Wednesday, July 29, 2009

'The stories that form the fabric of our nation's history'

As a child when my parents would go out for a party they would always leave me with my grandmother. I still vividly remember that for hours I would sit beside my Dadi’s dressing table helping her sort out and organize her jewelry. Each gem carried some significance and a story. For example, she wore her emerald necklace with a pastel-green sleeveless silk sari to the Governor’s Winter Ball in Bombay in 1944. This was the first time she met and danced with Mr. Jinnah and she remembered him being a very charming man.

While painting my Dadi’s nails, she would transport me back in time through her stories - stories of a Karachi and a Bombay I had no idea even existed, tales of balls, tennis matches at the Bombay Club, Muslim League rallies, cabaret dances at Metropole Hotel, and derbies at the Karachi Race Course and casino nights at Beach Luxury. My favorite story was that of her migration to Karachi from Bombay. It had all the ingredients of a good story: danger, thrill, drama, romance and a happy ending.

Sadly, Dadi died in 2004, before any of her stories could be recorded. But I am happy about the work CAP is doing of collecting, recording and archiving the stories of so many grandparents whose stories form the fabric of our nation’s history and the collective narrative. It is essential to preserve these stories for our future generations in order to safeguard our collective identity.

When I walked into the CAP office last summer I didn’t know what I was getting myself into; I just wanted to join because all my friends were working there. But once I joined the office there was no looking back. Working at CAP has been a highly enriching learning experience. The way I view senior citizens now is very different. Today, when I meet a senior citizen I can’t help but think of the wonderful treasure trove of stories this person might be. Through CAP I have learned to appreciate and value the experiences of the generations before us. It is through the stories of these senior citizens that I have learned something about my history and identity. Through their stories I have learned an alternative national narrative of my country, a narrative that is not taught by the Pakistan Studies books in our schools. 

Before CAP, I did not know that during the Pakistan Movement, Islam was not a major issue or that the slogan ‘Pakistan ka matlab kya, la illaha illalah’ was not even coined at that time and that it only came into usage after the 1980s. From Meeno Marker’s recollection of Quetta in the 1940s to Kaneez Wajid Khan’s memories of APWA and Mr. Jinnah’s garden parties in Delhi, from Zohra Fazal’s experiences at an art school in Bombay and tea plantations in East Pakistan to Sabiha Hasan’s descriptions of early days of journalism in Pakistan and the State Bank - from each and every one of the interviewees I learned something vital and significant about our history.

Working at CAP has been a truly memorable experience. I was able to work with some great people, made some wonderful friends and met some truly dynamic and memorable personalities. CAP also gave me a fresh perspective on how I view old people. Now I seem to find men and women over-eighty very intriguing!

The photo above features Rameez's grandmother, Atiya Bano, at Merryland Casino

Rameezuddin Ahmed

This photo of Rameez was taken during CAP's work with IDP children in Qasbah Colony. Photo by Nadir Siddiqui

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