The Past Holds the Key

Mahrukh KhurshidNovember 6, 2023Now and Then

The past can never be completely erased or forgotten, because our present-day selves represent an intricate eulogy of the past. Who we are and how we behave are heavily dependent on our roots. I am lucky to come from a community that ardently honors its roots; I grew up listening to my grandmother tell stories about my ancestors and my country. Every year on August 14th, Pakistan's Independence Day, the joyous crowd of green-and-white-clad people would remind me of my nation's past. In this way, the past provides a solid scaffolding on which we can design our lives, supported by both intrinsic pride and events which can teach us to do better.

However, this idealistic view is not without shortcomings. A strong tenet of my community is respect for elders; this can at times be disadvantageous because the over-idealization of predecessors produces a distorted and significantly more rose-coloured history, making contemporaries more prone to repeating the past’s mistakes. A blindingly apparent example of this is in the tone with which the Pakistan-Bangladesh split is recorded in Pakistan’s history books. While the 1947 India-Pakistan split was documented as a veritable victory, the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War is seen as a traitorous uprising to this day, denounced as “The Separation of East Pakistan.”

This glamorization of the past can also encourage the mindless perpetuation of destructive traditions, reinforcing harmful stigmas and trapping the world in a state of paralysis, unable to move forward or develop. Equity is thereby sacrificed at the altar of narrow-mindedness, obstinacy, and metathesiophobia (fear of change). Even now, women struggle to enter the workforce; they are denied equal pay for equal work because of the mistaken assumption that one should continue what has been done before. Similarly, sex discrimination and gender- and class-based inequity are direct continuations of age-old prejudices that have wormed their way into permanence in our lives.

However, with proper consideration, it is possible to use hindsight to our advantage and honor the past while adapting it to suit the present day. After all, the better parts of our current culture often hold meaningful and extensive roots in the past. In my experience, traditional South Asian weddings hold a certain color and brilliance that is unmatched by any other ceremony in terms of beauty and visual appeal, and neither have I seen a celebration as vividly enchanting as Eid, the three-day festivities following the holy month of Ramadan. Religion, often an immemorial component of our culture, is a powerful link to the past. Similarity, society can maintain connections to the past while reshaping them to fit our modern sensibilities. The importance of doing so cannot be overstated: The past holds the key to many of the present’s secrets.

Mahrukh Khurshid is a Grade 12 student and an aspiring writer who loves to read and study literature and languages. She enjoys listening to music and creating it on the violin and piano. She yearns to see the world and hopes one day she will be able to travel wherever she wants to.