I was a schoolgirl in the 80’s and I know you. I remember the excitement of the Brookebond ad, the value of your autograph. I remember the pages in slambooks dedicated to you. I know who my boy-cousins and chacha’s were pretending to be when they swung a bat over their shoulders and sauntered onto a cricket pitch, the way a teenage Waseem Akram used to look at you. That’s right, Skipper, my generation remembers all that.
I also remember the day your beaming face lifting the World Cup was banned from national TV. My nineties-born boy cousins were named ‘Imran,’ they live with that name today. I remember one of Jemima’s earliest interviews when she said she knew her husband ‘was popular in Pakistan—but she had no idea he was this popular.’
‘Bimbo,’ I thought…along with the rest of the women in this country. ‘Where did you come from?’ Who could like that woman for marrying…and then leaving…Imran Khan… ‘No Hugh Grant ever matched up, huh Jem?’
I watched with unease when you were ridiculed in politics, when flibbertigibbets like Nadia Khan could smirk publicly at you. When you shed the playboy shirts and donned the awami suit. You made my heart sink with your vote on the Women’s Bill. I winced as you talked about the Ahmedis. ‘Who is he, really?’ I wondered. But my eyes were also opened by the way my students—now men in their 20’s—began to attend your jalsas. And then, when my sister skyped in to tell me that my seven-year-old nephew all the way across in Liverpool, dropped his plastic cricket bat and began sobbing loudly, heartbreakingly, at the sight of your bloodied face being carried away from the forklift. It’s happened all over again.
One nation held its breath at precisely the same second, last night, when you tumbled off that forklift, Skipper. We held our breath and reached for each other, de-ja-vu washing over our hearts. You’ve made us hold our breath countless times before: West Indies, India, Sharjah, the World Cup. But not quite like this. We exhaled together when we heard you were ok, ignoring partisanship to look each other in the eyes to read the same thought: We cant afford to lose…this man.
There was nothing play-boyish, nothing glamorous about your face looking out at us from the hospital bed. There were 60 years etched in those lines, pain in those puffy eyes. But it gave us goose bumps to hear what you had to say. I never watched cricket. I never believed in politics. Until you, Skipper. For years, I’ve heard the drawing room talk lamenting our leadership crisis. Last night, despite ourselves, we saw a Leader.
I disagree with you on so much but you make me determined to fight for it all. If you get elected, someone might actually listen. Looking at how you’ve persevered through the last 17 years till all turned to look twice: this makes me believe in democracy in a way that the Bhutto legacy or the Shareef baradaran never could. I’m coming to believe in democracy, thanks to you, Skipper. For so many years, we’ve waited for a moment to feel our collective heartbeat, for a moment to celebrate. Beneath our sarcasm and skepticism, our blood—though these days it trickles rather than flows—remains forever, green.
I am 37 and I’ve never voted. This morning, I sms-ed my ID and noted my polling station. This morning, I fished around in my ilmari for a green dupatta to iron for the 11th. This morning, I let Junaid Jamshed sing ‘Inshallah…’ in my car as I dropped my daughter to her school. Even though I boycotted his lawn this year over his comment that women shouldn’t drive, even though I share no beliefs with that man, I clutched at the steering wheel and joined my voice with his: InshAllah…InshAllah. Voter turnout will determine the election? Well then. This voter will turn up.
‘Come on, Imran.’ I remember the way the commentators used to say it as the crowd’s feet began to thump in the stands, soft and so slow at first, then louder, much louder, gaining speed…as you gained speed. ‘Come on, Skipper.’
You have a people to lead.