Wednesday, August 24, 2011

tu hindu banega na musalamaan banega

lekin hur Janmashtami pur tayyar rahega (the 'value addition' here mine bitte, and for the non-Krishna bakhts amongst you kindly replace Janmashtami with Dussehra. For the couple on the scooter --see pic below-- also escort a mighty fine Ram come RamLila, check your supplement)

Perhaps I protesth too much. For a number of friends have assured me that they quite liked this image, for  it stirred memories of the "secular India" they grew up in (I am guessing memories of the time  Sunil Dutt could sing a college song in a sherwani without him balking at the producer yeh Muslim role hai kiya?) And yes there are some good minorities amongst us who realise that living in the times of the " hate stare" its mighty fine to receive bouquets rather than errr brickbats. 

A plausible cause behind my ire, could be that this image comes at the tail end of August--August is a month that wearies many like me for all the exercises in nationalism. You know this is a month when you steer a group of young Pakistani Christian students into "performing" the national anthem, without acknowledging the sacrifice a member of their community made for Pakistanis every where, scratch that he was not just a Pakistani Christian, Bhatti was a brave Pakistani who was assassinated protecting our religious freedom, and a Federal Minister to boot.   I find it depressing that this lack of acknowledgement came in a year when civil awards came so cheap, that the President could find it in him to gift a Sitara-Imtiaz to a news anchor who had bullied Mukhtara Mai on his talk show. It was not as they were lacking the silver. Or bronze. I havent recieved one so I will not know for sure.

And after this post it is not that I will be receiving the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration either. Sigh!

so coming to the picture that has been appearing on Facebook walls (and receiving all those Likes and "love my india...dis click beyond explanation....happy to d core dis makes me....!! :)"

yes sometimes a  picture is just a picture, and "Aneela", you may turn to me "why do you think so much" but for me this image is the Salman "secular Muslims should celebrate Ganesh Chatruthi every year" Khan of a Tebbit Test. 
Or if you went to my school "why you no do extra-curricular activities, hainji". Singing, dancing, baseball, debating society, acing the Physics exam. 

Let me make it very clear, at no point do I make a case of  "barter body politics", that come Eid let the Other dress up in sherwanis and ghararas  carrying seviyan in their hennaed hands to compensate, for seriously what is it with this preoccupation with Reading Bodies Not Hearts. Hearts which could be  Dil Dil Pakistan or Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani , (even though they refuse to  don the costume you have chosen for then?)

It is just that lately, they have been raising the bar for Good Muslims here. So in addition to the list I once put up here, 
they  make sure that we know how the onus of everyone loving their India and  the country remaining all inclusive lies on the "good minority", 
so all this month after:
1) praying five times a day
2) fasting all day
3)paying your zakat
4) being asked to support Anna Hazare
5) getting up at dawn, preparing the morning meal
6) searching for the burkha (which is a marker of another kind, but that merits another post) and skull cap
one has to now get the kid dressed up as Lord Krishna
and get the scooter started , so you can cart his sorry ass to school in time.

Damn! the good minority's work just never gets done .

And while we are on this topic have you (where you are those who can read Urdu) read this brilliant column by Mohammad Hanif on "Jinnah aur ZulJinnah"

And well those who didnt study Urdu worry not for I will try to provide  you with the gist of the column,--a column in which Hanif uses his sardonic wit to  unpack Jinnah's famous   "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan" speech

 Hanif argues that even if one were to forget that this was a policy statement for a new Pakistan  rather just Jinnah's foresight, one would still marvel at the man and his vision. For who could have predicted that day in August, how one day our mosques will be spilling over with people who want to pray, so much so that many pray in the parking lots for they could not find parking, and Pakistani villages may not have basic health units or schools but they will not be lacking mosques, so eager are people to use their basic freedom to go to mosques.. and if you were not to like your local clergy , you are free to build your own mosque on the next corner and pretty soon people will be filling it up too. It is the same scenario when it comes to churches and temples with the congregation flocking there in large numbers as well. And Hanif quotes a senior Christian figure who laments Christian youth for being too preoccupied with Bible Studies and other such pursuits rather than getting a degree in "secular education". So yes even our non-Muslim friends are learning from our misguided preoccupation with all matters (seemingly ) religious.
Hanif ends his column with wishing that people had paid as much attention to the fact that a significant portion of Jinnah's August 11 speech had been devoted to warning the new Pakistanis against the perils of poverty, corruption, nepotism ! Why dont these topics "warm the cockles of our heart" and why do we only remember the bits about You Are Free To Visit Your Places Of Religious Worship ? It might have been nicer if Jinnah had said instead And if  you are not inclined to go any mosque/temple/church, and would rather  just sulk in front of the TV, you are Free To Pursue That As Well.

