Neigh­bour­hood Watch

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

AS A CHILD (and grand­child) of refugees from what is now Pak­istan, I was weaned on tales of the hal­cyon days of our pre-Par­ti­tion life. Need­less to say, all th­ese sto­ries had a cer­tain fairy-tale el­e­ment to them, re­counted as they were through the prism of nos­tal­gia.

My grand­mother, who had grown up in the North Western Fron­tier Prov­ince, never tired of re­count­ing the many mil­i­tary vic­to­ries the men of her vil­lage had been part of, the rem­i­nisc­ing grow­ing blood­ier with each retelling. And my grand­fa­ther, with­out fail, would point out with a sneer that while th­ese men may have been brave they were also rather stupid.

Why? Be­cause when the Bri­tish granted them one wish af­ter one such spec­tac­u­lar vic­tory, guess what they asked for?

No, they didn’t think it was im­por­tant to get drink­ing water to the vil­lage where women still had to trudge to the river to get sup­plies for their fam­i­lies. Oh no, that would have made too much sense. So in­stead they asked that a can­non be in­stalled at the en­trance of the vil­lage be­cause then every­one would know what brave war­riors they were!

My mother’s mem­o­ries re­volved around large bun­ga­lows with sprawl­ing gar­dens where she and her five sib­lings would run wild. They took par­tic­u­lar pride in in­fil­trat­ing the houses next door and steal­ing man­goes off their neigh­bours’ trees home. They wore the same kind of clothes. Hell, they even looked like us, if just a lit­tle bit fairer and pret­tier.

Af­ter the Ma­soods de­parted,

I would of­ten day­dream about the time when I would go to

Pak­istan. When I would get to walk down the street that bore my fam­ily name. When I would ex­plore the rooms of the house we had left be­hind. When I would get to re­visit all those haunts that my par­ents talked about in­ces­santly: Shal­i­mar Bagh and Lahore Fort (from where Ma­haraja Ran­jit Singh ruled Pun­jab) to name just two. When I would be able to get in touch with my roots.

Well, as it turned out, I did get to go to Pak­istan once I had grown up, as part of the me­dia party ac­com­pa­ny­ing Prime Min­is­ter AB Va­j­payee on his his­toric bus jour­ney across the Wa­gah border to Lahore in 1999. But sadly, this was not the Pak­istan of my dreams, the Pak­istan in which I be­lieved I would fit right in, the Pak­istan that would have seemed a home away from home.

In­stead, from the get go, I felt like an out­sider. Yes, every­one did speak Pun­jabi. But it was lit­tered with so many high-flown Urdu words that they may just as well have been speak­ing a for­eign lan­guage. And when my col­leagues were in­tro­duced to some of the Pak­istani me­dia corps, they were com­pletely be­fud­dled by their names, try­ing them out gin­gerly as if ex­pect­ing them to ex­plode in their mouths. You see, one of them ex­plained to me, they had never heard th­ese ‘Hindu names’ be­fore (my name they had no prob­lem with, be­cause it was also a Mus­lim name). In fact, none of them had even met a Hindu be­fore, so we were like an ex­otic species which pro­voked both cu­rios­ity and wari­ness in equal mea­sure.

This was not the Pak­istan of Ma­sood Un­cle, who had had emo­tional and fa­mil­ial ties to In­dia. This was a new Pak­istan that had no fond mem­o­ries of the pre-Par­ti­tion days. This was a Pak­istan that iden­ti­fied with the Is­lamic Mid­dle-East rather than with ‘Hindu’ In­dia. This was a Pak­istan that re­garded In­di­ans (read Hin­dus) as The Other. This was the Pak­istan that had been brought up to re­gard us as the en­emy.

Clearly, we were no longer the same peo­ple. And frankly, look­ing back, I had been fool­ish to imag­ine that we would still be.

But over the last cou­ple of weeks, as the Uri at­tack has dom­i­nated the news cy­cle, and var­i­ous Pak­istani talk­ing heads have popped up on prime time In­dian news TV, I have come to re­alise that, far from be­ing the same peo­ple, we ac­tu­ally oc­cupy par­al­lel uni­verses. And while we live in a world in which Pak­istan is a failed state which uses ter­ror as an in­stru­ment of state pol­icy, in their world-view In­dia is an ag­gres­sive neigh­bour, who bul­lies and ter­ror­izes its own peo­ple and then blames Pak­istan for it.

No mat­ter how much we try, it is hard to see how we can rec­on­cile th­ese two po­si­tions. And so we are doomed to con­duct­ing an eter­nal di­a­logue of the deaf, talk­ing at, rather than to, each other.

Not only are we not the same peo­ple, Pak­istan and In­dia seem to in­habit par­al­lel uni­verses th­ese days

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.