On the first death anniversary of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, news channels in Pakistan presented special reports on the life and times of the assassinated leader of Pakistan People’s Party. Some programs also discussed the chaos which erupted the night of assassination all over the country as a protest reaction by PPP workers. This violence badly affected Karachi and other cities and towns of Sind province.
In a program, a young man from Karachi shared his frightening experiences of the night of 27th December 2007. He told that he was returning from work when he saw protestors coming for him. He had to leave his car on road and take refuge in the famous Gizri graveyard. He found the darkness and dead silence of graveyard safer than the roads and streets of the city of lights, Karachi. He called his sister who sent a car for him. The next day he found his car which was unrecognizable. It was ruined by the protestors. During this conversation, the young man couldn’t restrain his tears and broke out in sobs.
Just imagine how this young man must have felt that night alone in the dark graveyard. His fellow human beings, people of his own country, his coreligionists compelled him to take refuge in the city of dead. Thanks to the stories we were told as kids, graveyard at night is always the most frightening situation imaginable.
In the same graveyard, Pakistan greatest female singer Malika e Tarannum (Queen of Melody) Noor Jahan is resting in peace. Noor Jahan sang heartwarming patriotic songs in the Indo-Pak war of 1965 when Pakistani nation became one and faced a powerful enemy with bravery. Her voice echoed throughout the country and told every mother that her son is on the sacred mission to protect the motherland, every wife that she must be brave and her husband is going to come back soon and every soldier that both sides of the coin favor him. He lives to see his country free and dies to protect its freedom. The legend of 1965 war is incomplete without Noor Jahan. She stayed in the radio station for 17 days and recorded songs when her infant daughters were ill. She was brave enough to get a curfew pass and drive throughout Lahore in search of musicians. And then she would stand on the microphone and sing “Mereya dhol sipahiya, tennu rab diyan rakhan” (My beloved soldier, God be with you). Her beautiful songs were highly motivating for Pakistan Army soldiers. She got dozens of letters every day from the public and the soldiers at the war front. Her excellent services during the war, for which she refused to accept any payment, earned her a Pride of Performance on the very next Pakistan Day 23rd March 1966. Our Field Marshal General Ayub Khan had to accept that half the credit of this victory goes to Noor Jahan.
Today, the sons of Pakistan for whom she sang “Ae puttar hattan te nai vikdey” (Sons are priceless) are being martyred in their own motherland by our own people. Sometimes I think Madam Noor Jahan died at the right time. She was lucky enough not to witness our steep downfall which started at the beginning of the last decade.
Gulberg Lahore’s Liberty square always reminds me of Noor Jahan. Her house was in one corner of the square opposite United Christian Hospital. Before her death, Noor Jahan divided her property amongst her children and the house where she lived for four decades was sold as a commercial property. Today a multiple storey plaza is standing here which has outlets of some famous brands. A Rolex crown is quite prominent among other displays. After the great artist’s death, the road which cuts liberty square and leads to Qaddafi stadium on one side and liberty market on the other was named after Noor Jahan. Until recently, there were no sign boards on the road and people were confused that which road is named after her. Now there are three standard blue and white sign boards of “Noor Jahan Road” displayed on the road. Across the square, right in the corner where two walls of Noor Jahan’s home met there is a fourth sign board but it is very different from the other three. Golden words of Noor Jahan Road are written on a brown rectangular wooden plate which hangs with a beautifully designed golden pillar. Naming the road after a great artist is the least we can do. And yes, we are doing the least. Since Noor Jahan’s death, no proper biography has been written. No one has collected her entire music. A small museum dedicated to her memory is totally out of question. C’mon! This is Pakistan. A commercial bank however built a beautiful fountain monument in the liberty square a few years ago. It resembles the water works of Shalimar gardens. The square is named after the bank. It has nothing to do with Noor Jahan.
The liberty square became the scene of the shameless act of terrorism on 3rd March 2009 when terrorists on motorbikes opened fire on the Sri Lankan cricket team bus. Five policemen sacrificed their lives to protect the Sri Lankan guests. Two civilians were also killed. Six Sri Lankan players and two policemen were injured. Terrorism in the heart of Lahore sent a wave of shock across the country. Sri Lankan team had come to play a test series with Pakistan’s cricket team. Security lapse and uninterrupted movement of terrorists in the heart of Lahore brought Pakistan a lot of ill fame and thus we lost the rights for matches of ICC World Cup 2011.
The saddest part is that this terrorist act deprived five families of their sons who were most probably sole bread earners. The next day, big posters of these Punjab Police martyrs were displayed in the square and people paid their tributes in form of flowers. Yes, they died in the season of flowers. I saw a lot of people and media in liberty square on the evening of 4th March. There were huge piles of flowers in front of every poster. I added my bunch of tube roses to a pile and recited a prayer in my heart. And then across the road I looked at the huge plaza and thought of Noor Jahan who dedicated all her life to music and enriched our lives with her beautiful songs. Yes, she died at the right time. She was lucky enough not to hear bullet fires and see blood and dead bodies outside her home. God is great.
Noor Jahan represented Pakistan at Tokyo’s World Music Festival and got her name written in World Song Album. When she went to India, the Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi was waiting at the airport to receive her and India’s great artists touched her feet as a sign of respect. King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan was her great admirer and had a great collection of her songs. She attracted huge crowds in her concerts in United Arab Emirates, United States and Canada. And when Imran Khan campaigned for Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital and went to Noor Jahan with request of a charity concert, she despite of her ill health came to Qaddafi stadium at night and sang all her famous songs for the audience. She was one of the very few Pakistanis known all over the world. Today Pakistan is mostly associated with violence and terror.
Noor Jahan has become a part of history along with the better days of Pakistan. The difference is that Noor Jahan can never be back. She is eternal. But we can bring back the better days of Pakistan. Can’t we?