Amen. Pakistan Zindabad. And Jai Hind to all who just want to sleep in on a national holiday.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Jeena Yahan Marna Yahan, Iske Siva Jaana Kahan Ji Chahe Jab Humko Awaaz Do Hum Hain Wahin Hum Thhe Jahan

In a couple of minutes the clock will strike the midnight hour and August 14 will slip into the 15th in the city where I am tonight. And I realize this year there has to be the ubiquitous Jashn-e-Azadi blog post, if for nothing else but to acknowledge that sometimes the very fantastic does not come with fireworks and Mountbatten getting into a carriage.

I guess there are only a couple of you following this blog  who have figured out that I am one half of a Pakistani-Indian or rather one third of a Pakistani-Indian-Australian family living in Dhaka. And it is a sign of our times that the first question I am asked is What Happens During World Cup. 

I know midnight tonight should be a celebration of  being who we are and where we are. But sadly this year I cannot rustle up any excitement. I have not even recycled my standard joke about Churchill questioning giving independence to these rascals, rogues, freebooters (And this without meeting Messrs. Zardari and Kalmadi!) for a brand new audience. And I dont think I will even have the energy to stick the star and crescent and  tricolour tattoo on the toddler and have him trussed up for photographs in salwar kamiz like the Aman ki Asha project people might want him to be. I know, I know, we constantly disappoint people for  living our life in Times New Roman when we could be such an interesting new font. 

Since we have known each other the only project the man and me have got serious about is  getting fat and middle-aged ---with the years briefly interspersed with my getting angsty when days like this roll around and I pester him with So We Should Be Having The Conversation around Big Questions like borders, and statehood and Jinnah Ka Pakistan and Nehru's Tryst and Was The World Sleeping Just Then but that only reminds him he has to sleep as the toddler will be up in a couple of hours and yara sunna hai England me match tha? phir miss hogaya.

And then our being in Bangladesh just makes me more anxious for not composing a theme song tonight. Damn, what if the eyes of all of South Asia were on us just now? Pulling at my sleeve So? So?  Do You Have The Words Yet? A R Rahman ko bulaye? Lets reuse the Bombay theme I say, one adds.

And there is a mother in Assam who cannot sleep, the ignominy, the ignominy. When have you heard of someone going THAT side of the river to work. These are all signs, signs, mark my word, she mutters.

It could be that I stopped engaging with words after realizing that there was little I understood of the semantics Pakistan engages in lately. They bandy about terms like Mubasher Lucman and Sitara Imtiaz and rose petals and smiling assassins and I stare. Bewildered. Even though  growing up we had Gen Zia-ul-Haq teaching us the alphabet. And I look down and realize that somewhere over the years I have also lost the Look East security blanket from my Wonder (of all things Indian) Years. They tell me the past is another country and send me post cards from where they are, and I read the cards and tell myself "No, I dont think they wish I was there". 

And this morning I tuned into the brand new Bournvita Quiz Contest
 (for a significant part of the '80s all I wanted in my Eid stocking was to get admission in Bombay Scottish. I am sure you felt the same, so quit acting judgemental. I also wanted Remington Steele to come down and solve the Hathoda Group mystery but that is another wishlist) 
and realized that the Very Hungry BookWorm has grown out of its cocoon to become a satin gowned co-host who will be teaching Derek O' B Hindi (who for some reason is wearing Aamir Liaqat Hussain's sherwanis) India is shining so I guess that translates as shiny suits for everyone, yeah!

Dhaka stayed quiet for most of the year but the other day the driver grew a bit pensive and asked me
So this Obama he is not American right, 
And I say  "No he is"
but clearly Driverji had been working on his piece for a while So he continues Jo bhee, he was not theirs but even then they were so eager to have him as President .But we, we were yours, why didnt you accept us?

And I ask you Dear Reader, why, why, why?

For you may know something I dont.

