Star-crossed Borders

Star-crossed Borders
by Farzana Versey

Inside the well-rounded cosmopolitan atheist persona of Shujaat Rizvi, there was a Pakistani nationalist and Islamist waiting to come out.

I turned out to be the catalyst, unfortunately, for this ‘homecoming’. Today, when I sound a bit wary about cross-border alliances, I have reason to believe that even if you share a faith, the political dimensions leap out like dragons.

Sania and Shoaib’s saga became a matter of precarious acrobatics; there are many others that cannot even venture into the circus arena as static cable wires, phone lines and meetings die slowly. More importantly, they bring out certain prejudices that we do not know we possess. Our earlier conversations about Sartre and Sinatra came unhinged as it soon turned into a battle of, and for, national and religious identity.

The day I landed in Islamabad, Shujaat decided to take me for dinner. We sat across from each other, a flickering candle between us. It was a mellow moment. “Would you have ever married a Pakistani?” he asked.

We were not young. I was newly single, hammering the nail on the coffin of a marriage gone wrong; he was a confirmed bachelor.

I had never thought about people as countries, but apparently that baggage had gone along with me. “Perhaps...” I muttered, afraid even of hypothesis.

“It is easy to get you a Pakistani passport and even an ID card. All that can be arranged.”

“I said I did not mind marrying a Pakistani, I did not say I would live in Pakistan.”

“This is a better place. You can walk with your head held high. You don’t have to suffer during communal riots. This is an Islamic country. There is no pretence.”

He was curious about the Muslim women in India. When I told him about the relative freedom of movement, at least among the urban, educated woman, and cross-religious alliances, he flared up. “I do not think Indian Muslims can get equal status by marrying their women to Hindu men. It is nauseating to imagine...”

He could not understand that relationships were not based on religion. “With such westernised and modern views, do not tell me that the man would say Islamic prayers before, after and during their intimate moments.”

Shujaat’s knowledge of this aspect was based on biased news and stereotypes, mine on experience. His prism only showed him a Muslim utopia. Was this about the scriptures or nationalities?

“If you don’t have a problem about nationalities, then why would you not live in Pakistan?” he queried.

“I cannot live even in America.”

“I think your attachment to your country is like a bad habit. Like smoking it can cause cancer. I am sure Muslims in your country would feel the same.”

It was a curious exchange at many levels – he appeared to be testing me personally and politically. Rather than a candlelight dinner, it seemed like Roosevelt’s fireside chat to his people via radio.

He had been active in student politics and his ideological leanings were leftist. He was clear that if he married an Indian, they would have to live in a Muslim country. It surprised me, for he was educated in the West and had worked outside too. In fact, during his stay in the US, he came close to getting involved with an Indian woman.

“Not just an Indian woman, but a Brahmin one. There was this desire to have an affair, a short affair.”

“So, would you not become impure?” I asked, since he often alluded to my cultural impurity.

“This would not be about love but hate. It is like war. You don’t love the land you occupy.”

This was territorial, whichever you looked at it – geographically or psychologically. We drifted apart, never to meet again, characters leaving the stage empty for more biases to resound.

- - -

This is my column in The Express Tribune, Pakistan, dated April 17. It was a special exception after the first Guns and Lollipops, which they wanted for the launch issue on Monday, April 12. My scheduled column day is Tuesdays.

They omitted to add the following footnote in the current column, at least in the Net edition:

Some portions in this piece are from my book ‘A Journey Interrupted: Being Indian in Pakistan’.

- - -

Results of the blog poll:

Are cross-cultural marriages...

A political statement - 3%; A secular statement - 10%; A chance to discover another culture - 17%; A recipe for disaster - 10%; If not planned, then just 2 like-minded people getting together - 53%; Why marry when you can be a tourist or commentator?! - 21%


  1. Shujat chapter in the book is my favorite,you used very little.This conversation with other article is like two sides

  2. Farzana,
    will you be doing a re-post of those artciles here ? (as you do with the countercurrents and counterpunch articles and assuming your contractual obligations with Tribune folks permit you to do so)
    Related observation - the comments at Tribune article indicate readers are trying to grapple with your supposedly pro/anti pak stand. :-)
    p.s.: Have a nice "whatever is left of it" weekend.

  3. Due to the ugliness that spread, tired our nerves., couldnt show-case Hyderabadi Culture at Sania-Shoaib's wedding. This is my biggest regret. Yeh pesh karna thaa., Sania ke Reception mein, lekin .. mahoul / vatavaran., itna TENSE ho gaya tha.. we couldnt choreograph a beautiful Hyderabadi Wedding. It was an opportunity of a lifetime. Imagine., Barkha Dutt in a Gharara reporting. Imagine Pranoy Roy in a black sherwani reporting. (Other TV stations could have taken a link-lead from NDTV). The rasms explained., the food, jewelry., costumes, songs... the karigars who made it all. 20 hours of TV material. Of course from the business-viewpoint., it was a 100-crore proposition in Ad-revenue.

