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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Saturday, April 9, 2011

It’s not cricket

But Shahid Afridi’s anti-India tirade is pretty much par for the course

For the life of me, I can’t understand why people in India are so outraged by Shahid Afridi’s statements made on a Pakistani TV channel. In case you’ve been living under a rock over the past week, this is what Afridi said: Indians did not have as pure and large hearts as Pakistanis and Muslims did; and that no long-term relationship with India was possible because of this.

Now, as far as I am concerned, this is pretty much par for the course. However much we may try to kid ourselves, throwing around phrases like ‘We are the same people”, or even “Pakistanis are like our brothers and sisters” the truth is somewhat different. If you monitor their media, listen to people on the street, or even log on to Facebook groups and Twitter, it rapidly becomes evident that most Pakistanis don’t like us very much.

And frankly, that’s hardly surprising. Ever since the Partition, each successive generation of Pakistanis have been brought up to regard India as The Enemy. The textbooks they study tell them how awful Indians are; the media sends out the same message; the political leadership constantly harps on an anti-India theme; and the army whips up a frenzy about India’s dire designs on the Pakistani state.

So, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that we are regarded with implacable hostility at best and visceral hatred at worst by our ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ across the border. And yet, every time a story like this pops up, the reaction seems to be shock and horror.

How could Afridi say such awful things? Doesn’t he know that we are the ‘same people’? (And that, in any case, there are more `pure-hearted’ Muslims in India than there are in Pakistan!)

At some level, I understand where these reactions are coming from. As a Punjabi whose family roots lie in Pakistan, I was also brought up on a steady diet of pre-Partition stories of love and brotherhood. My father’s friends from Pakistan visited, there were many evenings of bonhomie as they remembered the good old days, even as we kids hung on to every word invoking a past we could never re-visit.

It was easy to believe – as we sat down to large meals and an even larger dose of nostalgia – that we were indeed the same people, with the same roots, the same tastes, the same culture, but just divided by a border created by political forces beyond our control.

It was in that mood that I made my first trip to Pakistan – as part of the press party accompanying the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, as he made his historic bus yatra across the Wagah border. I was all set to get in touch with my Jhelum roots, re-discover the land of my ancestors, and get a taste of that famous bonhomie that had always marked India-Pakistan relations.

Boy, was I in for a shock!

The first false note was struck when a bunch of us were introduced to a group of volunteers who were assigned to look after us at the media centre. Our Pakistani friends repeated each new name with trepidation, as if they were trying out an entirely different language and weren’t quite sure of the pronunciation. Finally, it was my turn. “Ah, Seema,” said one of them with palpable relief. “Yeh naam toh hum jaante hain. Yeh baaki sab Hindu naam humnein kabhi sune nahi.”

That’s when I first realised that the West Punjab of my parents and grandparents had well and truly passed on. Now, there was a new West Punjab, with a new generation of Pakistanis, who had grown up with no Hindu neighbours. In fact, most of them had probably never met a Hindu in their life. To them, we were foreigners in their land; not long-lost brothers and sisters with whom they could establish an instant camaraderie.

If anything, the prevalent mood was one of hostility and suspicion. It reminded me of a story the late Mani Dixit used to tell about his time in Pakistan, when he visited a Pakistani diplomat at his home. He was introduced to the couple’s young son as a visitor from India. The child said an obedient ‘hello’ and then started running around a startled Dixit shouting ‘Hindustani kutta, Hindustani kutta!’ The embarrassed parents hurried him out of the room and apologised profusely to Dixit.

A friend’s aunt, who is married to a Pakistani, and often visits the country, had much the same experience. Sitting at the breakfast table one morning, she saw that her young nephew was playing with his toy airplanes. She walked across to join him, but stopped short when she heard him mutter, “Main India pe bomb maroonga...”

In any case, this stuff about a shared culture only goes that far. After all, it’s only Punjabis – and to some extent, Sindhis – who have a cultural affinity with Pakistan. For the rest of India, there is no special bond in the shape of a common language or even a common cuisine.

I remember an office lunch at Bengal Sweets, when there was a group of Pakistani ladies sitting at the next table. There was flurry of excitement when our paper masala dosa was served. What on earth was this, the ladies wanted to know. They had never seen a dosa in their life.

I often think of that moment when I hear the candles-at-the-Wagah-border brigade ramble on how we are the same people. You know what, actually we’re not.


Anonymous said...

Thats what i have been saying for a long time, India is too big a country to be "same people" with anybody. Why don't we say that we and Lankans are same(Tamils).

shahid said...

We have to do our best.Problem is fake history books and second is these extremist groups.But now lots of people r coming out and realizing the realities.

O P Tandon said...

What you have related is quite true and it is the result of continuous brain wash of the people in Pakistan by politicians and more paricularly fundamentalist Mullahs against Hindus and Indians. Afridi's double speak is symptomatic of years of poison filled in their minds. Howsoever,when the young generation there wants to come out of it, it overpowers their good senses.

There is another side of the picture also which I experienced in Lahore on my visit to revive my memories of pre-partition days. (I was denied visa for my birthplace viz. D.G.Khan). A young man followed my movements and finally requested to share a cup of tea with him claiming that he had never shared it with a Hindu. I obliged and he disclosed that he was from Intelligence wing to shadow me. The tonga wallah will not accept the fare as he had migrated from Jalandhar.The shop keepers were quite warm and would make enquires about going ons in India. I was invited by a couple for dinner and during our discussions I picked up the courage to say that you people are so social and hospitable with a stranger Hindu but on collective level there is extreme hostility, why so? My hosts minced no words in saying that it is the effect of mob mentality generated by Governments and fundamentalists. A few months after my return a message was conveyed to me that I should not try to contact my host of one hour dinner as had been very badly grilled by Pak intelligence agencies.

manikchand said...

As someone whose roots used to be from Bangladesh, I was surprised to learn that our ancestral properties have not been appropriated by the Khans. Faraway cousins have moved in.

At the same time, one couldn't possibly miss the undercurrent of jealous hate

Arvind said...

My father's friend and his wife visited us some years ago. Once the lady asked in Punjabi "Tussi Sadda Kashmir Wapas kyon nai Karde?" (Why dont you return our kashmir?). Once she was surprised to see Muslims walking in our colony. She asked, (tussi ennanu marde nai?) Dont you beat them? Pakistan has brainwashed their people against India. They treat us like enemies. You talk, you play cricket, their hidden agenda is kashmir.

Santhosh P said...

"Indians did not have ass pure and large hearts ass Pakistanis" ~Shahid Afraidi

aayushi said...

I wrote a blog on this too. I do believe that at least now, no one really believes the we are brothers stuff. But I do believe that the fuss was because Shahid Afridi said that, as opposed to anyone on the street. The same way the fuss would have been if Shahrukh Khan or even MS Dhoni would have said so.

And more so because he behaved in a very sportsmanly manner in India, and did not say a word of dissaproval over here.


Pranavam Ravikumar a.k.a. Kochuravi said...

Lovely write. My wishes!

KrRahul said...

I ignored his anti-India comments. And I also ignore most of what anyone from Pakistan says. That is the best way to save my energy for more constructive things to do in life...