And I cant answer such difficult questions as I am only a poor Pathan mother running after a toddler who will only speak to me in Bengali. 

For that is how most stories end.

We fight, we squabble, we kill, we argue, and at the end of the day there is a man who brings back a pot of pulao from work and a black ribbon which he has to wear all week and his wife asks him why and he says Because It is Mourning Day  
(the National Mourning Month to be exact-the Awami League has decided so this year--which I understand for there was a time  stores in Peshawar Hayatabad Bara market closed down for a day as "woh jo Marks Spencer nahi tha bibi wo marr gaya maskeen)

 but my husband is saying"woh jo Sheikh Mujib ko tum logo ne maar diya tha" and I tell him No, Just Because A Man Has to Die Does Not Mean There Was a Pakistani Involved (secretly telling myself to google just in case I have it wrong) and I eat the rice and say a prayer.

Pakistan, India-0
And Kashmir never made it to the table.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Baabuu Samajho Ishaare Hauran Pukaare Pam Pam Pam

Remember the trip we took to Bogra-Jamuna-Somapura Mahavihara /Paharpur a couple of weeks ago? I never got around to putting up the pictures from there. 

So in Jamuna other than advising the museum administration that guests at the resort should not be "given breakfast coupons until they have seen the museumand plans to petition governments in South Asia that citizens should not be given identity cards and passports (I added ration cards too) until they have shown documentary proof that they have visited more than five museums, my mother joined us in a merry little jaunt down the River Jamuna. 

Paisa vasool shot

So much colour coordination happening inside the boat. I am sure the cows were dyed to match the lifesavers too

Doobtey Suraj ke saath tasveer nahi khenchtey. 10 points if you can identify the film  I borrow this line from.

From Bogra we took a day trip to the Somapura site. The campus at Paharpur dwarfed any of the other Buddhist monasteries I have seen to date. And the green, the green.

And at the base of the structure are the murals that Somapura is famous for. Such a riotous act of fun and whimsy. Leading to my mom quipping (she might share a birthday with Prince Charles--my grandfather insists even the birth hour, but her statement that morning was very Prince Philips)  "Not very Buddhist are they"

Oh to be around in those times when you could put your legs behind your neck, balance them on your shoulder, even squat with no one telling you Nahi beta, tangey sambhal kar beythey hain. Cross your legs at the ankles, child.

There is a lovely sarkari rest-house at the site, I wish I had known about that earlier. A day is definitely not enough. Especially as my effort to climb up to the top were thwarted by the toddler carrying tales Look Look My Mama Climb Up Hill Agaiiiinnnnn to my mom each time.

There is also a museum. Photography not allowed. Where you will see Shiva and the rest of the pantheon carved out of black rock. 

The gardens are beautiful too. And the gardener has a sense of occasion. Or humour. You decide.

And we shopped. Is par hamari walida ka ek comment peysh hai. "The never ending quest of bringing the village home  and taking the city to the village". Commerce, yahi hai teri kahani.

So we got some lovely baskets which store the onions and potatoes in the store, and the toddler's toys in the room. 
One of the reasons I love the place we are renting currently  are the chips floor in the kitchen  and the alcoves  or  taakh as we call them in one of the bedrooms. They had chips all over the flat when I signed the rental agreement but at some stage they removed it to place the marble, sigh! 

We also bought this, it is woven from reeds again. You may use it to cover a bowl of fruit from fruit flies as I have done, or food left out saving yourself from the "waiter, there is a fly in my soup" moments. Or to protect a pot of boiling milk from a lizard falling into it--the stuff my childhood nightmares was made of. It could be an urban myth, but all little children of my generation heard of someone being poisoned by a lizard in their glass of Ovaltine. Thankfully, the toddler is growing up thinking all lizards are Rango, Rango, Rango ----which makes for a far healthier childhood I say!

And with this I bid you goodbye.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

rote hue aate hain sab hasta hua jo jaayega wo muqaddar ka sikandar wo muqaddar ka sikandar jaaneman kehlayega

One year on....

With apologies to the Akhtars (Javed and Farhan), Amitabh Bachchan, SRK and anyone else involved with the Don franchise:

Safwat Ghayur ko competition deyna mushkil hi nahi na-mumkin hai

Though I could have also played around with another famous dialogue from the film

Safwat Ghayur ke dushman ka sirf ek hi kasoor hai woh Safwat ka dushman hai! ...

but you get the gist.

