By Nandini Mazumder:
Once upon a time, as a lonely little kid, I imagined a best friend for myself. My first crush happened to be a character from my favourite detective series, “Tintin”. This was followed by a cricketer and then, of course, the heart-throb of millions, Shahrukh Khan, who breaks my heart with each film release (and not in a nice way). As different thoughts were coming in and going out of my mind like passengers getting on and off a train, I was particularly caught up with Mohsin Hamid. I had watched a film based on his novel, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” and fell in love with the main protagonist and his story.
However, when you grow older, you want to go beyond the fictional characters and explore the mind behind the creation of that character and his stories. As I read a collection of essays by Mohsin Hamid, “Discontent and its Civilisations”, I realised I am reading my own thoughts, written in an eloquent style that I would someday like to develop in my own writing. I instantly imagined that Mohsin Hamid is my best friend from across the border.
Like Mohsin, I too, am a citizen of the world deeply in love with it but most of all with this jumbled mess of a mass called South Asia. More specifically with India. Like him, I too dream for a better future for South Asia and my own country, India. I wish for my country to change for the better. To me, India is an idea and I don’t obsess over its boundaries because boundaries are drawn and re-drawn constantly. India, as it presently is shown in government maps, cannot be found in maps before 1947. And even today, depending on where one is, one will see a different India.
Therefore, India, in my mind, is not a land mass or a territory. It is a symbol of where I belong to, my cultural heritage, interacting with several other cultural heritages. At times feuding and at times merging, making a colourful tapestry of thousands of ideas that are contesting and collaborating, striving hard to stay together, building India as their homeland or motherland despite the huge differences with one another.
The idea of India teaches me that our communities speak different languages and all the messages are important. That it is okay to celebrate Durga’s domination over Mahisasur in the feminine good over the masculine evil imagery. Just as much as it is okay to mourn for Mahisasur’s murder as the documented exploitation of tribal and Dalit communities by the upper castes.
That it’s okay to be a Calcuttan and a Delhiite both at the same time, born in a Hindu household and be a beef eater, a fighter in spirit and a poet at heart, a Calcuttan who speaks Punjabi or Gujarati or is a Muslim whose family migrated five generations ago from Uttar Pradesh, to be this and that and so much more.
Like a line from a Walt Whitman poem that my husband is rather fond of, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” Because history and a nation’s narrative cannot leave out anyone, neither the lion nor the hunter. And we as people, as communities, as nations and our humanity, cannot be confined in narrow labels, watershed compartments and one-dimensional definitions.
The India I love, is a microcosm of a larger idea of our shared humanity, our common community, our global village. And when fluidity is allowed, ideas thrive and grow. With rigidity, ideas fall sick and eventually may even perish. I want the idea of India to thrive and grow, just like Hamid hopes for his beloved Pakistan and its future. In fact, the close resemblance and the similarities between the two countries, Pakistan and India make it macabre that the powers be, promote the notion of enmity between the two nations. Pakistan and India are basically twins, bickering like juveniles, giving the rest of the world little amusement and a lot to worry as both nations have nuclear arsenal at the disposal of power-hungry and trigger-happy leaders.
Recently in response to an insurgent attack in the conflict zone called Kashmir, India’s Prime Minister went onto make a ridiculous statement asking Pakistan to fight a war against poverty. While, he made a $58 million deal with a French weapons company, Rafale. In the meantime, his plans to fight poverty in India remain unknown. And some states in India remain worse-off than that of sub-Saharan Africa and our human development index is poorer than that of our poor neighbour, Bangladesh (despite the reportedly better GDP). His campaign team probably tried to give us a heads-up by coming up with the tag line ‘Make In India’, apparently meant for the MNCs in rich western countries, encouraging them to make their money here in India. His fluff is getting worse by the minute and not sure who is buying that crap anymore. Oh, except for those unreasonable and irrational beings known as ‘bhakts’.
To the people of Pakistan and India, it is evident that we stand together and we fall together. Rich countries remain rich or get even more richer, their MNCs, like Rafale, make profits, our crony governments and leaders take their share, over dividing us, over our dead bodies and our bloodshed. Enough of this divide already. I did not pay taxes to buy fighter jets, but for better schools and hospitals for my people. My government disappoints me time and again, just like I am sure yours disappoint you. They misguide us to believe that we are enemies and that we need to fight each other, to what end no one really knows. Whereas, we have understood by now that wars never brought about peace and war for peace is a classic Orwellian oxymoron. To the powers be, stop this threat of war at once.
Having read Mohsin’s thoughts, I know my best friend lives across the border. And I only want the best for him so he can continue to pen down my thoughts. Let my best friend, myself, our families, our communities and our humanity be. So we can continue to think and write for better ideas of Pakistan, India, South Asia, other countries and even for the powers be in Europe and USA. UK has already Brexited and USA has a ‘trump’ card. Probably they can do with some help for thinking straight, documenting these macabre times and penning thoughts for a better future.
And then, instead of finding short-term profits in the business of war, we can make long-term investments in the process of peace, because: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”