By Zulfikar Manto:
Editor’s Note: Asif Nawaz, a Pakistani blogger, had recently written an open letter on how Pakistani actors don’t need Bollywood to become famous, in response to calls to boycott Pakistani actors. The following article is written in reflection to that open letter.
Dear Pakistani who sends us love,
This letter is not meant to be a reply to your open letter but a mere addition to the arguments you’ve made.
In your letter you’ve pointed out how Indian producers hire Pakistani actors because of purely economic motivations. No disagreement there; as a part of two capitalist economies, we are all led by considerations of financial gain.
What you did not mention is the non-economic benefit India gets by having Fawad Khan act in our movies. When ignorant people like me watch “Khoobsurat” or “Kapoor And Sons,” and see Fawad Khan speaking Hindi (or should I say Urdu) naturally, they get to know how culturally similar we are to our ‘enemy’. They know that the people across the man-made line, look like us, talk like us and are not too different from us. The narrative of differences between India and Pakistan becomes much less convincing and we feel a sense of oneness with our neighbours.
You also mentioned how India is at par with, if not worse than Pakistan in blocking content from the neighbouring country. Again, I can’t agree more with you. That, however, just tells us that we are both equally bad not how bad we both are. Every time there is a ceasefire violation or any event faintly related to the army, news channels on both sides have very different representations for the same. But for the internet, one hardly has a clue that those across the border hear an altogether different narration of the same event. Needless to say, political actors on both sides have exploited the lack of communication to boost their propaganda.
I think that in the wonderful letter you wrote, there is one essential argument you missed. While you’ve wonderfully justified that both nations are competing in letting each other down and restricting the flow of information and talent across the border, you fell short of mentioning the harm this insanity is doing to both countries. Most Indians are unaware of how similar Pakistanis are to Indians and hate them to the core of their hearts, and I’m sure the situation wouldn’t be different at your end either.
I will not comment on what’s happening in Kashmir or Balochistan, not because I feel it’s none of my business, but because I am afraid neither of us have the requisite background to discuss that. Also, while we do have political differences and carry a huge baggage of the partition and the successive wars, we also do have a common lot of history, culture and language. Despite 69 years of isolation from each other, we still speak the same language, have similar food and traditions.
I agree that Fawad Khan does not need Bollywood to be a star, but I will emphasise that Bollywood needs Fawad Khan. Your music industry might be second to none but you still need Shilpa Rao in Coke Studio. We need this cultural exchange to establish the fact that while the political actors discuss (or argue over) the political differences, the common man on the two sides of the fence are not enemies. It is this cultural exchange that keeps us united in vulnerable times such as these. You correctly pointed out that just as Adnan Sami and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan have found admiration in India, Shreya Ghoshal and Nandita Das have been appreciated in Pakistan. Let us pledge to take this legacy forward irrespective of which way diplomatic relations between the countries go.
Just as you’ve invited our misled friend to Pakistan, I invite you to my city, Delhi. I’ll really feel privileged to show you around here, especially ‘purani Dilli’ (old Delhi), which you will find astonishingly similar to old Lahore. Till then, I have started learning to read the Persian script used for Urdu. Want to reciprocate by learning the Devanagari script for Hindi?
Lots of love for my neighbours,