15.4.10

Guns and Lollipops

He licked his index finger as he turned the pages of my passport. He had to merely stamp the page to say that I had returned home to Mumbai.

The man at the immigration desk seemed to be in no hurry. He looked up at me over his gold-rimmed glasses and asked, “Who is in Pakistan?” That had not been my destination, so I could not comprehend his query. “Do you know people there?” he persisted.

“Yes. Why?”

“You made so many trips…”

“London, too,” I said.

“So, how is Pakistan?” He enunciated the name, loud and clear.

I shrugged.

“Tell me, good or bad or what?”

He was humouring me, his lower lip, pink and wet, against his dark skin glistening with summer heat. Confusion would have turned to anger. I was in my country with my blue passport, three booklets pinned together.

“They are really like us only?”

“No. Worse,” I said.

His paradigm had no place for worse or better. It was either good or bad. Gun or lollipop. My name is whatever and I am not a terrorist. He stamped the page and, from his high seat, motioned with his head that I could go.

This had never happened before.

It shows that a Pakistani connection married to elitism is anathema. My thick passport that ought to have been a sign of globalism reduced me to a pampered poodle stretching at the leash.

I could imagine the immigration officer in the auditorium watching the utter humiliation of a Bollywood star made to grovel for approval by the ice-candy man, Karan Johar. I can see those pink wet lips smiling as he sees the awkward walk and the man going down on his knees out in the open because he has to pray. Religion is placed prominently in the narrative of My Name is Khan.

While my immigration officer would have stood for an autograph for Shahrukh Khan, he would not have let Rizwan Khan past his eagle eye. Rizwan, who cannot sell lotions and face creams, is made to sell the Muslim moderate. The story uses disability as a device to cunningly convey fake innocence.

Beneath the ostensible garb of post 9/11’s continual angst lurks a more real danger that seeks to heighten the uncomfortable relationship between Indian and Pakistani Muslims. We have reached such a stage that each time an Indian Muslim bats straight, creates award-winning music, or says something secular, there is jubilation. Intellectuals gather along with maulanas to applaud that we were saved in 1947. The idea of a generation far removed from partition, using that event as a yardstick not only to judge another country but one’s own position, raises the question of self-esteem.

Recently, I met a Sindhi family. We got to discussing food and Pakistani cuisine was mentioned. I seemed to have a lot of knowledge, so they asked, “Are you Pakistani?” No, I snapped. They responded, “Oh, but we are…our grandparents were born there and lived there and came to India later. So we qualify as Pakistanis.”

Why were they confident and why was I not? At a discussion Mahesh Bhatt had mentioned that most of his Indian Muslim friends, even the famous ones, tried hard to assert their Indian identify when they were in Pakistan. He turned to me and said, “I suspect you did the same on your visits.” I did, but not as much as I do in my own country. There I was asserting my otherness; here in India I have to assert belongingness. It is all about loving lollipops, is it?

11 comments:

  1. "They responded, “Oh, but we are…our grandparents were born there and lived there and came to India later. So we qualify as Pakistanis.”"

    FV, Nice people as they seem to be, they clearly need some lessons in Civics. A Pakistani is one who owes allegiance to the Pakistani constitution in whatever shape or form it exists, and an Indian owes allegience to the principles in the Indian constitution. Furthermore, they would be surpised to know that they are not welcome in Pakistan, and will be hounded out of existence like it is happening to all minority groups (including Ahmeddiya muslims) in Pakistan.

    The Pakistani constution reinforces the notion that Pakistani is not a secular state but a state that was formed on the notion that religion can be a binding idea for a constitutuional democracy, and 60 years later, we can all understand that Maulana Azad, Jinnah, and the Muslim league were all completely wrong on that, and the leaders of the Indian independence movement had it right when they opposed that notion of religion as a basis for statehood.

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  2. I have always found it frustrating at the immigration to assert my "nationality" as a muslim when I have lived all my life in so many various countries and only time I have spent in "my own country" is around 2 years in total(going to "my land" in every one month summer holiday OR during christmas breaks)

    The feeling of no connection

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  3. I have always found it frustrating at the immigration to be questioned specifically about “my country” when the time I have spent in “my country” is two years. I have only been to the country of my passport during one month summer holidays OR Christmas breaks in Europe.

    I do not care why partition happened, what the constitutions of India, Bangladesh, or Pakistan says, nationality of my parents does not define anything for me. The whole world has been my home. We have been on constant move just because my father has been serving his country. But amidst all this, kids like me remain confused, displaced and country-less.

    But the only positive outcome is I have no grudges or differences with people because they belong to certain country. I have problem with people because of what and how they are.

    Passports, their country or color does not mean anything when the whole world is yours only till you meet the “immigration officers”.

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  4. Farzana:

    Don't you think, "My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist" is a Muslim Indian identity. Muslim Indians have paid a very high price to build this identity.

    "...There I was asserting my otherness; here in India I have to assert belongingness..."

    This is a part of the price. How long more is my question?

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  5. IB wrote: "I do not care why partition happened, what the constitutions of India, Bangladesh, or Pakistan says, nationality of my parents does not define anything for me."

