Thursday, January 15, 2009

I am a proud Pakistani Lahori in love with Bombay! Shahvar A. Khan, World Press

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Jan 15, 2009: Peace & Harmony News From India and Pakistan & Other Parts of S. Asia

*I am a proud Pakistani Lahori in love with Bombay! Shahvar A. Khan, World Press, Jan 3, /
“Haan boss. Mere ko Bandra jaane ka hai…Carter Road.” (Hey boss, I need to go to Bandra…Carter Road) I nonchalantly told our driver, Aslam, after getting out of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai.
My Lahori advertising colleagues who were accompanying me for this particular ad film shoot seemed quite amazed.“Dude, you sound like a local Bombay guy!”
I just reacted with an offhanded smirk, as I was more interested in lighting that cigarette I had desperately wanted to smoke since taking off from Lahore.
This was almost 8 months ago. Today as I watch the catastrophe and the aftermath of the Mumbai mayhem unravel on TV from my home near Model Town, Lahore, I try to grasp the significance of that phrase: “Local Bombay guy!”
What made me switch involuntarily from my usual Punjabized Lahori Urdu to urban colloquial Bambaya Hindi?
Was it that in these past 6 years, since returning from college in the United States, the most time that I had spent in any place, outside of Lahore, was in Bombay?
Or because some of my closest pals during those four unforgettable years at Trinity College, USA were Mumbaikars? They were the bulk of our relatively small, yet diverse South Asian community, where we were enemies, friends and neighbors all at the same time! Despite maintaining our distinctive national and political ethos as Pakistanis, Indians, Nepalis and Bangladeshis, we were a tightly knit composite ‘desi gang.’ Our camaraderie was so solid that we shared anything and everything under the sun; apart from underwears! And yet we had heated debates and fights on issues ranging from Kashmir to majoritarianism to communalism. Ironically, the last memory that I have of Trinity is of an Indian friend wiping tears off his eyes, while I glanced through t he rear view mirror of the cab taking me to the airport.
Or was the root of my Bombay accent an excessive diet of Bollywood? I remember when most kids watched Mickey Mouse cartoons, I was more engrossed in a Deewar or Sholay!
Perhaps all of the above, but something more!
“So, my sweetheart back home writes to me and wants to know what this gal in Bombay’s got that she hasn’t got. So I just write back to her and say, Nothin’, honey. Only she’s got it here!” Alvah Cecil Bessie
Yes. I am a born and bred proud Pakistani Lahori, who is unapologetically and madly in love with Bombay with no qualms in saying that again and again! Unlike my parents’ generation that was born in the midst of the partition hangover, my Pakistaniat (identity as a Pakistani) is beyond being just ‘anti-India’. After Lahore, Mumbai is my second home, where some of my Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian and Parsi friends live with their families; where I have been welcomed unconditionally, in fact often causing a rift between different aunts and uncles!
“Ali, you have to come straight to our place from the airport,” says a friend’s father.
“Okay, then you must stay with us later and leave for the airport from our place,” rebuts another aunt!
Sitting amongst them, in either their living rooms or sports bars, I have also watched and openly supported my Pakistani cricket heroes during the closest of India-Pakistan cricket matches. By the way, it’s the best feeling in the world watching Pakistan beat India when you are surrounded by Indian fans on Indian soil! However, after all the heated sloganeering and patriotic chanting, we usually always made up instantly and went out to party together at one of those bustling hang out spots at Pali Hill. The characteristic Bombay drizzle brought the temperatures further down!
And this is what I admire most about Bombay. Its charm has managed to even permeate through my “Pakistani” reality, but without offsetting it.
Right-wing engineered riots and innate nationalistic biases aside, the avant-garde cosmopolitan Mumbaikar, in essence, is a relativist — culturally, ethnically and religiously accommodative, despite sometimes being very devout in his personal life. He could even be living in his Marathi, Gujrati, or Muslim neighborhood, but works, eats and hangs out in a diverse gang with relative ease. Multi-cultural and secular, at least in spirit, and increasingly testing his threshold to become one in practice as well. Most young Bombayites I have come across are also not in constant denial of the idea and reality of ‘Pakistan’, in contrast to their predecessors.
“Mere jaise ban jaoge , Jab ishq tumhein ho jayega.” Jagjit Singh (You will become like me, when you fall in love)
