Sunday, January 29, 2006

Familiarity & Contempt

Amit is serving delicious slices of Pakistan on India Uncut.

His are stories of familiar people in familiar places. The subliminal point, we think, is that Pakistanis are not the devils Indians may imagine -- rather, people very much like us.

This is what our peace process through people-to-people contact hopes for. Illusions are dispelled, familiarity is restored and, as Amit might quip, "fun even comes".

Almost too easy, isn't it?

Pakistan is indeed familiar, as though India in a looking glass. Things are similar, but not quite. Here, life writes itself right to left -- small but deliberate mutinies against inherited history and culture subtly clarify one isn't in Kanpur anymore.

These small mutinies are like still-smouldering dust from our own mutual big bang, the partition.

We are amused by the idea that peace will emerge from a renewed familiarity between our people. As though, Amit's slices of Pakistan are an astonishing revelation to most Indians who, inspired by Bollywood kitsch, will revise their rage into a melodramatic epiphany of familiarity.

Unfortunately, reality is reverse. Familiarity with Pakistan is hardly news to Indians and should only generate contempt.

Indians have forever understood our commonality with Pakistanis -- it's Pakistan's birth pangs that denied this. Indian nationalism sought to hold the family together -- it's Pakistan's that sought divorce.

All this inspite of a thousand years of shared spatial and cultural identity.

We were stabbed in the back by our own -- this evil arose amidst our mundane familiarity. It always does, doesn't it, lulling one's senses then beheading our idealism. Yet, Amit desperately seeks normalcy in Karachi as perhaps Daniel Pearl once did -- reminding us of Mirza Ghalib:

humko maaloom hai jannat ki haqeeqat lekin
dil ko khush rakhne ko 'Ghalib' ye khayaal achcha hai

We are being asked to believe a few cricket matches, kababs, and qawwalis will numb our memory of betrayal. Please. This memory is all we've got to protect us from being lulled as some of our best minds evidently are.

The entirely familiar Pakistan stands astride the suffering of the millions dead and displaced by partition. Our problem is hardly a lack of familiarity, rather an acute understanding of the separatist evil that slouched from Karachi, the 1947 capital of the infant Pakistan.

Update: Amit hears from Nitin as well.


cynical nerd said...

PR: You put my thoughts so well. I previously complained privately about his 'love letters' from Lahore (whose suburbs house Jamaat-ud-Daawa).

IMO, he is bit by the Candle Kissers bug. Previous victims of that include Shekar "I'll take care of BJP" Gupta before he got the realiy of terrorism outside J&K. How many more Indians should die before the media elites of this country realize their twisted vision.

Primary Red said...

Thanks, CN.

We consider Amit a friend, but strongly differ on this issue. Hopefully, someday we'll succeed in persuading him to our way of thinking!

Best regards.

cynical nerd said...

PR: Good luck on your endeavor. Meanwhile, the love affair continues here

libertarian said...

PR: brilliant piece. Here's one by Suketu Mehta - he calls it an illicit (and hence fated for a violent end) love. Captures the essence.

The idea is appealing: people like us. At one level this is true - shared culture, language, customs. Individually indistinguishable from North Indians. But is that true beyond that? Can 60 years of being told your roots and genes are from West Asia, that the neighbors are "cunning Hindu banyas", and 60 years of authoritarian rule and being told that Indian muslims are indeed a different nation from "Hindu India create a permanent divide?

A valid reality check is the following: what makes America think India is "people like us" much more than China is? Why does the US feel much less threatened by India than by China? Are shared values far more important than shared history?

Anonymous said...

[libertarian] and [PR] - Very very well put, Amit is definitely being carried away in this new sentiment. A snake is always a snake, it is meant to be trampled and put out of the misery it can cause at the earliest.

Primary Red said...


The questions you raise in your last para are exactly on point. Just as important is to note that such questions are being raised not by religious bigots, but by secular Indians.

Best regards.

Jaffna said...

Primary Red,

Very well put. It surprises me how a brief sojourn in Lahore and Karachi can make an individual so confident that he had understood the politics and culture of the land. But then, everyone is entitled to his or her views.

Nitin said...

Or is it just that Amit is a pragmatic type, and knows what's good for him. :-)

After all, he's out there, while we're sitting safe in our homes.

raven said...

I second Nitin.

Come visit Karachi, you guys. You might even have a good time.

PS: A lot of us were born a few decades after the "separatist evil" the you so despise. So don't blame us for it.

Primary Red said...


Thanks for the invite.

We don't blame the people of Pakistan -- in fact, we wish them the very best.

All we are saying is that this notion of peace through familiarity is invalid -- since our people have plenty familiarity already. That we remain enemies -- President Musharraf's word from Davos -- is a consequence of conflict inspite of familiarity.

Forgetting this is being naive to the extreme.

Pakistan sought and obtained divorce -- OK then, why don't we simply go our own merry ways now?

Best regards.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your statements that familiarity might not lead to peace and the two nations should walk their own merry ways. But I am also anguished and pained by continuing violence in Kashmir. I have lost a friend fighting terrorists in J&k. I constantly hope for violence to end by any means.

Does Secular-Right-India has an opinion on Kashmir Issue. I did not go through all your previous posts and may be you already have documented your opinion on this topic.

libertarian said...

raven: the Partition was a messy and incomplete divorce (to use PR's term). There was finality, but little closure. That it still a gaping wound is clear from the sentiments you see expressed. Which makes wondering what might have been understandable.

The original point though, that parlaying cultural familiarity into a workable political solution is flawed, stands.

Primary Red said...


For a sample of our position on Kashmir, please see:

Best regards

Jaffna said...


This is not fair. Some of us have traveled to Pakistan several times and that too outside the Islamabad-Lahore-Karachi circuit. One has to work on a country to truly know it. A passing visit to cover a cricket match and have tea with journalists does not quite do it.

shrik said...

For all his "spread the love and joy" messagerie, Amit still momentarily became a Muslim [Scroll to end of post]. So yes. Pragmatic Type. Knows what's good for him :)

Nitin said...


My comment was only half serious. I agree with you: one's perception of a place gets better with hands-on familiarity and personal interaction.

However, save a few honourable exceptions, most news reports are filed by itinerant journalists who have little time to get into any depth of understanding. The good journalists find ways to adjust for this by developing local contacts, talking to the right people and research their subject well.

Nitin said...

Here's a post by another Indian journalist on how Pakistan issues visas to journalists who write 'positive stories'.

They probably disallow Nick Kristof from using Pakistani airspace!

Anonymous said...

It's not just shared history ora shared border that makes Pakistanis nice people. They are inherently nice.

Nevertheless, it is realistic and pragmatic to believe that as long as the military calls the shots in Pakistan, that nation itself will remain a threat to India. As with any major organization in any part of the world, the Pakistani military's ultimate unsaid objective is to survive and thrive as itself. In order to do that it needs an enemy to demonize, provoke and constantly spar with. If it didn't do that the people would eventually start thinking that there is peace and would question the necessity of a disproportionately large defense budget.

Now who among Pakistan's neighbors is the obvious candidate for such demoninzing and baiting? Iran? China ? Afghanistan? The niceness of Pakistani people notwithstanding, the surprising openness of Karachi notwithstanding, India remains the nation with which the powerful Pakistani military is vested in not achieving peace.


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