“No Ammi, it’s a Mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh,” I corrected my beloved mother, who has in the past taken a few years to even pronounce Akshay Kumar’s name correctly. ‘Ash-kay’ she used to call him. But then all of us Pakistanis tripped over Hrithik Roshan too when he first burst onto the scene. ‘Hir-tik’, he was, even to me. A smatter of uncontaminated Hindi is as problematic to us as getting the Kh and Gh sound right is for most Indians.
The upcoming General Elections result in India on 23 May has become a source of excitement for my entire Pakistani-Canadian family. You can bet that like most Indians, we have consumed hours of TV debates on it, caught up on each Dhruv Rathee YouTube segment; even sighed wishing that Pakistan had its own version of a balanced and rational anchor like Ravish Kumar; there’s even a small bet placed within my family over who shall be crowned the Prime Minister of new India.
Quite obviously, there’s a sense of unease over Narendra Modi becoming the PM again. It may result in: More tensions along the LOC, we will have to bear more news reports on “they started it first” cross-border shelling (the poor public on both ends has no means of ever finding out who initiates this border badtameezi, ever), and witness a more theatrical than ever leg-raising-silly-exercise-cum-ceremony that takes place at the Wagah Attari border like a circus.
All that will, of course, be an after-effect of the calling off of dialogue between the two nations; jao, main tum se katti hoon. But then all those things have been predictably happening repeatedly over the last 72 years too, in the rule of Congress, PMLN, BJP, PPP, whoever.
I think my family’s interest in the results of 23 May is simply an extension of our thrill over the results of Pakistani General Elections of last year, where our man IK took the coveted chair and wore the PM’s sherwani after much struggle. By now, we’ve become acclimatised to rooting for select candidates (my parents are quite fond of Arvind Kejriwal by the way but, ‘They’ are not letting him realise his potential’), discussing each political party’s strategy (over keema and naan there was a dining table conversation that the Congress has made a huge mistake by not forming an alliance with Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati in UP). We also like expressing shock, awe or glee (“bilkul sahi bola”) after each day’s speeches and rallies.
So you see, the wind-up to the results is more or less like the trappings of Bigg Boss for us. Our daily dose of drama, replete with its heroes, heroines, villains and jokers, plus our own emotional investment into the journeys of the actors – erm, I mean South Asian politicians...
Like many Pakistanis, especially those hailing from Karachi, we still have relatives residing in India — 1947 fragmented many Muslim families on ideological differences— so a sweet inquiry on the electoral choices of those “left behind by us” was also conducted. You see the Pakistani hand in Indian elections now, don’t you?
One Indian Muslim family closely tied to us is voting for, lo and behold, the BJP; they appear quite satisfied with the candidate in their city. Hain, say what? Blasphemous for us, you may think, it may even be grounds for us to snip all bandhan with this family right? Hardly so. Although I did wonder loudly if these relatives had added the honorary title of Chowkidaar to their social media profiles.
All is not lost in Narendra Modi though, even if one generally disagrees with his stance towards Pakistan and Pakistanis, one can still find something to appreciate in the personal story of a leader you aren’t terribly thrilled about. There’s a bit of Yin and Yang in all us, at least that is how I tend to process individuals, especially those with whom I don’t share a personal enmity.
However, the main aspect my family and I always root for is the cause of the common man and woman, their upheavals, their aspirations seem to mirror ours — be it an Indian, Pakistani or a Canadian for that matter, because the only working religion in this world is money. It is the slickest divider of humans, and listening to the hopes or problems of the middle class, upper middle class or even the lower class, accessed through on-the-ground election reports, makes one say a silent prayer for them.
Seventy-two years is a long time for some of our people to have been kept away from the basic necessities of life. Elections give them an opportunity to better mould their destiny and results become crucial then to their short- and long-term future.
In observing Sadhvi Pragya Thakur being fielded as a BJP candidate from Bhopal, one however felt reassured that Indians and Pakistanis are cousins after all, handcuffed by the strains of faith that make our worlds go round. The extremists are no longer on the fringes but are important players in the game of democracy. How wonderful.
But by now, you have already read more than two dozen articles on this topic so here’s something else to share” Most Pakistanis aren’t waiting with bated breath to see India crumble along religious lines after the results, but (god forbid) if that happens, many of our forefathers’ souls shall attain moksha.
There is a sort of role reversal at play here too. For years, Indians watched and keenly debated the disastrous fate of a religiously uptight Pakistan, but now that majority of urban Pakistanis have realised, in their hearts at least, the dangers of bending completely to the right — and just as they are trying hard to emerge from the looming shadows of their recent past, India has gone ahead and slipped her foot on the same slope. Told you we were related after all, if not cousins then surely half-brothers, long separated in the steamy fog that marked the summer of ’47.
“Cloudy” weather next door is a sure sign that rains will eventually come lashing at our own gate too. So a troubled neighbour should never be a satisfying sight, but a vision invoking empathy and concern because destruction is never a pretty sight and shouldn’t be wished upon anyone.
After decades of co-existing as neighbours, we need to also upgrade our grammar of referring to each other, the language needs to be free from the emotional injuries of past wars and partition, if we are to progress simultaneously.
So it becomes all the more pertinent, then, that South Asians make peace within the region a vital part of their voting agenda, rather than simply choosing a PM candidate that will give a 'befitting’, ‘crackling slap-like reply’ to its neighbour in times of conflict. Because what have conflicts given us, apart from unrest, uncertainty and dead bodies of poor soldiers on both sides? Talking about maintaining a healthy neighbourhood when circumstances are not conducive, it is now perhaps the right time to indulge in such a practice.
It is in my interest and in the interests of all Pakistanis that India flourishes socially and economically. Similarly, it is in the interests of Indians that Pakistan is on an upward swing from here onwards, after however many hiccups, because that would keep people on both sides occupied with fixing their own lives, pushing their government into repairing roads and hospitals, cleansing society intestinally, with hardly any time left for manufacturing hatred. Then, being disgusted by each other would seem so last century.
On 23 May I shall sit down with my snacks in front of the TV screen, pour a non-alcoholic drink into my glass, and watch with the world the collective decision of India.
But before that happens, let me share what my dadi said after watching an entire interview of Rahul Gandhi on NDTV. After the show ended, she turned around disapprovingly and said, “Baki sab toh theek hai, lekin shaadi nahin kia na issne.” Dhatt teri ki, and we were back to the matter that matters most to brown folks... someone’s marital status.
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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