Sunday, December 14, 2008

where is that line?

ok, let me rephrase. Is there even a line. How should you react to these ghastly incidents that scar not only your pysche but also drive down that a deep hatred which seems to erupt in anonymity? What happened in Mumbai not only leaves us with questions about the relevance of Pakistan in our lives (as Indians) but also the relevance of the normal day Pakistani that you might bump into on the street. Why is there a shadow version of ourselves that tends to bring out the worst in us when hidden in a mob or a group, but as individuals we tend to think differently. I'm sure there must have been a million social experiements done to study this, but why is there no perfect solution to deal with this problem?

I've read and reread many articles on how to hurt Pakistan into waking up to reality without actually firing a single shot, the sort of Cold-War tactics used by the US to hurt a country where it really matters, economically, culturally or even pyschologically. But the thing thats different with the Pakis is this deep rooted feeling of brotherhood some of us Indians feel in times of relative peace with our neighbor. I dont think its a religion thing, its more to do with us wanting to take a higher moral stand, of always wanting to be in peace even during times of pain, of utmost restraint, the same restraint that our Government keeps reminding us, the same restraint the Western World urges us to show. But is the price of restraint worth it?

These questions are meant to be asked because for some of us who arent in the crowd, the anger or restraint we show happens more at a personal level. I've had all these questions running through my mind, because as an Indian in the US, I feel the anger and yet I feel anonymous to the cause. How should I react? Should I even react? The day after the happenings in Mumbai, I was in a cab driven by yes, a Paki. I was with my colleagues, each one with their own immigrant stories but I couldnt expect them to understand how it made me feel sitting in that cab. I sat next to the driver, while he started talking to me about Bollywood and how Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai were in his cab when they visited the city. I just smiled and said nothing, when inside me, all I could feel was the rage of being there. I knew my anger had nothing to do with him as a person, he was just a guy like me, trying to find his way through life. But all I could think of were the dollars I was going to pay him, which would in turn find its way to Pakistan maybe as a family remittance, and who knows might end up in the hands of the same group that sent people to destroy my brethren. After all they are all charities right? Maybe I was being simplistic about the whole thing, or maybe I wasnt. These thoughts made my head spin that I had to ask my colleague for an aspirin in the car. She didnt have one, and so what happens next, yes you must have guessed it, Mr. Cabi hands over a couple of aspirins and asks me to have it. I didnt know whether to feel relieved or even angrier. I just took the escapist route and fell asleep. The next day I left the hotel room, prepared for my presentation and guess what, my client was a Pakistani. I again, didnt know what to do. I had to be professional obviously, so I just kept it that way. No small talk, but we could feel the tension. What made the equation a bit skewed was us being three Indians to him being one. I wouldnt find that surprising though, there are after all a billion of us in this world. Though I always wonder what goes on inside the head of a Pakistani soon after these incidents ( they do happen pretty often) There is one thing I have realized though with my countless experiences with my neighbors. One-on-One they are probably the nicest people in the world. Its when they become bigger than a group of 20, that you start hearing the commentary. In any case we went out for lunch which was more or less in silence except for one colleague of mine who was Chinese and couldnt help himself from talking. Though at some point, my Paki client did mention that his wife was from India. I again didnt know what to say. I just said, Great.

Great? Who says that.

Some of these questions do have answers. Like the way my friends decided not to go to a Pakistani owned theatre or a restaurant. Maybe it doesnt matter to the business, but it did matter as a set of principles for them. Like the way, my friend decided againt buying a pair of gloves though they were perfect, just because they were made in Pakistan. Would it ever add up, I asked them. They said, they didnt care. Its the same petro-dollar argument new energy advocates use here. Less money for the Saudis, less money to blow us up.

They say you cant generalize. Not everyone belongs to the same mob. But isnt the reason we got to this point because we never had a coherent policy on what we should do. We need not hate, but do we need to love? Why shoot ourselves in the foot when almost 100,000 Indian soldiers have died in the Kashmir conflict and yet Atif Aslam signs record deals with Indian music companies. Yes, he didnt kill anyone and yes the soldiers may not have been killed by Pakistanis ( Afghans and Kashmiris also fought in that insurgency) but isnt it better to solve the leakage through one hole before opening up more taps? And note that I havent even started talking about the religion aspect of this entire conflict.

In the end, I think, all of us are just trying to find our way out for ourselves. So that we need not be the ones making that crucial decision whether to cut the umbilical cord or not. In essence though, I think Pakistan has already done so, a long time ago.

That Saturday night, I ended up thinking what my friends said, on my long drive home through the rainy streets of San Jose. Each one made a passionate argument, not on how to deal with this situation, but how they would deal with a normal day Pakistani. To me, it sounded idealistic, because of my own recent interactions. But they made their case and said they would stand by it. I though could only see two sets of images in front of my eyes. One of the chaos on the streets of the city I would swear by anyday and the other of me walking away from the cab, the minute I found out. The problem though, was, one happened and the other didnt.

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Blogger Kartik said...

i hear you man. War is not a solution but all we can do now is to stop pumping their economy!

12:23 PM  
Blogger Suman said...

shiva ..i loved the way u wrote this ..just out of heart .absolutely emotional..and i keep having these debates at home..i have Paki colleague out here and its so difficult to talk to him generically ..i know he didnt play role in the carnage but emotions run high.

12:28 PM  

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