work on becoming that person. By the time you’re ready to die, you’ve got it all figured out!”
My brother agreed and I was secretly elated: it’s not easy to get through to a member of the younger generation who’s intelligent, energetic, has seen the world and is wise beyond his years. But what we discussed resonated with me when I considered the intense debate created by my last column (‘Who is a Sindhi?’ Aug 13, 2008) in this esteemed newspaper. We Sindhis are stuck somewhere between our teenaged years and our adulthood in terms of psychological development; we’re in a twilight zone where we’re trying to reconcile our 1,000-year old identity vis-à-vis the young nation in which we count ourselves a vital part of its four-province federation.
With the help of my readers, who over the last few weeks have been enthusiastically writing and talking about what it means to be a Sindhi, I think we’ve managed to figure out some points we can all agree on.
— A Sindhi is one who is proud to call himself a Sindhi
— A Sindhi loves the land of Sindh and pledges to protect its integrity and heritage
— A Sindhi selflessly serves the entire province of Sindh and shuns violence
— A Sindhi appreciates and respects the Sindhi language, and recognises its due importance as the mother tongue of Sindh
— A Sindhi appreciates Sindhi music, literature, culture
— A Sindhi appreciates the cultures of those who make Sindh their home and are proud to call themselves Sindhi
— A Sindhi encourages and respects other Sindhis, and does not discriminate against them
— A Sindhi respects the territorial integrity of Sindh
Many thanks to Khalid Hashmani of McLean, Virginia, who helped me formulate the first six points; I added the last two myself to make what I feel is a list of the most vital characteristics of those who want to call themselves Sindhi. If we strive to make them part of our collective ethos, we will raise Sindhi self-esteem to heights it has never achieved before. In fact, I’d like all Sindhis to adapt this list as their personal manifesto: a roadmap to help us and our future generations decide who we want to be in the future, not just who we are today. It contains the spirit of assimilation, rather than exclusivity, while maintaining pride in a culture and heritage that predates the emergence of any nation-state on this earth.
The last point is one of some contention. There has been talk for as long as I have been alive about putting down boundaries of some sort in Sindh, whether to draw lines between Sindh and the rest of the nation, or to create territories and holdings within Sindh according to ethnic lines. But fragmenting Sindh into tiny splinters of lands based on ethnicity, or separating Sindh from the rest of the federation will never solve our immediate problems of education, healthcare, crime, peace, and justice. The solution to problems like these is to come together, not to fall apart.
All in Sindh are tired of suffering. We are tired of division. We are tired of violence. We want to return to the golden days, when we held arms out to welcome people who wanted to join us, and such people that came to our land added to its strength, its culture, and its economic prosperity. This is the dream of all people who live in Sindh, no ‘ifs’, ‘ands’ or ‘buts’. Can we work towards this state of grace in the hope that one day we might achieve it? In the words of a man whose ambitions far surpassed everyone’s expectations of him, “Yes, we can.”
Let me say something here about the nature of Sindh: boundary lines cannot define it, nor contain its essence to one side of an imaginary line that we humans think setting down on a piece of paper will solve all our problems (it didn’t work so well for Kashmir, did it?). The essence of Sindh is something ethereal, untouchable, running as free as the Indus River, as wild as the chinkara that graces our deserts. It is not something that can be defined by boundaries or flags. The land of Sindh is a geographical location: the spirit of Sindh is an idea that transcends both space and time and resides not on the earth, but in the soul.
The real beauty of Sindh is not in its forests, fields, rivers and oceans, but in the tolerance, peace and harmony that was spread by the Sindhi Sufis, the world’s original hippies. Their message was love and their beloved was God, and this is what marks Sindh as special no matter what ethnic groups struggle over their position in it. Sindh has been alive for over 1,000 years; it has been home to people from East and West, North and South. Sindh will go on long after all of us are in our graves, finally meeting with our Beloved. If there’s one thing we should teach our children before we go, it’s this: Sindh is not just a state, it’s a state of mind. And we can make it a state of grace, if we so choose.
The writer is a Pakistani novelist.