    In Hydreabad., after Nikaah : this is sung :

    Een masnad-e-shaahana mubarak bashad.,
    Hamesha dilbar, subhaan mubarak bashad

    At the time of Jalwa (when the groom comes to see his bride, seated in the Women's Enclosure of the audience., ) this is sung :

    Aaya banna aaya., hariyala banna aaya..

    Ideally, they should have invited Abida Parveen.. or some Qawwal from Jaipur or even a local one from Hyderabad (Nasir Aziz Ahmed Khan Warsi), to sing :

    Khabaram-Raseed Eem Shab, Ke nigaar khwaahi Aamad
    Sarr-e-mann fidaa-e-raah-e-, Ke savaar khwaahi Aamad

    (Amir Khusrau)

    Too agar chaahe to qatrey ko samandar kar dey
    Chashma-e-chashm kay., har qatrey ko gauhar kar dey
    Too gadaa`on ko nawaaze to Shahenshaah baney
    Aur Jo chaahe to Yateemon ko Payambar kar dey
    Kab tak mere maula

    - (Shaaz Tamkanat Marhoom)

    Na Man be-hooda gardey koocha wa bazaar mee gardam
    Mazaaq-e-ashiqi daram., pah-e-deedaar mee gardam
    Khudaya raham-kunn bar-mann pareeshaan yaar mi gardam
    Qataa-kaaram, Gunah-gaaram, ba-haal-e- Zaar mee gardam
    Sharaab-e-shauq mee Nowsham., Ba gard-e-Yaar mee gardam
    Suqan mastana-mee goyam, Wa-layy hash`yaar mee gardam

    - (Rumi)

    Chashm-e-mastey Ajabey, Zulf taraaz-e-ajabey

    - (Amir Khusrau)

    Classical mehfil sajaana tha. This was not possible in Hyderabad., because the fat woman sullied the environment. I hope they present a super-show in Lahore. Geo TV par 4-hours tak., LIVE broadcast karna. Abida Parveen singing… 4 super kalaam… and the final item should be a song by Fareeda Khaanam… singing : “Aaj jaaney ki zidd na karo.. . youn hee pehloo mein baithey raho”.. Us par end hona.. 4-hour function.

    Thru HT, if this reaches Maliks., i would request them to pleae invite : Dr. Javed Iqbal & Begum Nasira Iqbal., Bano Qudsia., Dr. Fehmida Riyaaz., Zohra Nigaah., Abdulsattar Edhi & Begum Bilquis Edhi., Farida Khanam., to the Valima. ABIDA PARVEEN must sing... and it should be telecast live on Geo-TV... for 4-5 hours.

    Have a great Valima., and broadcast it Live on Geo TV. Come on. Use this event as an opportunity to use soft-power.

  4. FV:

    “Not just an Indian woman, but a Brahmin one. There was this desire to have an affair, a short affair.”

    I think the notion that women are property of men which is still dominant in most of the world today, is at the root of such social attitudes of using women as playgrounds for political warfare via copulation.

    “This would not be about love but hate. It is like war. You don’t love the land you occupy.”

    Some people seem to take the phrase "sexual conquest" a little too literally...

  5. KB:

    It was meant to be two sides. I like that chapter too...I have space limits and anyway would not want to use a large chunk.


    Mere qaabil dost, aap vaqalat kar rahe hai! You remind me of those lawyers in the old films..."Kya aap apni safaai pesh kar sakte hai? Kya aap apne qalam se likhi hue lafzoun ko pesh kar sakte hai, haalanki woh aur kaheen pesh kiye hue hai?"

    :) Yes, I shall, though they would of course like me to get dissed there!


    Thank you for those couplets, nazms...and I see you have planned it all in your head. Even if there had been no controversy,no one wants to have a 4-5 hour telecast to prove anything.

    I am glad you are so excited. Who would you want to join them on their honeymoon?


    I agree about general attitude towards women. In this case, as on several other I am sure, the political dimensions get added. Conquest in any form is territorial.