    IB, Perhaps, but the countries themselves have to forge an official connection before individual citizens can take advantage of it. Why individuals may not see the difference between the three countries, the respective governments have every intention to use their power and territory to the advantage of the group in power.

    In India and Bangladesh, the group in power happens to be an elected government mirroring the aspirations of the people (theoretically, at least), while Pakistan is controlled by people who have an agenda that does not include empowering the rest of the people in the country, and are willing to use subterfuge and violence to keep their position of power and privilege in Pakistan. In some sense, this corruption of Pakistan's internal dynamics has a big effect on how its neighbours prepare to deal with Pakistan.

    Politics is what it is, and the rest of us insignificant nobodies just have to work with the system.

    National Boundaries are enforced by people with guns and heavy weapons at this time. There needs to be a peaceful political climate before countries trust each other's intentions enough to allow free movement of people and goods, and I won't be surprised if that is the norm a century from now, but not likely in our lifetimes.

    India already has a freer regime with Bangladesh than with Pakistan, and that is only because the Govt. of Bangladesh took concrete steps to work with India in a positive spirit in the past year, since the Awami League came to power.

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  6. Al:

    There are many Sindhi families who tend to be quite nostalgic. These people were not even thinking about the Constitution or other ramifications. Like several people, their grandparents had links and they felt some sort of bond.

    Religion was one of the factors for the formation of Pakistan and it has never been denied.

    Our leaders opposed the idea of mixing religion and state? To an extent and on paper. We are a fissured society in other ways. Being in denial won't help us.

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  7. IB:

    Very true. The problem is often one is forced to identify with these aspects and it reduces us rather than enhancing us.

    In a discussion with a westerner, I said that in India I am considered westernised since I don't do typical Indian things, not even the exotic ones that appeal to the west!

    I can understand how you feel and identify with it, although I have lived primarily in India.

    Anon:

    Don't you think, "My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist" is a Muslim Indian identity. Muslim Indians have paid a very high price to build this identity.

    I am opposed to the idea of such an identity, such an apology of an identity. Where were Indian Muslims associated with terrorism earlier? Did any of these people go around making such pronouncements after the 92-93 riots and demolition of the Babri Masjid? No. They wanted an international tragedy; that is when they joined in this song and dance.

    It is not what the film says but how it says it.

    "...There I was asserting my otherness; here in India I have to assert belongingness..."

    This is a part of the price. How long more is my question?


    As long as we have people who question us. These are our own people. We have to stand up to them when we'd much rather stand along with them. Ask the counter-queries. Ask them to assert their belongingness too.

    We are living among some horribly radical groups and the way out is not to use religion to counteract it for that only buffers the image.

    I refuse to get bulldozed. I was not prepared for the immigration officer's queries and could not fight back, but I wrote about it and at least a few people know. And, yes, I pity him because he is stuck to his so-called pedestal, whereas despite my being slotted my mind soars and I have a ticket to Sunset Boulevard!

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  8. FV:"There are many Sindhi families who tend to be quite nostalgic. These people were not even thinking about the Constitution or other ramifications. Like several people, their grandparents had links and they felt some sort of bond."

    Yes, no doubt, and I was not belittling their feelings, but noting that their sentiments for Pakistan may not be reciprocated by the current Pakistani establishment.

    "Religion was one of the factors for the formation of Pakistan and it has never been denied."

    If it was one of the factors at formation, which I agree, it later morphed into the only factor for its existence, for example, when the Pakistani Passport officially started to discriminate one citizen from another on religious grounds.


    "Our leaders opposed the idea of mixing religion and state? To an extent and on paper. We are a fissured society in other ways. Being in denial won't help us."

    Well, unless people speak out against mixing religion and state, there is no reason for such mixing to not happen. In India, no one likes to acknowledge that ancient prejudices and modern ones have taken root as part of the constitution and the rules. I am not in denial about enmity between groups in India -- I am know large groups of people hate my kind (and by extension me) because of no action of mine towards anyone else, and I accept that is what it is. I am not going to let that affect me by returning the favour though that is easy to do, but I can see why others may not share that attitude. Life is too short and I am reminded of that everyday -- If various groups (including people I would nominally be grouped with) all hate each other so much, they can all go at each other until the last man standing and there is nothing one can do about it, and I accept that. Realistically, these are things beyond my control, and my teeth-gnashing and wailing at the injustice of it all is like teardrops in the rain, so what's the point? Silence at least makes time appear to stand still.

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  9. Al:

    Minorities in most parts of the world have to live with a lesser status. It is not good, but this seems to be the norm.

    I have a problem with mixing of religion and state and more so when it is not clearly stated. Of course we can and should raise our voice against it...even if it means gnashing of teeth and wailing at the injustice of it all because it affects some of us personally, in real terms.

    Stop bulldozing us minorities into how many tears to shed and how :)

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  10. " I did, but not as much as I do in my own country.......here in India I have to assert belongingness"

    You probably articulated the sentiments of the entire Indian Muslim population with that.

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  11. Can I be the Muslim Pope?!

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