Why would a gora want to become Pakistani?
Pagal hai? (is he mad?)
We predicted this line of thinking before we set out working on the show in 2004. This was, in fact, a formula that would work. "George Ka Pakistan" - a young, tall white British man with three months to become a Pakistani. What an absurd idea.
As the producer of this show I sat late into the nights with the director Ismail Jilani, working out why in the world would George become a Pakistani? Surely falling in love makes you do many silly things - and in love he was - with a girl, not necessarily with the land. We, as writers, had the more complicated job of conceiving his love story with Pakistan.
Somehow that wasn't very difficult, and after some short forgettable frustrations, a reciprocal love story evolved between George and his Pakistani audience. Even the then Prime Minister was charmed- and George Fulton was handed an honorary citizenship by the government. Six years on from the show, George chose to have his first baby in Karachi.
But the real story was on the storyboard itself. How were we, the Pakistani writers of the show, to give expression to this identity? What should we celebrate and how much ugliness should we openly accept as being ours? How were we going to make truce with our beloved land that troubled us - the potential of which we admired, the situation of which, we rejected? Emotions run high when the truth is not all beautiful and is witnessed by one who is not our own.
The problem in discussing Pakistan is of both, emotion and content. It's tricky to be Pakistani at this time. The world is not very kind to us and we have succumbed to giving it way too much importance. By doing so, we are now unnecessarily emotional and irrationally consumed by our "image". It has made us stand, uneasily, on the defensive. At a time when criticizing your country makes you unpatriotic and questioning your religion makes you a sinner - how do you describe your relationship with a country that is, to making it a country you wish it were? How does one talk, then, as a Pakistani? How do you say all of this and still remain a part of the national debate?
When you always have to explain that your repeated rendition of pain and criticism is, in fact, an assertion of your love for the land, you know that you have been excluded from the debate on your country. How do you remain relevant when your dreams for your nation do not resonate with the loudest voices you tend to hear? How do you give expression to the continued disappointments that have left you dizzy in the head, unable to fathom a way out of this mess that you are a part of as well? I see so many people, trying to talk about human rights, about equality, about secularism, about the power of the people, wanting a greater space for women and a smaller space for dogmatic religion. But I also hear them repeatedly scorned.
So, without falling prey to the flag-waving, anthem-singing jingoist tales, we helped George see our Pakistan with care. It was a process of learning to love. From the farmers who toiled the lands with bare hands to make one meal a day; students who went to school without a teacher; minorities who have little rights, but celebrate Pakistan's independence day; painters who have been ostracized by the mainstream but acknowledged by the rest of the world; a barber who has worked for decades on the same street; a sufi saint still standing tall against the more radical ideas - all these people explained to George that to "become" a Pakistani means to love it, without demanding anything in return. And surely, love is professed in very different ways.
Is it possible then, for someone else to enter our realm and tell us that we can love, in spite of the problems that we must first honestly accept?
In this today's highly sensitized pace, the ability to debate truthfully is being lost, within Pakistan and between Pakistan and India. With my love for my land so highly politicized by my own, I feel the added burden of the politics that divides me from the audience that I am writing for. It's a moment of deep inner conflict. I am nervous about sharing this very personal and painful love story, and that too with an Indian audience for whom I must dress a different part.
But why must I assume a certain role, only because my audience is the "other"? This culture of false superiority in any India-Pakistan dialogue has isolated those of us who believe in accepting our negativities and our pain as a necessary ingredient to our love. For as long as we will allow the right wing, macho voices to amplify, we will find ourselves mere spectators of a battlefield. I see this space narrowing in my neighbouring country as well. I saw a glimpse of this in responses to an article in the Guardian (Feb 12) on the endangered freedom of speech in India because some supporters of Shiv Sena decided to wreak havoc in a move against the new Khan film. Indian readers protested against the labeling: "Way to tell off a whole county", "Can you stop calling them Hindus nationalists… they are a bunch of goons"… Here were the secular minded Indians and their secular minded neighbours in Pakistan, sharing a common enemy in the loudmouthed right-wingers and the Western media that is guilty of only choosing to hear that voice.
The dialogue between our two nations will have to move beyond political one-upping and talk openly about the problems we share. Ultimately it is our shared stories of pain, difficult lives, great dreams, hard work, humility and resilience that will have to speak with each other across the border, without the make-up, without the "imaging".
If George could show us the truth about Pakistan, and give and get love in return, could this have worked successfully, if say, he was in fact, Jagjeet? Have our two nations matured to withstand a show called Aliya Ka India? Or would the idea simply trigger another "eyeball-to-eyeball" moment and blow out the aman ki asha?
The writer is an executive producer with Geo TV, currently based in London. This article was written for the Times of India.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
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