Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hating/loving India

The News, Jan 4, 2009


Hating/loving India

By Omar R. Quraishi

People in this country have a love-hate relationship with India. Amir Khan, Shahrukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan are idolized in Pakistan and the justification – perhaps subconsciously – that they are Muslim. But also admired are people like Sunil Gavaskar, probably because in his commentary on cricket matches he is seen by many Pakistanis as being even-handed. The same goes for someone like Ravi Shastri though less for Navjot Sidhu (who is just plain annoying) and even less for Kapil Dev or Harsha Bhogle.

Then there is the more recent phenomenon of Pakistani cricketers going to play 20/20 cricket in India and doing very well and making a lot of money in the process. In fact, when the Mumbai attacks happened, a couple of them such as Kamran Akmal and Sohail Tanvir, were in Mumbai -- since a T20 tournament was about to begin in early December. According to some reports in the Indian media, it is unlikely that these Pakistani players are going to be playing in any Indian T20 team any time soon --presumably the owners do not want to take the risk of making a costly investment and then seeing it backfire, given the volatile nature of subcontinental sports crowds.

Besides, sports people, many Pakistani musicians and actors have also ventured to India in recent years, lured understandably by its vast market and the fact that the language to a great extent is the same. The musicians have been helped by the fact that India's own contemporary music industry is pretty much non-existent and is dictated more by what's being commissioned by Bollywood music directors than by a mass audience. This is why perhaps in recent years Pakistani bands like Strings and musicians like Atif Aslam and Adnan Sami Khan have achieved major commercial success in India. The latter is in fact a British citizen and has renounced his Pakistani nationality, applying for an Indian one in the process. However, it remains to be seen what happens to his application in the post-Mumbai situation.

For his part though, Adnan Sami has of late become a punching bag (no pun intended, of course) for some in Pakistan who have angrily denounced his decision to renounce his Pakistani citizenship. This comes after the Mumbai attacks and after reports in some Indian newspapers that Adnan Sami was being harassed by certain elements that are either part of or allied with the Hindu right in Mumbai who were demanding that Bollywood directors stop hiring him for playback singing -- since, despite being a British passport holder, he was of Pakistani origin. It remains to be seen what happens to Adnan Sami's case but that of several other musicians is obviously clear for now – their vast market potential in India has come to naught, for now at least. And maybe that is what explains someone like Atif Aslam or Ali Azmat holding a concert in Karachi recently – because after all being professional musicians they have to earn their living.

At the same time, there is a growing chorus, especially seen in the many letters that for instance this newspaper has been receiving since the Mumbai attacks, that people should stop watching Indian television channels and cinemas in Karachi and Lahore and other urban centres should stop showing Indian movies. The reason given is that since Pakistani musicians, artists, actors and even cricketers are apparently no longer welcome in India we should reciprocate in kind and stop watching their shows and movies. This reasoning and logic is however unmistakably flawed because it assumes that Pakistanis who watch Indian movies or television shows not for their own recreation and enjoyment but solely so that the Indian television networks and their Indian sponsors can earn money! Surely, nobody in their right mind would want to watch Dostana merely so that the Indian producer of that film gets his or her money back but because the film got good reviews. This is precisely why similar kinds of campaigns in the past to boycott western goods and services, such as after the invasion of Iraq or Afghanistan and driven by the same misplaced sense of patriotism and narrow-mindedness, have never really worked.

If people love their country then the sensible approach in such a situation is not to provoke the other side into a confrontation that is sure to greatly damage both sides --and this meaning death and destruction on a massive scale --but to calm nerves and tempers and refrain from doing anything that may be perceived as jingoistic. To those who consider such a reaction as a sign of weakness, the answer is that avoiding a war which will kill thousands, if not more, and push back both opponents by decades if not centuries and impoverish millions more is not a sign of weakness or illogic -- it is in fact a sign of having acted with wisdom and courage, especially since the latter is something that is often needed to go against the grain and do something that runs contrary to popular opinion.

In fact, this is the time that we also need to be wary of those (and there are many of them in our midst) who want to use such instances/occasions to act as our moral police --telling us what we should and should not be doing, watching, eating, wearing and so on. In fact that is another reason why war must be avoided because it provides a good staging platform among the particularly conservative, reactionary and retrogressive elements in societies to expand and strengthen their tentacles, especially since hating India (and of course America and other states and societies) is part of their larger project and allows them to come in a position where they are able to impose their ideology, their views and their worldview on the whole population (no wonder the Taliban are so eager to fight along side the Pakistan army in case of war with India!).

The writer is Editorial Pages Editor of The News.


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