|the-south-asian.com NOVEMBER 2001|
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NOVEMBER 2001 Contents
Perceptions of a Lahorite!
(The name of the author has been withheld at his request.)
I was born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan. Born in the relatively liberal 50s, I had a normal upbringing, a great education and a fun time growing up in one of the most ‘passionately alive’ cities of the sub-continent. My mother and aunts wore sleeveless blouses and shirts, my sisters wore tight, hip-clinging shirts and churidars, we could always escape college and drink a beer or two! Those were the normal sixties. Our obsession with India, and Kashmir in particular had not yet attained the OCD category (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Of course, there had been a couple of wars between the two neighbours – but it ended there. We still heard All India Radio to satisfy our lust for music and watched Indian films with zeal. Yet India was the bad guy – so our media said. The 9 O’ clock news never let us forget that! And we believed it – to an extent. Women in the family made special shopping trips to Bombay just before weddings in the family – and returned loaded with fine silks and brocades and jewellery that the brides wore on their big day – yet India was the bad guy – so the media said – Amen!
In the mid-seventies I left for Europe to pursue higher studies in my chosen vocation. And lo and behold – who did I have to share a room with – an Indian! My family feared for my life once they received this news. My grandmother added extra prayers for me , in addition to the five that she would normally go through. I say ‘go through’ for a reason – for my grandmother gave instructions and orders to servants and us while she was praying – for some reason she was at her ordering best during prayers! Anyway, back to my Indian roommate. As far as I was concerned, Shiva (my Indian roommate) could have been an alien from another planet. I was suddenly exposed to a culture I was not aware of – all the various Gods and Goddesses Shiva prayed to – and here was I who was told only pagans did that. Shiva came from a family of distinguished civil servants – his aunts were all doctors or engineers – I wondered how such highly educated people could be pagans. It was much later that I found out from Shiva that all the deities are manifestations of the same One God that we also prayed to. I questioned the validity of what one had been taught – that we the Muslims are the Believers and the rest are non-believers. It did not make sense – because everybody believes in something or the other – and that made everybody a believer. The rest was simple.
The Lahore I returned to in the late eighties was a different city from the one I had grown up in. I had been away for fifteen years – apart from my annual vacations in the city I love most. During this time, I had worked for multinationals in UK and also the US and had been exposed to different cultures – beginning with Shiva! The Lahore I came back to was not the relaxed, laid back city – it had been through Ziaism and the effects were visible. School curriculum had changed. It was shocking to see my nephew study Geography of Islamic countries in Grade 8. There was this massive geographical black-out called India. Kids had no clue about the geography of the region they were in – they knew more about the geography of Saudi Arabia than about India or Nepal or Bhutan. The Indian sub-continent, as we had always referred to the sub-continent, was now being referred to as Indo-Pak sub-continent! Why leave the rest of the nations in the sub-continent? Why not call it Indo-Pak-Bangla-Nepal-Bhutan sub-continent!! The rest of the world was on first name basis with its leaders – Churchill, Roosevelt, Nehru, Gandhi but in Pakistan the kids could only refer to Jinnah as the Qaid-e-Azam. It was considered almost blasphemous not to do so. The nation seemed focused on non-issues but for a small group of progressive thinkers. India was high on the hate-agenda, but we still couldn’t let go of it – we still wanted its music, films, jewellery, saris, brocades, and, we still wanted to play cricket with each other – and what’s more our local maulvi still recites holy verses set in tune to old Indian film songs. That’s India for us.
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