  6. Farzana ji,
    Saadar abhivaadan.
    Purva Pratham hum aapka dhanyavaad kehna chaahenge ki aapne humari "kaabiliyat" kaa jaahir gaur kiya.
    Yeh dekhkar man ko bahut santosh huaa thaa ki padosi mulk ke akhbaar mein koyee aapsi mulkon ke rishton kaa ayinaa dikha raha ho. Sach bol rahaa hu - bahut kam logon ko yeh avsar milta hai. Hum to yeh bhi chahte the ki padosi mulk waale koyee lekhak humaare mulk ke akhbaaron mein kuch aisaa hi ayinaa lekar dikhaye. Khair, siyasati jazbaat shaayad bahut alag kism ke hote hai. Jazbaaton ki bat par se yaad ayaa, aap hamaare jazbaaton ko adaalati taur tarike ke hisaab me dhaalata hu dekhkar thodaa saa acharaj mein jaroor pad gaye. Kya waakai hamari bhaashaa itni adalati hai ? Shaayad yeh bhi ho ke kal is jawaab ko dekhkar aap hamari "Mumbaikar" jazbaaton ko kisi aur nazariye se dekhe.
    Khair - un baaton kaa jikr phir kabhi....
    Baaki sab kushal mangal aapki taraf ?
    Swastha aur sampark mein jaroor rahiyega.
    Aur sada khush rahiyega,
    p.s.: Chaah to raha thaa ki yeh jawaab apni matrubhasha (Marathi) mein likhoo, aap samajh bhi leti par yeh phir hamare beech kaa niji sanwaad reh jaata, aur phir baaki bhi to bhartiya aapke ke Mahajaal sthit sanwaad sthal (blog) par aate hai.

  7. Mahesh,

    Subah-subah uthkar aapka yeh nazrana bohat hi achcha laga. Aur woh ‘ji’ lagakar hamare um’r ka bhi lihaaz rakha.

    Aapki ‘kaabiliyat’ ka tau andaza hamesha se tha…aap (aur kuchch aur log) iss naacheez ke anjuman ki shaan badhate hai. Hamare aur aapke bayaan karne ke tareeke beshaq alag hai…aap shuddh Hindi istemal karte hai, hum Bollywood Urdu.

    Rahi baat aaina dikhane ki, koshish tau hai aur umeed ke is dauran khud ko bhi samajh sakey. Magar hum jo likhte hai woh na kisi eik siyasat ka daayra hai na kisi eik kism ki soch, tau hota hai aise ke log pareishan ho jaate hai ke koi saanche mein hamari kulfi nahin bana sakte!
    Aap ka kehna laazmi hai ke siyasat aur logoun ke darmiyaan khayalat alag hoge, magar siyasat hi tau logoun ki dor pakde hue hai. Khair…

    Aapne farmaya, “Kya waakai hamari bhaashaa itni adalati hai ? Shaayad yeh bhi ho ke kal is jawaab ko dekhkar aap hamari "Mumbaikar" jazbaaton ko kisi aur nazariye se dekhe.”

    Naheen, naheen…(in Saira Banu style) jab kuchch alfazon se aap taqreer karte hai tau lihaza mehsoos hota hai hum kachehri mein hai aur tehkiqat chal rahi hai, warna aisi baat nahin. Aapke har behas mein seekhne milta hai, shaayad isiliye hum muskurate hai aur ghaur farmate hai ghaur ke baare mein. Aapke Mumbaikar jazbaat sar aankhon par.

    Agar buraa na mane tau eik baat kahoon? Aap zaroor ko ‘jaroor’ kyon kehte ho jab aap ‘jazbaaton’ ko theek se pehchaan sakte ho? Kya aap Marathi maanus ko chhed rahe hai iss UP kism ki jabaan…uff…zabaan se?

    Baaqi sab theek hai, aaj padosi mulk se hum khafaa hai, magar woh ghussa sambhal jaayega.
    Aap bhi khush rahe aur shukriya iss jawaab ka aur hausla afzayi ka.

    PS: Marathi tau hum padh lete, lekin yeh bhi neeji ho gaya. Lagta nahin hai kisiko samajh aayega. Koi baat nahin. Yeh tau pataa chal gaya ke agar koi poochche ‘yeh kya jagah hai doston’ hum ab keh sakte hai, aapke lafzoun mein, “Mahajaal sthit sanwaad sthal” :)

  8. I wonder about Sania's adjustment to a different environment for women in Pakistan, but then what do I really know about it except second or third hand and by inference. What you write confirms my worry though, but lets hope it all turns out fine - Sadhana

  9. Sadhana:

    While I wouldn't tar any society with one brush, and I have met a variety of people, I am afraid patriarchal notions seem to have the upper hand. I never did see Sania as representative of the moderate Muslim voice, such as is needed at all.

    I am more disappointed that people believe it is a peace initiative. I bumped into a friend after years and the first thing he asked was, "So, I hope you are supporting Sania. She has taken a daring step, sent out a strong message."

    When I did not show any enthusiasm, he snapped, "And if Kareena goes and has a nikaah with Saif, you will have problems with that too. Sania's example is better."

    I would have problems with Kareena only because of the conversion factor and I was talking with a man whose family is full of cross-religious alliances.


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