By Rayed Afzal – Teachers’ trainer and homeschooling father
You might have skipped it the last time, but if you ever get a chance to look at the pictures or the video footage of the first million march that was held to restore the Supreme Court of Pakistan, then look out for five girls catching candies from the trucks full of lawyers on the Murree road of Rawalpindi.
That was near the end of our geography cum history, cum sociology lesson. Did I say lesson? Well, if you bear in mind for a moment that the twelve-hundred-kilometre-long journey we took in our Honda City was part of our five daughters’ education, then it surely was a lesson worth remembering.
It was an exciting time. My late father would have nothing else to discuss at the dinner table, except for the role a strong judiciary plays in the wellbeing of a society. Our five daughters listened to him diligently.
On some days you teach children, while on others you learn from them. It was after dinner. The million march was still a week ahead, and, as usual, dad was going nonstop talking about the merits of a free judiciary, when suddenly, out of nowhere, Safia, then aged twelve, asked: “So, Grandpa, what are you going to do about it?”
The time froze at that moment, as everyone in our living room, sitting or lying leisurely, just got up and started looking at each other. I let the silence rule for a few minutes and then announced: “Let’s go for the Million March!” The girls got up and rushed to pack, without realizing that the departure was still a week away.
We left Karachi early morning. Our first stop was Nawabshah. The car was packed with essentials, foods and books. The family friends in Nawabshah offered us the traditional Sindhi hospitality. The most interesting were the local dignitaries, who were invited for dinner – they wanted to know why we thought restoring judiciary was so important that we were taking up a 1200-kilometre-journey for that purpose.
My five girls listened attentively, while forming some opinions of their own, without uttering anything. The meeting adjourned late and then we all hit the beds for our next part of the journey to Multan. Along the way, the girls learned a few things about banana plantations, sugar mills and cotton fields. We made it a point to stop occasionally to explore such unique experiences as dates drying, cotton picking, etc.
Multan was no different from the previous stop. Hoards of people at my sister-in-law’s house were amazed to see five young girls making a journey just to show their commitment to a cause. Next morning, it was all the way to Rawalpindi, with a stopover at Khewra salt mines. The semi dried terrain of Sindh and rural Punjab were replaced first by green fields of central Punjab and then by the mountains.
We reached Rawalpindi a day before the big day. The next morning, my daughters got up with zeal, knowing that it might be midnight, before they will be able to return home. Each one of us was responsible for arranging a personal potable water bottle, candy bars, caps and reading materials. At nine, the ‘warriors’ came out of the home, all ready to be part of a historical event.
We reached the Constitution Avenue pretty early. Since there was not much to do, we went around sight seeing. “This is where the chief justice belongs,” I remember Grandpa pointing at the Supreme Court building and telling the girls. “And this is where we will make sure he comes,” I remember Maria, then eleven, adding with full conviction. Around lunch time, the excitement was running high – we couldn’t wait for the caravans of people from all walks of life to reach the destination. While taking the last bites of his lunch, Grandpa came up with an idea: “What if we head back to Rawalpindi and meet the carvan at Murree road. We would be the first to welcome them into the twin cities.”
That was an excellent idea. All of us jumped back into the car and headed back to Pindi. The road going towards Pindi was deserted – not a soul was on the road. Once on the Murree Road, we parked the car almost in the middle of the road and waited for the caravans to appear from the opposite direction. For the next two hours, we sat in the car reading, taking a nap or just taking a stroll on the deserted road, while occasionally looking south, hoping to be the first to announce the coming of the caravans.
If there’s ever a silence before the storm, then we surely felt it that day. In the midst of this silence, finally, we could see the trucks moving slowly in our direction. As the caravan got near, the rumbling of trucks was taken over by the chanting of thousands: “Justice Tere Janisar Bay Shumar Bay Shumar” (“Chief Justice, your loyal supporters are numerous!”). The first truck passing us by was so excited to be ‘welcomed’ by five young girls that they threw their flags, banners, fruit juices and toffees at them. That really excited the sisters. They grabbed the flags, got on top of our Honda and waved vigorously. The youngest one (finding no place on the roof) felt at ease on my shoulders, only to come down occasionally to grab candies thrown at her.
The flow of energy between the five girls, who had waited a good six hours for the caravans to reach, and the lawyers, who were on the truck for the last twelve hours, was amazing. My role was reduced to a person introducing people of any significance, passing us by at a distance. Every person wanted the girls to respond to his or her chanting, or catch a candy thrown by him or her. The whole caravan took three hours to cross from start to finish, and my daughters welcomed each one of them, standing the whole time.
Heat, excitement, thrill and learning – it was surely a package deal that day. As a matter of fact, the whole experience has turned much of the typical syllabus books of social studies into a pleasure reading. Girls can relate much of what they read about Pakistan to this particular journey. But more than anything, they have learned to stand up for justice: a learning that’s worth more than what they will learn in a lifetime!
The writer’s research work can be accessed on www.eastonline.com.pk