DAWN.COM | Columnists | People are never petty
A roar of applause greeted the Pakistan team at Sunday’s inauguration of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
Newspapers claimed it was the second loudest welcome given to any of the 71 participating countries, the first of course going to India. To those who know these things there was nothing unusual about an Indian crowd cheering a Pakistani team. There have been even more memorable occasions of mutual admiration. The entire crowd at the Chidambaram Stadium rose as one to applaud Pakistan after their narrow win over India in a great test match at Chennai in 1999.
As for Pakistan’s warmth towards Indians, a pro-Hindutva columnist from Delhi could not hide his embarrassment over a memorable one-day match in Lahore in 2004. “As the purveyors of inanity have repeated, India won the cricket and Pakistanis won the hearts. So many shopkeepers in Lahore have refused to charge so many Indians for goods and services that I begin to wonder whether or not anyone makes money in Pakistan.”
The crowing about the warmth shown to the Pakistani team on Sunday can, however, be misleading for it conveys the impression of some kind of official magnanimity in the face of adverse circumstances that exist between the two countries.
What the media masks is its own surprise at the spontaneous welcome given by Indians to Pakistanis. This is important to grasp because on most occasions, it is the media that becomes the conniving outlet for officially encouraged mutual fanaticism on both sides of the border. Leave it to the people and the result would be an intelligent and mature partnership.
Of course there is no rule that all ordinary or common citizens are uniformly sweet and mellow in a cross-border sense. The opposite is often just as true but these are confined to centres of mass fanaticism nurtured as fiefdoms of callous politicians.
The response of the Chennai crowd would be subdued if also possibly thwarted in Mumbai where the Shiv Sena is not prepared to hear of anything good concerning Pakistan. Around the time when the crowd at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium was cheering for Pakistan the Shiv Sena was issuing stern warnings to film actors against welcoming or praising their Pakistani counterparts.
The role of the Shiv Sena or the Bharatiya Janata Party or even the Congress, when it suits their agenda, in instigating hysteria against Pakistan or any other momentary or long-term foe is not any different from the televised ranting witnessed in Pakistan of hateful preachers, usually supported by the country’s intelligence apparatus, who perennially spew venom at India. They behave like identical twins.
When Atal Behari Vajpayee visits the Minar-i-Pakistan in Lahore, activists of the Jamaat-i-Islami wash the precincts after his departure in a televised act of ablution. Hindu fanatics ‘purify’ Gandhi’s shrine with sacred water after Gen Musharraf lays a wreath there. A vast majority of common people on either side are simply not capable of such demonstrable pettiness, which explains Sunday’s applause.
Why are the people not allowed to be spontaneous in their embrace of each other? The answer lies in the somewhat clichéd but still relevant riddle: why did Pakistan never allow Lata Mangeshkar to sing in that country? I once asked the Lahore-based progressive writer Intezar Hussain about this. “We import wheat and potatoes from India,” he said, “Why can’t we have some music too?”
Lata Mangeshkar is loved across Pakistan. There was a Pakistani man in the gym of an Islamabad hotel constantly sighing on the treadmill. I asked him if he was having difficulty in doing the ‘hill’ on the machine, he said it was the song playing in the background that caused him to gasp. He was riveted to a Lata number from the 1950s.
During a visit to Karachi last week I met two of Pakistan’s best-known cultural icons and both complained bitterly about their Indian counterparts’ gross behaviour with them.
Actor and writer Zia Mohyeddin, famous in Hollywood for a clutch of noted movies, was issued an insulting two-day visa to visit Delhi to attend a conference on literature. On another occasion he was invited by a newspaper that was sponsoring a ‘peace caravan’ for a joint show with an Indian mega star who never deigned to meet him. Apparently there was a Shiv Sena warning involved.
I also met sitar maestro Rais Khan, who migrated to Karachi from Mumbai some three decades ago. At 72, nursing chronic ailments worsened by diabetes he still remains a star performer at concerts in India. A nephew of the majestic Vilayat Khan, the younger ustad is accustomed to all the pampering and adulation that comes with the family’s name and magical skills with the sitar.
Recently, because of an avoidable mix-up he was made to wait in the baking heat at the Wagah border. There was no permission for him to cross over to India on foot, a courtesy given to senior citizens by both sides.
After a tiring discussion about his old age and special circumstances Rais Khan was politely told to go back home. I am happy to report that the Vilayat Khan DNA has been passed on to Farhaan Khan, Rais Khan’s son in his 20s. But will he be stonewalled by those that appear to be wary of an open exchange of culture between the two neighbours even though they never tire of swearing by their historical cultural ties?
In the absence of an enabling political climate that might give them a freer hand to express emotional affinity ordinary people in India and Pakistan have had to learn to hang on to smaller gestures of bonhomie that may come their way.
When the chips were down for the Pakistani cricket team at an international contest a simple comment by India’s Sunil Gavaskar in which he urged critics not to write off Pakistan made him an all-time hero in that country. Pakistan won the contest.
It would help of course if the system, instead of interrupting emotions, savoured the humour that both sides are capable of. At a landmark Test match between the two countries in Kanpur, an appeal went up for caught behind against India’s Polly Umrigar who was facing a sharp leg-cutter from Pakistan’s Fazal Mehmood. The Indian umpire turned down the appeal.
A bearded maulana closely watching the event with his binoculars disagreed with the umpire. “Click to hua tha,” he murmured suggesting that the bat had touched the ball before being collected by the wicket keeper. An India supporter sitting next to him chuckled: “Maulana it’s funny that your binoculars could pick up the sound too!” As I said, leave it to the people to settle their scores. Unlike the system that stymies them, they will never be petty.
The writer is Dawn’scorrespondent in Delhi.