Bombay is also the city of my dreams; due to my occupation (advertising) and passions (entertainment, film & music). Undeniably, Mumbai is for the egoistically ambitious - the city of the successful, for the successful. Only two types of people live there: strugglers and stars! It’s the desi New York, where competition is sincerely ruthless and opportunities abound. Only aptitude and performance matter at the end. I have personally experienced that on numerous occasions while working there; once we rejected the daughter of a famous producer after a screen test without taking any unwarranted pressure. Another time, after a session with a famous music director, who was giving me feedback on my music, I thanked him for the help. However, his respons e was blunt: “Ali mian! Remember one thing bro. In this city, no one does any favor for anyone. It’s all business.” This is Bombay for you!
Nevertheless, I am not trying to imply in any sense that Bombay is a utopian paradise completely free of bias, nepotism and corruption. It indeed has all these vices of a typical South Asian city in abundance, but genuine talent and perseverance are characteristics highly valued in Bombay. In a nutshell, the place doesn’t discourage dreamers — rather it challenges the extent of their madness! Perhaps, that is also why Bollywood has wholeheartedly, and without prejudice, embraced a Nusrat/Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Ghulam Ali, Atif Aslam, Shafqat Amanat Ali, Ali Zafar, and recently, Javed Sheikh; all Pakistanis, but gifted.
Mumbai is also the stage where many of my mentors from Guru Dutt to Sahir to Rafi to Javed Akhtar to Prasoon Joshi have realized their dreams and I emulate them as a self-obsessed quixotic! Therefore, I have always felt a sense of spiritual belonging and affinity with Bombay, regardless of my Pakistani nationality. It has been as much mine as any Indian’s and in that sense, I feel, I am a “local Bombay guy”!
“Is Dawood living in Karachi? Have you seen any terrorist camps in Pakistan? Arre, haven’t you always stayed at the Taj or Oberoi?”
These days Mumbai has estranged me. Out of the blue, extraneous, irrelevant and alien questions are being asked by some of my Bombay friends. Queries that would have perhaps made more sense had I been the Pakistani President or the army chief! Unfortunately, I am just an ad man or at most a writer-singer.
Justifiably, for the moment, Mumbai seems anguished, traumatized and hurt. So am I. Yet, while most have been cordial, even my heartfelt commiserations have not gone down well with a few.
The newspaper headlines put it very aptly — “26/11” is indeed India’s 9/11. Since then, the “Musalman” and “Pakistan” factor has again taken precedent over all other things I represent. Once again, I am suddenly the “other”; being clubbed with those that I detest equally, if not more, since not only do they threaten my life through their recurrent suicide attacks in Pakistan, but also the identity of the community I belong to in this world.
“Oye lekin bhaijaan. Ye kya bakwaas hai yaar?” (Oh brother. What the hell is this dude?) Sometimes now, I also feel like retorting back at India in my Lahori accent. Jingoism is a trait found in abundance on both sides of the border. But we can all do without it!
However, I know, this moment will pass. Such spiritless attacks cannot threaten or transform my Bombay and its tolerant soul. India’s ‘secularism’ and Pakistan’s nascent ‘democracy’ will have to weather this storm as well. ‘Patriotism’ now will have to find a new meaning and another enemy. Both Karam Din and Karam Chand (Karam Din is a typical Muslim name, while Karam Chand is a Hindu name) will have to recollect and evoke the horror of 1947 — not to slash each other’s throats again, but to learn from our regrettable history and this time unite against maniacs that want to ‘divide & rule’ us again, whether in the name of ‘world freedom’ or ‘religion.’
While I write, Peshawar and Karachi have recently been engulfed with terrorist attacks and shoot outs. The trauma of the Islamabad Marriot carnage that occurred a few months ago is still lingering. Indian air force planes have “inadvertently” entered Pakistani airspace. Swat Taliban have announced ban on female education from Jan 15. The Pakistani masses remember and laud Benazir Bhutto, allegedly assassinated by extremist forces, on her 1st death anniversary. And Shiv Sena burns Pakistani music Taliban-style.
Nevertheless, according to Facebook, a few friends from New York City are attending Pakistanis Hold Vigil for Mumbai Victims, while I am thinking about Marine Drive and the aura it exudes, especially when you have a view from the Oberoi.
Lahore, for now, is standing by Mumbai.
The writer is an ad man, currently working on his solo music album and a film script. He can be reached at

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