Monday, May 12, 2008

Face to face with the enemy

Every fortnight, I do a two hour cross-London trip to East Ham. Purpose of the trip: procure freshly made dosa batter [maavu]. I don't mind spending two hours closed up in the London tube to enjoy crispy dosas for breakfast (maybe lunch and dinner too!).

Last week, after a tiring day at work (stumbling all day can cause finger cramps!), I decided to set out to East Ham to replenish my dwindling dosa batter supplies. I was lost in thought (as usual) and lost my way as well. I decided to trust my instinct and ask the decent looking twenty-something Indian-looking guy on the road for directions.

Me: Hi there, I seem to be lost. I am looking for Chennai Dosa. Do you know where it is?
One of the highlights of the trip is to treat myself to an Onion Oothappam at Chennai Dosa (a popular south-Indian eatery) before I proceed to buy the dosa batter.
He: Sure. You are walking in the wrong direction. I am going that way, so if you would walk with me, I can get you to Chennai Dosa.
Me: Thanks a lot.
We walk in silence.
He: Why do so many people like Chennai Dosa so much? I have been there couple of times and to be honest, I didn't like that place. Don't you get tired of dosas?
Apparently he didn't know that he was talking to the I-would-do-anything-for-dosa gal. I decided to be polite rather than try to defend dosas and all its goodness.
Me: Aw that's sad. If you don't like dosas, they do have a lot of other stuff too. Try their biriyani or their paratta.
He: [smiles].
Silence.
He: So you're not from East Ham, considering that you got lost trying to find Chennai Dosa?
Me: Oh no, I live on the other side of London, just here to pick some groceries I don't get near my place.
Notice that I didn't mention that I was there with the sole purpose of getting the dosa batter. No use mentioning it to a dosa-hater.
He: Oh, that's quite a journey. Food lover, eh?
Me: Yeah, sort of. [Sheepish grin that I get to use a lot these days]
Silence.

After two minutes I decide that it's my turn to break the silence next.
Me: So where are you from?
He: [Smiles.] What do you think?
He had the typical north Indian look. So I decided to venture a safe guess.
Me: Delhi?
He: No!
Me: Punjab
He: No!
Me: Kashmir?
He: No, but close. [Smiles]
Silence.

Me: I give up. I am from Kerala. Where are you from?
He: I am from Pakistan.

P-A-K-I-S-T-A-N! P-A-K-I-S-T-A-N!

Oh my God did he say P-A-K-I-S-T-A-N?!


I was so taken aback that I stopped walking for a second. It was the first time I was face to face to with someone from Pakistan and to my mind, apparently, Pakistan was a code-word for 'danger'.

The first thought that flashed in my mind was: "Enemy alert. Get away from him ASAP!"

I am sure he caught a glimpse of the fear, anger and hatred in my eyes. He looked away and smiled.

He: I have a lot of friends here from Kerala.
Me: I see.
He: Oh here we are.
We were in front of Chennai Dosa.
He: Let me take your leave lady. Enjoy your dosa. [smiles]
Me: [Sheepishly sorry grin]
As I snacked on the crunchy onion rava dosa that day, for the first time, my mind was far away from dosas. I felt guilty and ashamed that the word 'Pakistan' had evoked such visibly strong reactions in me.

Every Indian would identify with this when I say that, from the time I was born, everything I had heard of Pakistan had a negative connotation to it. Partition, a million innocent people losing their lives just so that Muslims can have their own country, Terrorism, Line of Control, Quarrels on Kashmir, Indo-Pak wars, Cricket feuds, Bombings.....it goes on and on. My mind has been slowly conditioned to associate 'Pakistan' with 'all that is bad' and anyone from Pakistan, without any doubt, was my enemy. We get slow doses of this hatred injected into our mind daily through newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, movies, songs, email-forwards and even cartoons and jokes.

I felt ashamed that these feelings were so deep-routed in me. Weren't there innocent people living in Pakistan as well? In between all the negative thoughts, we fail to remember these human beings who get branded as 'Bad' or 'Terrorists' or 'Enemy' just because he/she is from Pakistan. Will we ever be able to think of Pakistanis as our friends, considering that we have been slowly brain-washed to think otherwise?

