The first time I heard the word ‘Pakistan’ being flung like a slur was when I was barely old enough to comprehend its import. Still in the sub-10 age group, I had only a hazy idea about the globe. A kindly neighbour was shouting that my dad (and by association, all of us) should be packed off to Pakistan… wherever that was. I looked at dad for some clarity, he was disturbed but didn’t respond. He let my innocence live on, until another day.
I was in college when a classmate asked me curiously, “Where are you from?” I gave my usual response: My parents are from North Karnataka, I was born here. “No, ACTUALLY from,” she insisted. “Aren’t you supposed to be from Pakistan side or something?” I was taken aback. Where was I from? Ulan Bator? The Hyrcanian deserts? Those were the Babri days, when the atmosphere was just beginning to go sour. We were growing conscious of a divide and identity, an alien concept on our cloistered, secular campuses.
The girl who popped the question is still an FB friend, settled on foreign shores. Most of her family members, even then hankering after NRI status, are now green card-carrying members of the American polity. Whither nationalism? But that’s just an update.
During Indo-Pak matches, I know that I have been keenly watched to see who I cheer, sorely tempting me to act perverse and back the ‘enemy team’. So there! Though I am unapologetic about my long-term unabashed crush on Captain Imran Khan. Now that he is Prime Minister, have I just committed some sort of treason, I wonder? If I cheer the English team, will I be accused of being an anti-national or an Anglophile? Or will it be dismissed as a colonial hangover?
This Pakistan link has constantly confounded me, but we have come a long way from those subtler times. To our generation, Pakistan is a part of history, and geography. Now, quite suddenly, it is being thrown into our faces, bandied about in daily conversations. TV anchors are blabbering about it, activists are shouting slogans, and those who ‘disagree’ with anything at all are threatened with expulsion -- as if Pakistan is everyone’s collective ‘maykaa’, and India a ‘sasuraal’. I do think that Pakistan has, in all its years of existence, never got this much importance.
Today, the social atmosphere is much worse, with in-the-face aggro and venomous skirmishes on Facebook. Somewhere along the way, you find your voice and your pen. But I realise I’ve fallen, willy-nilly, into the trap, when I found myself advising my young son, giving his board exams, never to reveal his identity while writing compositions and letters in his English and Hindi papers. Use a neutral name, I urged him, you don’t know who is correcting your paper. “But my name is Khan…,” he said, and I completed the dialogue with him. “I know,” I said. You just never know…