HT Brunch Independence Day Special: Midnight’s Grandchildren
What unites the generation of neighbours twice removed from Partition?
The year 1947. A permanent bookmark in the history of the subcontinent. A night of mourning. A morning of hope. Manto’s Mottled Dawn. Nehru’s tryst with destiny. The day that Iqbal wrote of; that Gandhi marched towards. Seventy-one years on, the bookmark is firmly in place. The two nations born that faraway August, separated at birth, have weathered wars and assaults, witnessed violence, enmity and prejudice. But that’s not all we’ve inherited. Somewhere under the debris of modern history lies a shared past. And my generation of 30-somethings, when we want to look for it, finds it with ease.
Remnants of a separation
I recently visited the home of a friend in Delhi. Her Hindu Punjabi grandmother, an army wife in her late 80s, is easy to befriend. The first time I met her, she took her time to process my name and its cultural associations. Now, a few meetings in, she regales me with stories of the Muslim girls from her pre-Partition home in Amritsar. She even sings a schoolgirl verse involving an Id ka chaand and kheer. The remnants of a separation – as the title of a recent book on Partition by Aanchal Malhotra goes – linger in her memory to date. It took just a few chats to dig into her past and find a happy memory of her Muslim neighbours who protected their Hindu friends when there was carnage all around. Political correctness is important. But this kind of deeper acceptance – and willingness to see good in the other – is something else altogether.
We might be a clickbait generation, but it’s not all digital dystopia... I’ve yet to find a peer who’s heard of Coke Studio Pakistan and doesn’t delight in it
It is natural to contrast this with the #TalkToAMuslim mindset. My generation’s eagerness to commodify values. Click to show you’re progressive. Like to show you understand. Tag to show you care. Optics over slow, meaningful, heartfelt change. So many of us have inherited hatred and suspicion. And now is as good a time as any to introspect, question and confront our deepest biases.
We might be a clickbait generation, but it’s not all digital dystopia in here. I’ve yet to find a peer who’s heard anything out of Coke Studio Pakistan and doesn’t delight in it. They recently came out with a new season, setting Faiz’s Hum Dekhenge in a modern, progressive context. It’s great to see old favourites like Abida Parveen and Ali Azmat share space with newer faces, from the cleverly named Mughal-e-Funk, to Naghma and Lucky from the transgender community.
Whether it’s the killing of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer who spoke out against the nation’s brutal blasphemy laws (which new PM Imran Khan endorses) or Qandeel Baloch, the social media star known for her audacity, our neighbours, like us, struggle with right wing agendas and rigid mindsets. So, when the show that rightly proclaims itself to be ‘The Voice of A Nation’ launches a season of diversity and inclusivity, it’s heartening for everyone, not just in Pakistan but the subcontinent at large. “Good fences make good neighbours,” said a character in Frost’s Mending Wall. Luckily, music wafts over these forbidding fences, bringing us news of our neighbours, who look, sound and dream like us.
Imran Khan’s recent election victory launched a million social media posts, ranging from the elated to the wry. One thread that I encountered asked users to elect an imaginary leader out of Indian cricketing heroes. (Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi was a laudable response.) The fantasy of a combined cricket team – comprising of Indians and Pakistanis – is an old and cherished one. I have friends who dream of visiting Pakistan simply to indulge meat fantasies. I myself have a profound attachment to Pakistan’s Hashmi kajal, “for beautifying eyes and making them look tipsy”, as the packaging promises.
Of late, I’ve been receiving misrouted emails from a ride-hailing company, intended for a namesake in Gujranwala, Pakistan. I’m sent specifics about her journeys, mundane details that I’m inordinately interested in, simply because of this name-sharing business. But if this were a namesake in Gujarat rather than Gujranwala, I’d perhaps mark the mails as spam. Somehow, this unknown Rehana, travelling across her city (the birthplace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Google informs me), fills me with curiosity and interest. What does she think about her neighbours across the border? Is she as curious about me as I am about her? Does she wear Hashmi kajal, too? And enjoy Laziza kheer? And did she avail of the free ride to the polling station that the cab company had advertised? Perhaps I should write to her. One grandchild of midnight to another.
From HT Brunch, August 15, 2018
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First Published: Aug 15, 2018 14:22:03