I had a lot of questions in my mind when I watched the movie Earth by Deepa Mehta, where best friends kill each other in the name of religion and lust. I doubted whether religion was a strong enough drug to kill one's best-friends. After the way I found myself reacting at the mere presence of a Pakistani, I have no more doubts. And it's scary.

46 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes this is called brain washing - the politicians do this every day.

The xenophobia is wide spread for these guys to make their living !!

We carry these indoctrination for the rest of our life and find it difficult to reconcile when reality can be different.

Me said...

I don’t remember the first person I met from Pakistan so I think I didn't feel that way at least that is what I think of it right now. During two years of grad school I ate only at a Pakistani restaurant not that it was the best but it was the only one accessible by foot and I lived without a car in a city with no public transportation. The restaurant had the best Parathas.

Coming to Dosa…I am big time Dosa fan. I live on dosas. I used to drive 40 miles to get the best dosa in town. In fact every time I go to any Indian restaurant I don’t even look in to the menu, I order Masala Dosa. I am the guy who asks the doctor whether I can eat dosa when the doctor advises to eat bread.

- I would do anything for a Dosa guy

kavi said...

surprising that you met a pakistani now only. any way nice thoughts

Deliberately Thoughtless said...

Hey Priya.. nice to hear from you.. how did you get in to my blog? Kannan gave you the link?

About your blog.. I too had the same imrpession about Pakistanis.. but I had numerous incidents when Indians turned away, and Pakis came to my help.. and now, I have close contacts with many Pakis.. I find that they are really good.. they respect women and elders a lot.. Well, many of them.. or rather, most whom I know.. there will be others too, like we have there in our own Thrissur....

Hari said...

The Paki-reaction comes naturally to almost every Indian! It's a more natural reaction engraved into our quintessentially-Indian psyche. Sad, but true. I might have reacted in the same way, or a notch worse, for that matter; had I been you!

Interestingly, the Paki-guy was courteous to you when you, ostensibly an Indian-Mallu, asked him the way, right? ;-)

Touche!

Nikhil Narayanan said...

Leave Pakistanis.
Whenever I meet some Muslim with long beard, and a cap, for a moment I am like "God! Is he part of Osama's gang"(I am being brutally honest)
Our brains have been tuned to think that ways.
May be things will change for good.

-Nikhil
PS: You go watch Khuda Ke Liye ;)
Athu paranjappol alle, ennod ith vayikkan paranje :)

JUNOGEORGE said...

hey priya....i got ur link from ajith..ur way of expressions r nice especially this cross boarder realtion...hope u would write some mind blowing paras...i am also from trissur....

Admiral Fagin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Admiral Fagin said...

Sometimes, I think we are programmed to stereotype people. Anyone from warrangal is a naxal to me, anyone from tamil nadu is a pandi to me and anyone from North India is a vadakkan to me. When I have these in my mind I do not wonder why I think every Pakistani is a terrorist.

Girl With Big Eyes said...

Anon,
Smattering of a Big Brother life, eh?
Scary!

Me,
Congratulations. The brainwashing efforts were futile on you!
Or is it because your love for the food, suppressed your other emotions against them? :P
@"....The restaurant has the best Parathas"

lol@asking doc about dosa diet! :)

Kavi,
Surprising for me, after seeing that almost everyone else have already encountered this before.

DT
There are other ways to get to a blog too :)
Not through Kannan, that's for sure.

Surprised to hear that are a lot of Pakis in Thrissur. How?
Glad to hear about your good experiences with them too.

Hari
Thank you. Glad to meet someone who feels the same! :)
I guess, the Paki guy, must have already overcome these feelings - note that he has a lot of mallu friends. Not surprised about that as we mallus are everywhere :)

Nik
Ditto to when I meet a bearded muslim guy with a knapsack in the tube! I have even waited for the next tube to avoid travelling with them - god forbid if he had a homemade bomb in his bag! I would rather be late for work, than reach heaven (optimistic) quite early.

