As I sat on the edge of my seat in the cinema, munching my popcorns and gazing in awe at the air-force pilots in the latest Pakistani movie, Parwaaz Hai Junoon, I murmured “They should have released this movie on Defence Day!”
In spite of the deafening sound in the theatre my pre-teen son, sitting next to me, heard my comment and turned to me to ask, “Defence Day?”
My mind took me back to my own childhood when 6th September used to be an official federal holiday, marking the Defence Day of Pakistan. It is celebrated every year on 6th September to commemorate the memory of Pakistan’s success against India in the 1965 war.
I spent my childhood living in Askari Apartments (a housing facility for retired, in-service Army men as well as civilians). The apartment complex was also adjacent to the Race Course ground where military parades and floats were put on display in the event of national celebrations. On such days, I remember going to the roof top of my apartment early in the morning to look at them in wonder. With no mobile phones to capture these beautiful moments, they are forever embedded in my memory. We would clap in excitement as the well-trained pilots of our air-force performed skilful aerobatic manoeuvres, leaving colourful smoke trails in their wake.
The rest of the day was spent watching national television which always had a special transmission dedicated to the martyrs and ghazis (those who fought in defence of the country but returned home safely) of the 1965 war. There were national songs and dramas depicting the lives of these brave men; and, each time one of them was martyred on-screen, our eyes would well up at the thought of losing another one of these courageous men.
We felt their loss as if they were known to us, as if they were one of us. Such patriotic emotions surged through our hearts and still do, despite three decades having passed since then.
With these thoughts in my mind, I looked at my son’s questioning face as he asked me “Defence Day?” at the cinema. It made me wonder why he didn’t know about 6th September. Was it because it was not a national holiday anymore? Would inducting Defence Day as a national holiday again, serve as a gentle reminder about the sacrifices our armed forces make in times of peace and war? Would it help us raise a more aware and patriotic generation?
These questions made me think about why I need to talk to my children about the significance of this day, and I hope other parents do the same:
1.Freedom is NOT free
Most of us and hence, our children, take our freedom for granted. But the fact is that this azaadi comes with a heavy price – the blood and lives of our shaheeds and the (often life-long physical and/or mental) wounds of our ghazis.
2. Our Armed Forces are equally important in times of peace
Being a soldier isn’t just a job in times of war. Even in times of peace, our military works to keep our borders safe. In addition, if the country is hit by a natural calamity, it is the armed forces we turn to for help in recovering the devastated area and its people. At times when the law and order situation is at its worst, it is the armed forces which are called in to stabilize the situation and restore peace.
3. Families of the armed forces are undeniably brave
Most of us can’t even begin to imagine sending our children off to war, knowing that we might never see them again. And yet, the parents, siblings, spouses and children of these brave men watch them leave, knowing that there is a chance of that dreadful possibility becoming a reality. They do it out of sheer love for their country.
And while we may be able to do nothing for them, the least we can do is remember them in gratitude and pray for their strength and patience.
4. Our armed forces provide developmental facilities
While laying down your life for your country and people is more than enough, our armed forces do and have always contributed to the development of our society in numerous ways. From establishing numerous schools and colleges to building hospitals and museums, they help in the social, cultural and economic development of our people. These facilities are not only for the benefit of military families; even civilians can avail their services.
If nothing else, our educational institutions should take measures to highlight the importance of this day. Perhaps, hold a special assembly dedicated to the armed forces, say a small prayer for our martyrs and set objectives for ourselves to make our country better in the next 364 days – including but not limited to cleaning drives, tree plantation drives, awareness campaigns, recycling campaigns and more. It may not be much but as they say qatray qatray se samandar banta hai (little drops of water make the mighty ocean).
My humble request to you is this: take this day to ponder over what our armed forces have given us – an identity and the ability to breathe and exist freely. Think about what they often have to give up in order for us to sleep peacefully at night – their childhood because training for the forces begins early and is extremely tough, time with their loved ones and often, even their lives. And think of their families – their parents, siblings, spouses and children – think of how big-hearted they must be, how strong of faith, to let go of the ones they love in order to serve their people.
May our armed forces remain strong and steadfast always and may we be able to truly appreciate and admire their sacrifices and struggles on this day and always.