KARACHI: He licked his index finger as he turned the pages of my passport. He had to merely stamp the page to say that I had returned home to Mumbai.
The man at the immigration desk seemed to be in no hurry. He looked up at me over his gold-rimmed glasses and asked, “Who is in Pakistan?” That had not been my destination, so I could not comprehend his query. “Do you know people there?” he persisted.
“You made so many trips...”
“London, too,” I said.
“So, how is Pakistan?” He enunciated the name, loud and clear.
“Tell me, good or bad or what?”
He was humouring me, his lower lip, pink and wet, against his dark skin glistening with summer heat. Confusion would have turned to anger. I was in my country with my blue passport, three booklets pinned together.
“They are really like us only?”
“No. Worse,” I said.
His paradigm had no place for worse or better. It was either good or bad. Gun or lollipop. My name is whatever and I am not a terrorist. He stamped the page and, from his high seat, motioned with his head that I could go.
This had never happened before.
It shows that a Pakistani connection married to elitism is anathema. My thick passport that ought to have been a sign of globalism reduced me to a pampered poodle stretching at the leash.
I could imagine the immigration officer in the auditorium watching the utter humiliation of a Bollywood star made to grovel for approval by the ice-candy man, Karan Johar. I can see those pink wet lips smiling as he sees the awkward walk and the man going down on his knees out in the open because he has to pray. Religion is placed prominently in the narrative of My Name is Khan.
While my immigration officer would have stood for an autograph for Shahrukh Khan, he would not have let Rizwan Khan past his eagle eye. Rizwan, who cannot sell lotions and face creams, is made to sell the Muslim moderate. The story uses disability as a device to cunningly convey fake innocence.
Beneath the ostensible garb of post 9/11’s continual angst lurks a more real danger that seeks to heighten the uncomfortable relationship between Indian and Pakistani Muslims. We have reached such a stage that each time an Indian Muslim bats straight, creates award-winning music, or says something secular, there is jubilation. Intellectuals gather along with maulanas to applaud that we were saved in 1947. The idea of a generation far removed from partition, using that event as a yardstick not only to judge another country but one’s own position, raises the question of self-esteem.
Recently, I met a Sindhi family. We got to discussing food and Pakistani cuisine was mentioned. I seemed to have a lot of knowledge, so they asked, “Are you Pakistani?” No, I snapped. They responded, “Oh, but we are…our grandparents were born there and lived there and came to India later. So we qualify as Pakistanis.”
Why were they confident and why was I not? At a discussion Mahesh Bhatt had mentioned that most of his Indian Muslim friends, even the famous ones, tried hard to assert their Indian identify when they were in Pakistan. He turned to me and said, “I suspect you did the same on your visits.” I did, but not as much as I do in my own country. There I was asserting my otherness; here in India I have to assert belongingness. It is all about loving lollipops, is it?