Juno
Good to see you here Juno. Glad to see a fellow-Thrissurian :)

Admiral F
True. I guess these stereotypes are slowly shattered once you get to know them better and realise how grossly you had misjudged them.

Admiral Fagin said...

I would say 99% of the people are good and paying the price of getting stereotyped because of the rest 1%.

For example, when I come back from city to IIMK late in the night, I think ten times before I give a lift to a stranger. I know most people are good but the 1% make me take a decision against the 99%.

flaashgordon said...

Interesting one...


Here in Tokyo where i'm now, we had a ward office Japanese class, where we met this Pakistani couple during our farewell function.Then there were some cultual pgms where everyone sang songs and they decided to sing a song which goes "Jiyo jiyo Pakistan" ..Somehow when they were singing tht, we Indians there felt a boiling anger inside -definitely we were all uncomofrtable hearing it and couldnt understand why -
Well, on hindsight its just our conditioning, prob we hear something such only when India is playin in Pakistan and losing !!!

Ramkumar R. Aiyengar said...

Being a fellow Londoner from Chennai, yes, I could quite relate to that! Gave a similar sort of a reaction when the Afghani at the Cost Cutter nearby saw me and asked, "India? (struggling with his Hindi) Aap-ka naam kyaa hai!", and my inner mind spoke out.. "Err.. why the hell is he asking me!". Thankfully, I soon realised that he was only a nice garrulous chap. I think that's one great thing about living in a Cosmopolitan city. The interactions with all kinds of people does teach you a few valuable lessons!

PS: Ever tried the Rava Dosa at Vasantha Bhavan down that road? They are really delicious! :D

Yash said...

i dont think politicians have anything to do with it.
Its just that with what has gone on in between the 2 countries till now..No one can really put it out of their heads.
PLus the whole issue of propagated terrorism in our country.
So for us Pakistani's have become a stereotype from a Sunny Deol movie. (Like Rednecks or hillbillies)

Anonymous said...

The initial trepidation leading to clear fear followed by sharp anger is not so uncommon considering we Indians have been 'conditioned' (mostly by the media) to react so since our formative years...I can't remember hearing or reading anything positive about our neighbours till I grew upto the age when I started questioning 'everything'..Having said that, I'm not sure if you realise this but it works exactly the same way across the border too.

However, my personal experiences with anything to do with Pakistan have been nothing short of great..My neighbourhood provisions store owner is extremely polite and door delivers with a smile anytime we buy heavy stuff, my barber (and i always thought the Trichy guy was irreplaceable in my life) completely regales me with amusing stories for the 30 odd mts I spend there and one of my best friend's partner in the US is a Paki from Karachi and he is as gentlemanly as it gets.

..and yes, Atif Aslam and the Paki women rock too !!

- A pandi called Jupe

ps: With India playing pathetically in the 1992 cricket world cup, I remember being the only guy in my street to support Pakistan through the tournament till they lifted the Cup.

Avik said...

Well, I beg to differ in this context. I admit Indian media becomes jingoistic in times of conflicts and any terrorist incident. But any other time (like coverage of the recent election or indo-pak series) the portrayal of average pakistani is very positive. In fact I am quite bored of anecdotes of the famous mehman-nawazi in Lahore and Karachi... maybe because of this, I don't have any kind of 'dangerous/enemy' perception about Pakistani people. Though I haven't met one so far. Maybe someday...
Anyway, these are just my thoughts and looks like I'm different from many others in my country...
BTW, nice post... :)

silverine said...

Very frank post! Me too get feelings like what Nikhil has mentioned...its awful I know...:(

Deliberately Thoughtless said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
themidnightspecial said...

Nice... and agree.

Super graphic.

T.O.

indicaspecies said...

Kashmir is closer to Pakistan than Kerala..yea. :)

Xenophobia is partly the reason. Before I left India, perhaps I had an inkling of such a feeling but thankfully not anymore. Having travelled around the world, and being abroad for quite a few years, I have understood the need for better understanding of humanit. I have now friends of at least ten nationalities and that includes Pakistanis too. That's why I call myself an Indian national, and a citizen of the world.

