My personal journey at Mazar-e-Quaid, Karachi
I will confess that when I first visited the tomb of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the Mazar-e-Quaid, in Karachi, I failed to appreciate its importance. Having travelled around the Middle East for months prior, I walked around back in February 2006 like it was just another historic attraction to take pictures of, along with the Pyramids of Giza, and the Taj Mahal. Infact my lack of understanding back then may have been worse – at least I had some emotional and historic context for the other two sites. What I’m about to say is like “travel blogger sacrilege”, but Mazar-e-Quaid, on the other hand, seemed like a place I wouldn’t need to come back to once I had ticked it off the list. How wrong I was.
Fast forward eleven years. It’s 2017, and I now call Pakistan home. I’ve never felt as invested, as much like I wanted to be in a place, as I do the “land of the pure”. There’s something about it which calls me – and I can’t explain what – but all I know is once I step off the plane at the airport, I let my guard down. If you’ve never felt that before, then this will sound cliched and contrite, but if you’ve experienced that you’ll know exactly how addictively blissful it is. I can finally be myself, in my own skin. I’m home.
In August I paid a visit to Mazar-e-Quaid for the first time in eleven years. My research for my book had taken me past there a few times, but never simply to visit and appreciate. To appreciate Mazar-e-Quaid you need to understand what Mohammad Ali Jinnah did, and moreover what he represents to the millions of people who call Pakistan home.This is not a political history lesson; this is an attempt to convey what is in the heart – a hazardous exercise at best. Mohammad Ali Jinnah led the creation of Pakistan in 1947, carved out of British India. In doing so he founded a homeland for millions of Muslims and others who hoped for a life better than what was being offered in independent India. Whether they got what they wanted, deserved or even hoped for is not the point of this post. The point is that he represented hope at a time of desperation.
Approaching the tomb, I was struck by a sense of awe that was absent in the heady days of 2006. It dawned on me that I was visiting the resting place not just of some political leader whose life was of little consequence to my own; I was visiting the man who had created a vision under whose spell I had fallen. My story couldn’t be further removed from those who made the perilous journey from India in 1947 – and to even suggest as such is insulting. But it was because of Jinnah that we were standing there at his tomb, face to face, in Pakistan.
Sometimes I struggle to think about what to write for these weekly posts; the way being a foreigner somewhere turns the banality of daily rituals into interesting cultural differences have largely melted away. I’ve written a book about Pakistan, and daily life in Pakistan is now my “normal” – I’m not a tourist any more.
Yesterday, after an exasperating day, I came home with a million things on my mind and the last thing I felt like doing was trying to be creative. That was when I saw it – the crescent moon hanging in the orange maghreb sky. Today is the first of Rabi al-Awwal, the Islamic calendar month in which the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was born. Suddenly a flood of hope came rushing back; the new month, a new start, the crescent moon, the Pakistani flag, Mohammad Ali Jinnah… hope. I knew what I would be writing about.