I first encountered this gentleman as the paramapada of an elaborate game of snakes and ladders a very charming young woman outlined on the dining table for her elder sister. That the young woman went on to marry the hero of our tale is- well -another story. She is a bit vague with the details, but how fortuitous for someone who answered  a "police officer" (when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up), to marry one when she ended up  in medical school instead.
But going back to the enigmatic Mr Ghayur. Yes, I don’t think his fan group was remiss in placing him on a pedestal, not for him the human vices of sloth, pride, vulgarity, boorish behaviour or pettiness and laziness as someone who was born to such good fortune as him could have succumbed to—somehow this suave French speaking, globetrotting, head strong, incorruptible law enforcer reminded you of the heroes from popular cinema who would battle baddies, dodge bullets, with not a crease in their well stitched suit – and here I am leaning towards a certain Secret Service Agent and not the Jat, for our hero preferred to deliver his killer lines at a lower decibel. Interesting aside: Mr Ghayur has been to the local cinemas, well at least for one Pushto movie when he chaperoned a visiting friend. The said friend was pretty scandalized with our domestic fare and declared it made French erotica seem like a training manual by the Taleban for virtuous behaviour (or words to that effect). But I guess this excursion of his, gives us just cause to add the line “he was a patron of the local arts” to his resume, lest he sounds too pucca saheb for you.

Yes, yes nothing got to our debonair man in uniform, not battling the thugs, nor sweating out in the thanas, and the various encounters he found himself in--- or made sure that he made a detour to “find" himself in. Yes, not even the most hair raising adventure of all --that has people tearing out their hair ,  running out of the house in their pyjamas. Raising two under-twos!! Yup, he did that too. Unfazed, and as quite the dapper gentleman.

But the same person who introduced us to Hotel California,

played Everyone Loves Kungfu Fighting in a band in Bangkok,

had friends who set up restaurants in Islamabad THAT WERE OPEN AT 9pm (which was really cool for a city where you walked on the wild side if you spoke to someone in a different BPS grade than you), 

who drove off with his new bride in a car come rukhsati time, and a very nice car I should add! ALONE! gasp!(with no sisters, cousins, and the ubiquitous five year old niece who will tug at the bride’s veil for the entire journey) in the process scandalizing all the old aunts and well the not so old amongst us as well

was also the good son who abandoned a really good first job offer (yes teaching karate is a pretty fine job) to accompany his family back to Pakistan, who might have dreamed of joining the foreign service (and would have been very good at it ) but chose instead the police so he could be around when his family needed him –and in turn took care of a family far far larger than his own. Ok, fine! maybe, we should go ahead and call him the desi hero after all!

 I don’t think I am the stage in my life when I can find meaning in the things that happen to our heroes—but I do find comfort and a lot of laughter in the image of the foolish young man who goes up there believing himself to be a martyr with all the 70 houris and rivers of milk and honey it brings and encounters Safwat Ghayur instead. 

Yes, perhaps there is some divine justice after all.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Aaj Purani Raho Sey Koi Mujhe Awaz Na Dey Dard Mei Dubey Geet Na De Gham Ka Sisakta Saz Na De Beete Dinon Ki Yaad Thi Jinmein Maein Woh Tarane Bhool Chuka

William Dalrymple in the City of Djinns writes about meeting a Begum Hamida Sultan who lives in Shahjehanabad. Mourning a city and a language long dead, she tells us, "Partition was a total catastrophe for Delhi. Those who were left behind are in misery. Those who were uprooted are in misery. The peace of Delhi is gone. Now it is all gone." At the end of their meeting Dalrymple's wife Olivia asks Sultan whether they could see her again and if they do whether she wanted something brought over from Delhi.
The Begum replies (and quite haughtily, Dalrymple writes) 
"I do not need anything. Do not come back", adding (and this is the part that resonates best with me) I just want to be forgotten.

For I have been in a Begum Hamida Sultan kind of a mood lately.

