Thank You Mr. Jinnah

Just your average Joe, the writer talks about navigating life through the streets of Australia, getting confused with Indians and things back home.
  • 03 Mar - 09 Mar, 2018
  • Mag The Weekly

There are hardships living overseas, some quite daunting. One such affliction for Pakistanis living in Australia is that you’re forever mistaken for the Indians. Shivers.

We ought to be magnanimous though: this affront affronts only from the Australians, the sort of folks who can’t discern between ‘Gulaab Jaman’ and ‘Garam Masala’, even after tasting them alright.

There’s a key though, I tell them, for if you look close enough, you’ll be able to identify a Pakistani from an Indian: Pakistanis here are often seen mumbling something under their breath, whenever they see Indians going about their usual business. This, on the streets of Melbourne these days, is pretty much all the time, be it while driving, shopping, commuting in public transport, at work or gym, library, university – you name it. It’s like a chant they take on seeing Indians; or rather it’s the chant which takes them over.

My Aussie mates think it’s brilliant. All they have to do now is observe: if an Indian-looking person, sees another Indian-looking person, and appears to mutter something in a hushed undertone, he or she is a Pakistani.

I’ll let you into the secret: that chant is, ‘Thank you Mr. Jinnah!’

It’s the realisation, you see, of what you could have been, a form of enlightenment, a perk of living in Australia, among so many of your neighbouring nation, that you grasp what the Lincoln’s Inn’s barrister has saved you from.

The trouble is that while we choke up to the few anarchists in our backyard we call fanatics, it seems the entire India – every single one of its inhabitants – is a fanatic in their own right. This fanaticism is different. It doesn’t arise from a mosque or a temple, but it does tell you what to wear, how to look, what to love and what to hate, what to dream, who to worship and look up to; it defines what success is, and what failure is. It indoctrinates, it controls, not content with being a sub-culture – it has become the culture; it is behind you, before you and what is in between. And it doesn’t matter who you are, of what age, gender, belief, background, values, or vision, you must dance to ‘Sheila Ki Jawani’.

And it shows! As it turns out, all Indians you get acquainted with eventually emerge as the ‘Bollywood-ized’ version of themselves. I always subscribed to the idea that the Pakistanis somehow have managed to keep themselves spared of this travesty. But no.

It started when a friend, who I like to call ‘Inspector Chulbul Pandey’, insisted I try out the live streaming television, Netflix. Good idea for most parts, but oh-boy I was in for a surprise, too: it has a number of Pakistani films on, released in the five to 10 year period, I have moved out to Australia, rendering me unaware of this revival of the Pollywood, as perhaps the media gurus back home would call it.

Even more surprising were some of the names involved as directors, actors and producers; chaps I’ve known, in some cases quite personally, and worked with. What’s astonishing is how much of a leap they’ve taken from their usual sense, taste, vision, intellectual profile and sophistication while making these films. They wouldn’t bank on assets and hallmarks of Pakistan’s entertainment media, and the nation’s sensitivities in general: Urdu – in all its awe-inspiring glory, the genius of our storylines, acting quality a class in its own and second to none, gazal singing that leaves you inspired for life, and poetry in the likes of Ahmed Faraz, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Qateel Sheefai and Nasir Kazmi.

Our new film-makers, however, have decided we need neither of these things. Instead, what we need is a Bollywood-styled item number. It’s a song, there, in the scheme of things, for absolutely no apparent reason at all, of course involving some loud, up-beat music; frantic, acrobatic dancing – and yes, a woman. She is a sort of centre-piece of everyone’s hopes and desire, dressed to match Mahatma Gandhi, once described by Sir Winston Churchill as ‘half naked Indian fakir’. Eloquent. Except, I reckon, it’s wrong to say ‘half’, when it’s three-quarters. If she works, the film works.

Now look here you film-making chaps: if we’d ever want item numbers, we know where to go. It’s not that it’s a hardship these days getting a Bollywood hit whenever and however much anyone may fancy. Show some confidence in yourself – and stop trying to psych us up.

Another real magnum opus on Netflix is the life-story of the smut-monger Canadian Indian woman; thanks to Bollywood, it is now a household name, how India is gripped in the fever of her charm, obsessed Indian queue up in the hundreds of thousands to have a glimpse of her, and what would they not give for an opportunity to worship their goddess in person? All their belongings, a leg, an arm maybe – why not their head, having already given away all their brains?

In one scene, she describes her findings and her predicament saying that back her home in California, it’s she who has to clean up when dogs poop, whereas in India, Indians would be too pleased if she allows them the honour.

What can you say to that? Except, thank you!
Thank you Mr Jinnah, thank you – thank you – thank you, Sir.