Real life has changed since the time that I first shared this song, naively titled “the time that we shall see”. Somehow, only a few years ago, there was a sense of potential in Pakistan, and a feeling that if people took the destiny of their children in their own hands, things could be different. Was it the Arab Spring, and the tantalizing scent of change and possibility? Or was it just that I was 22 and most people around me were, too?
I just heard this new take on an old classic, which evoked strong emotion much as the Strings song had. But these tears sprang from a different source. Strange, isn’t it, how hope and despair can run as parallel streams?
Was going to try my hand at translation, once again, and started off like this:
Ao bachon sair karain tum ko Pakistan ki,
Jiss mein qeemat koi nahi hai teri meri jaan ki.
Come, children, let me take you on a tour of Pakistan,
Where there is no value for your life or mine.
Then I found someone else had already done a better job than I could, here. It’s hard to read it and watch the earnest Hazara boy at the same time.
I was reminded of another boy of Hazara origin I met not long ago – an engineer and a Fulbright scholar, with the same experience of the world as the author of this song seems to have had. He knew of its darker facets, and was from a part of Balochistan where his people are persecuted without mercy for their ethnicity and their understanding of Islam. Yet, he had the most beautiful smile and the gentlest of manners – and a wondrous curiosity about the world. I remember thinking, “It’s an honour to have my country represented by you.”
Just as the Strings song was inspired by the well-known poem “Hum dekhain gai” by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, “Ao bachon sair karain” was also part of the Pakistani vernacular. My little brother’s generation might not know it, but when we were younger the refrain was familiar to us.
Ao Bachon sair karain tum ko Pakistan ki
Jiss ki khatir hum ne di qurbani lakhon jaan ki
Come, children let’s take you around Pakistan
For which we gave the sacrifice of a thousand-thousand lives
Strange, isn’t it, that the original also spoke of martyrdom? Lives surrendered then were valorized, so it wouldn’t seem like they were given in vain. Was it just a different time, when “freedom” was something to hold dear and hold high?
It’s a painful tour now, the journey through Punjab, Sind and Sarhad. Kashmir is pointed out, but there is no mention of Balochistan.
I have no translation for “Pakistan zindabad.”