But as ever the toddler breaks my reverie piping  "Why Mama angry?"
And I may try to bat his questions away with a "Ek udhra sa marsia hai jau ab thak sameyta nahi aur tum ek naya tarana cherhney ko kehtey ho? (I am yet to pen my requiem and you tease me with a ballad)
He thinks for a minute and then squats to the ground. Balling his hands into fists he pushes them down, his eyes squinting shut with the effort "Mama do like this , ummmph and poo poop comes quickly"
The boy does have his moments.

So considering I am still trying to string my words--words that keep slipping off their spool into rooms I should have long closed the door to; I choose to walk away from them for the day.  The library? I think to myself as I lock the door to the house behind me.

On my way to the library I cross a man with a basket on his head in which a bouquet of hens draw themselves closer into each other in tight rosebuds. And a small boy juggles a packet of sweater sleeves which flap around him like octopus tentacles. The sleeves will probably walk off him and take a plane ride half way across the world meeting a torso here, a neckline there.

As I enter the library, the librarian wags a stern finger under my nose "Where were you?" He greets me like this every time, slightly annoyed, though he has yet to tell to me what irks him so;  I find his accusations quite comforting, like there is someone in the city who is ardent that I keep to the straight and narrow. And I realise once more how I am happiest when  surrounded by books, or people who live with books-- though the toddler has converted our love affair to a tricky menage trois. (If I was in Pakistan someone might have joked phir aap aur koi shauq rakhtee I should have cultivated someone, something else to amuse myself with). But if I was in Pakistan I could have introduced you to a family of sisters who are all librarians. "We call ourselves the Librarian Sisters" one of them told me. I found it as romantic as if she had just told me they were the Mitford sisters. The one I met had been eccentric enough to qualify as one. As an electrician clambered over our heads on a bookshelf, pushing books into careless piles on the floor to make room for a foothold; she whispered how she did not mind him. It were educated people like me who made her wary- we were more liable to pilfer her book collection.

On a good day I may call the Dhaka collection one that is self restrained, raised on the frugal diet of a strict school marm. There should be a sign somewhere in the library. You eat what is on the table missy, read what is on the shelf. And somehow after a long episode of word gluttony, one where I lolled around like a debauched Roman on a couch plucking words, so many words, off digital vines. But still feeling slightly bored, strangely apprehensive that I may be missing out on some exotic dish. Hollering for anything, anything now to amuse my taste buds! yes, yes perhaps a spartan diet should suit me best now. I knew how spoiled I had become the day I told the librarian that I could not find the library catalog  on the computer and he looked up at me all arched eyebrows

 The card catalog is in the corner madam. Author name, book name all together, in the same drawer.. Arranged by alphabet". 

(The computer is for checking the internet, and you have to sign your name in the register, time logged in , time logged out). Yes a spartan diet for me, please.

And I go through the shelves. And make my selection. 

He reaches for a stack of library cards in the drawer, removes the rubber band that holds them together and looks through them furtively (He still does not trust me enough to take my library card home with me! With library books yes, albeit grudgingly, but not the card. No not yet. Perhaps librarians are told to hold their books close and the library cards closer!)

"Two books only," he reminds me.

"But, but, what if they get over on the weekend?" I beseech him sliding another across the table.

"Then you come back again on Monday and issue more", picking up the first two from my pile.

What follows next is a well choreographed dance as he reaches for the library stamp kit from an alcove of file folders on the corner of his desk. Taking great care he opens the stamp pad slowly removing the plastic foil covering the ink. In his hand the stamp pirouettes briefly over the ink pad landing firmly on the checkout page at the back of the book. His hand hovers for a brief moment over the page, and then taking a final sigh , he closes the book moving it towards me. He replaces the foil on the ink pad and returns it to it's cubbyhole.  Examining his fingers briefly for ink stains he reaches next for a slim register, thumbing through the pages for one that bears my name. In a cautious script he makes an entry for the books in the register placing the pages in front of me making a gesture for me to sign. I rummage in my hand bag.

"Do you have a pen" his tone accusatory again and  grimacing gives me his.

And we are done.

Later I go home, and keep the books in a tray on my bedside table. The husband enters the room and sneaks off with one for a work trip. The Toddler follows and places  one of his on top . Defiant. "Mama YOU READ THIS!!!"


And as it was Rafi's death anniversary yesterday I leave you with this beautiful lullaby and  ask when did we move from this 

to Adam Mansback and Go The Fuck to Sleep

Though as a friend tells me it is not that the children look a wee bit sleepy in the lullaby