I admire you for voicing out your feelings so candidly. :)

Aybuk Hiawog said...

I know the first emotion you felt, "Enemy alert. Get away from him ASAP!". Get it all the time when I see a politician. Haven't met a Pakistani in real life, yet. But I do smile at some people I hate, bet you anything that a normal Pakistani wouldn't be as bad. ;-)
Have you thought what he must have thought? Considering there would be more Indians and not all of them would be open minded, I am guessing he would be used to people flinching when they hear he is from Pakistan. I think you were lucky to meet him, but what about him?

Viajero said...

How I wish for an undivided Hindustan like it was before independence :(

Vimal alias khan , IIM Kozhikode said...

Its an amazing post...U r just a representative of a vast majority of us who have been inadvertently taught by various elements of society to stereotype n brand people and things happening around. Great of u to express ur feelings frankly.

Meanwhile, nice blog u ve. I like the way u find meanings for the small small things n incidents in life, tats wat makes the life beautiful.

Got ur blog link from Ajith. N we have many things in common - Komrades from K, Media Cell members, Fellow Thrissurians , Bloggers ( Though i m a novice!!! ):)

Keep writing, Keep in touch..

Nikhil Narayanan said...

Aah!! One more terror attack.
Sure shot ISI hand like always...
How I wish I could change my opinion after reading you post.

~==[[[ Abhi ]]]==~ said...

It was surprising to know that you hadn't met any Paki's till now, even after being in UK. I believe that a good percentage of Indian's fall into the category which has HATRED in their mind when we think about a Pakistani, No matter how many Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan's or Atif Aslam's sing for us. It might be a bit more in me because i happen to come from a family with my granddad n dad worked in the military. You should hear them talk about Paki's, they really make your blood boil with rage against any paki. We should just expect them to think about us the same way too. But when my dad went for a foreign mission all that hatred changed, he said that Indian's n the Paki soldiers are the best of friends outside the battlefields, because the common laguage. :)

Good descriptions, at first i thoguth u'll be telling about some Thairusaadam pattar u met in the Dosa Restaurant. :)

TheZion said...

It is not just people in india a brain washed also the muslims in here are turned to support pakistan.

I remember a incident during my 9th or 10th standard school vacations visiting my uncle in bangalore and i with my cousin went to buy few things in market near buy and on our way we stopped by a shop to watch a India-Pakistan match and when sachin hit a boundary my cousin and me clapped and everyone around stared at us as though we made a mistake.

Then we realised we are in a muslim dominated region ,,i still remember how fast we ran back to house to escape from there,none did anything to us or followed us but the stare was all enough for us to run back!!!

that really showed how we have pushed them to a corner to hate us so much,,,

i still agree still in many places there are people we friendly with everyone.But we have to agree that these kind of places also still exist.

chaos said...

I think I would have reacted the same way ...but again thinking of it ... had he said the city name and then added Pakistan... i think my reactions would have been much relaxed ... its something in the word Pakistan that has been embedded in us :)

Girl With Big Eyes said...

Admiral F,
You gotta live with all the burdens of belonging to a society, be it an Indian or a Pakistani!

Flashgordon,
I can visualise the situation, and if I were in your shoes, I would have tried to end the song with a strong 'Jai Hind' :)
It's the patriotism rearing its naughty head to remind us of our allegiance to Mother India and we do things to prove it to ourselves. At least I do!

Ramkumar,
Next stop - Vasantha Bhavan! Thanks for the tip.
Yup, you do get to meet and mingle with people of all types!
On hindsight, I wish I had made friends with that guy in East Ham.

Yash,
Yup, it's been always there. The media can glorify the bus-service to Lahore and the numerous peace talks that crumble better than a Flake choco-bar, but what lies inside us was hammerred in quite deep. It will take a while for that to change.

Jupe,
So many people have been leaving comments of having met great Pakistanis that I feel like the odd one out here! I am going to embark on Mission Pakistan - make friends with the enemy :)
Glad that you didn't support them when they lifted the cup!

Girl With Big Eyes said...

Avik,
Good to hear that you don't feel the same way. Hopefully, the next time I meet one of them, I'd smile and try to make amends.

