It's Defence Day In Pakistan, But I Don't Know What We're Celebrating

06/09/2016 12:00 PM IST | Updated 06/09/2016 9:02 PM IST
Faisal Mahmood / Reuters

September 6 is a strange day in Pakistan. It is Defence Day. It used to be a public holiday, then it wasn't, then it was again, and now it isn't once more. Pakistan's public holidays have always been complicated affairs.

Other than the straightforward religious occasions such as Eid and Moharram there was the birth and death of Jinnah; the birth of Iqbal (his death wasn't in contestation, maybe because a poet eternal can never really die, or maybe we prefer him that way... after all, there are two guards posted at his mausoleum to make sure he stays inside); there was Independence Day – a day earlier than India's, hence we act much more independently; and Pakistan Day – which was like Independence Day half a year in advance.

We won the war in the same way that you finish third in a two-team tournament.

The merits of Defence Day as a public holiday have been hotly debated over the years. Some argue that it was a holiday artificially engineered years after 1965, possibly by lazy government servants, or a lazier government.

On the other hand, prolific writing has been done, entire novels penned, in the service of defending Defence Day as a public holiday. There's one particular retired major who has filled the internet with renditions of wartime tales like it's a paid job. The sad part? It probably is.

The mythmaking states that India crept across the border, unsuspected, unannounced and unwanted, like a rash on one's genitalia. The greatest military on earth was caught sleeping because a lowly civilian foreign minister said India would never risk transgressing an international border. The mythmaking does not mention guerrilla warfare up north.

We don't like admitting to the geographically inconsistent Operation Gibraltar, probably because it missed its target by thousands of nautical miles.

That India attacked without warning has remained a steadfast complaint, all these years. I guess that letter Lal Bahadur Shastri wrote saying, "Dear field marshal we are coming over to visit with some tanks," must have gotten held up at the post office.

So, India, like a stalker violating an injunction, you came, you even got as far as Bedian, where all the farmhouses now shelter drunk people after midnight. If you invade Bedian again you're likely to be met with fierce resistance this time, from people trying to slowly drive home.

My father remembers the impassioned speeches on the radio. That an enemy has stirred the dutiful sons in the land of the pure. That we will not yield, we will not falter, and we will reply in kind to silence India's cannons once and for all. I'm pleased to know the number one priority at the time was how much noise the enemy's cannons were making.

My mother remembers being told that we had won the war. The war that saw an economy tumble and a dictator lose the pulse of a nation, and his own army. Yes, we won the war in the same way that you finish third in a two-team tournament.

Sure, they saved Lahore from the Hindus, but who's going to save it from the Muslims?

My maternal grandfather lived in Lahore at the time. My mother was a child. She remembers the curfews and power blackouts. The thundering of airplanes and the noise of artillery fire. But she doesn't remember a lot, because the family packed up and saw out the war in Faisalabad.

Lahore, she says, was empty in a day. Such is the nature of Punjab's fickle relationship with its capital city.

A glass half-full kind of Indian army chief even announced that he would be having a large peg of whisky at the Lahore Gymkhana on the evening of 6 September, which was a Monday by the way. In case you're thinking alcoholism. Sadly for him, he couldn't have that peg at Gymkhana; he wasn't a member.

Historians differ as to how exactly 6 September played out; this is because historians differ as to who pays their monthly incomes. Those who write official histories are often doomed to repeat it.

My history books claimed that Pakistan captured four times the territory that India did, your history books claim the exact opposite, which leaves a lot of territory unaccounted for; it means that in total we captured 16 times the territory that neither of us had before. That's what I call a win-win situation.

It was a war that lasted 17 days; for my generation, there are weddings that have lasted longer.

Ultimately 6 September, like the recently released Mohenjo Daro, was a great tragedy that could've been avoided.

But, the books insisted, they saved Lahore. If this is Lahore after it was saved I don't even want to know what it was like before. Sure, they saved Lahore from the Hindus, but who's going to save it from the Muslims? The current Chief Minister of Punjab has destroyed more of Lahore's heritage sites than a foreign invasion.

Headlines from the era talk about India's naked aggression. I can't help but think of Shastriji sunbathing in his white cap.

I'm sure people fought bravely on both sides; that's one thing you can always attribute to a dead soldier, bravery. I wonder how many actually took tank shells on their chests, like heroes of our war folklore, and how many were just caught in a daze wondering why they didn't listen to their fathers, marry their cousins and become store clerks.

Ultimately 6 September, like the recently released Mohenjo Daro, was a great tragedy that could've been avoided. But even if it wasn't, we should at least stop digging up its grave every year.

Ganesh Chaturthi in India

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