Silverine,
I wonder what the victimised Muslims feel like - they must hate it everytime someone looks at them in the strange are-you-carrying-a-bomb sort of way.

Midnightspecial,
Howdy!

Indicaspecies,
Great going. I hope I get to that place you are in soon.

Aybuk hiawog,
I thought about that too after that incident, and I suspect that he has already overcome these feelings inside him, if any, and has come to accept Indians as just another group to share this lovely planet with. His smile said it all. I felt so small then.

Viajero,
Me too :(
Gandhiji would have been with us for some more time then. And we would have had the best cricket team in the world!

Vimal,
I believe we've met on the blogosphere before. I remember you - which is a big thing for me - considering that my brain attributes lowest priority to remembering people in spite of all my efforts.
Good to see you here.
Hope you got the media cell flag flying high!

Nikhil,
:(
Now that you mention it, almost all our neighbouring countries were in news recently and that too for things not to be merry about, right?
It's either terrorism, or the heightened oppression of monarchy or the Olympic torch fiasco or a politicised natural disaster....
Looks like it's Sani-dasa for India and her neighbours!

Girl With Big Eyes said...

Abhi,
I think I may have met Pakistanis, I have been to Paki restaurants etc etc, but it makes a difference when you trust someone thinking that he/she is a fellow-Indian [all Indians are my brothers and sisters :) ] and suddenly you hear that he/she is from Pakistan!

I guess your grandad and dad would have been trained in the military to talk the language! Know the Enemy 101 :)

Thezion,
That was scary. No wonder you ran away! I would have done the same too. These things affect us so much - especially children. Not to mention that regular Hindu-muslim riots that has been so much a part of our lives in India that it doesn't get a mention in the front page of newspapers anymore.

Chaos,
You nailed it. If he had said, "I am from Lahore", I may have reacted differently.

Mavron said...

this is a very honest post. pakistan definitely has a negetive connotation to an indian mind. but wat we need to understand is that it's a two way thing.d same happens there,normal ppl live, go to colleges, eat,get jobs, hav families, and are cruelly manipulated by vested interests of d political clout.i hope nw things wud b diff for u, cuz u met a potentially harmless pakistani :)

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

I am amazed to see so many people nod in agreement to this post and call it honest! Honesty is no excuse for stupidity! What is this conditioning you all talk about? I spent 20 years growing up in India and never felt any kind of hostility towards a Pakistani (Paki is a derogatory term, btw) or a muslim carrying a knapsack. WTF are all of you smoking?

Girl With Big Eyes said...

Mavron,
Agreed.

Girl from Ipanema,
Glad to hear that you feel different. I don't get your point though - nobody here feels 'hostile' towards a Pakistani. Everybody agrees about the media's projection on our neighbour, which has led to an grossly incorrect image in our minds.
Just wondering why the 20 years of growing up in India amidst the Indo-pak wars and the terrorism and the scores of innocents killed at the LoC didn't affect you.

I maybe stupid, but that's how I felt and there's no changing it.

I wish I could attribute all my faults to stupidity! :P

Anonymous said...

Ask the pakistani how he feels about terrorism. After an initial random answer, he will start to justify and will talk about middle east problems as the main cause.
I have had many pakistani friends and when you get close to them, you realize that about 60% of them honestly believe that islam is the only god-made religion.
This comes from indoctrination from a very young age; This can be neutralized by honest dialogues with younger pakistanis.
and of course, buy them a dosa.....

Macadamia The Nut said...

I started out laughing at your post... But then BAM! the point was driven across. If funny isn't it how prejudiced we are at times thought we don't quite realise it?

For me its always been the ummm.. how to sound politically correct here? Black Americans. I have many friends and yet, each time a particularly rowdy one advances towards me in a mall I close my eyes and cringe, waiting for the first blow.

Maybe its the once bitten twice shy factor.. and then again maybe not..

Bleddy naansense!

Girl With Big Eyes said...

Anon,
Waiting to go on a dosa date with our neighbour! :)

MTN,
Good to see that you got the drift. Cause some others have completely completely sidelined the message.
The counterpart of the Black American for me here is a teenage gang hanging around in the street.

shekhar said...

Its not ur fault that u reacted that way..We are fed with so many negative thoughts that we tend to think negatively..But still if keep trying and focus on the positives, we may definnitely get along well despite this hate politics..

Girl With Big Eyes said...

Agreed. Exactly what I am tried to do after the incident.

praveen said...

Hi,

Blog hopped and reached here ;)

I was never brought up in India so I guess I never actually felt that sentiment but after watching enough anti-Pak Hindi movies, I guess I could gauge how senti's would be.

Btw, I'm a i'll-do-anything for sweet appam girl ;)

Regards,
Praveen R.

Girl With Big Eyes said...

Welcome to GWBE's little space!

I am glad to see someone (brought up outside India) feel this way. Comments from similar others made me feel as if I was committing a hate-crime by admitting to my feelings and that I had no right to feel what I felt.

I hope that made sense to you. Now that I read it again, it sounds a little silly - but too lazy to edit it.

What's sweet appam? Are you talking about modak? Yum yum....

juan said...

you should try their music. my favourite bands are from Pakistan - Call, Noori, Entity paradigm, Junoon, Fuzon
used to like Jal and Atif Aslam (latter is now a sell out in Bollywood :| )
then of course, nusrat fateh ali khan.

you know, people should listen to more music and watch less TV and read less newspapers...

oh and the only indian band i really like is Avial, from Kerala :)

Girl With Big Eyes said...

AZ,
I love the music. I like your idea of watching less TV and listening more music :)

btw, I like Arth too :)

Ali said...

:)
Well i am really impressed after reading all these comments from you fellows. First let me introduce myself as i came accidently on the page while searching for some pictures to finish my presentation:)
My name is Ali and i am a Pakistani livig in UK.
About the topic, Why we have reached a dead end? and waht was the reason for all this hatred in between Indo-Pak relations is itself a debateable issue. Lots of water has been passed under the bridges by now but still we are standing in the hope that somebody will come one day and fix everything for us. What we need to understant is, how we can contribute individually to make this world a better place for living. A world without strife, wars, or crime? This may seem like a far fetched idea, but every idea has a humble beginning :) isn'ay ??
The way ahead of us, the two peoples in my views, is quite clear and obvious. Having analyzed and learnt the negative and dangerous aspects of the situation in Indo-Pak relations let us now move forward, sure-footedly, and on positive lines, to lay down the steps that are required to ensure the fruitful results of our honest endeavor.
I believe the challenge for us to reinvent the future lies in building our policies by basing them on a hope :)
we should concentrate on developing a culture based on tolerance, mutual understanding and co-operation and on the principles of liberty, creatively and fraternity, by bringing out the best in man and making all-out efforts to establish humane and fruitful societies in the world. Culture and civilization(which is almost common in both countries) are the two most valuable end products of human efforsts. Greatness and progress of a nation depend upon the advancement achieved in these fields. The main factor that contributes to greatness and progress, sustained throughout history, can be described as openness, creativity, variety and the spirit of tolerance. Civilization thrives and greatness grows with the clash of ideas and the convergence of diverse influences, knowledge, viewpoints and the various cultures. For all these to develop, an environment of peace and friendliness and an atmosphere of understanding is required, but for the creation of which dialogue, not confrontation, is the basic tool.

So let us stand up, and get ourselves counted, as the torchbearers of such creative and revolutionary endeavor.

Keep smiling :)


Regards,


ALI.

Girl With Big Eyes said...

Ali,
Honoured to see your comment in here! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and am glad that you didn't misinterpret the situation like a lot of people did.
Cheers!

JaLpArI said...

I was lukim for a pic.. and google brought me to ur blog!!!! and wow!! what a blog....:) :)
i've added a link to this post in my last blog entry... i hope you don't mind.... just in case, you don't want me to... plz.. tel me.. i'll remove it....
though, i think it wudn harm :) :) :)
will it??/:D

JaLpArI said...

http://almasshamim.blogspot.com/2008/12/dont-cross-border.html
i've linked you here....