Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Being Indian in Pakistan....

It is not easy to ignore ordinary people's warmth in Pakistan and despite myself I have befriended plenty of locals -- cabbies, shopkeepers, little boys who play cricket in the neighbourhood and a little girl who races boys on her brother's bicycle.

My little Pakistani friends... 
The talking point has almost always been our 11 cats and now a puppy, the newest addition to the family. 

The little girl, who lives in our neighbour's servant quarter, shyly says "hello" to me when I go past her house. Her brother, who is just a year older, is sort of our official rescuer when our cats get stuck on a tree. 
Bilal, an expert at climbing trees, with his pet 
Some time ago, the little girl asked me if she could accompany me to the market. I said "yes" and on our way we chatted about her bicycle, which she hardly ever gets to ride now because her brother returns home late.   

Since all our cats are rescues and, therefore, no fancy breeds, the older kids in the neighbourhood tell us to keep a "Persian" or a "Siamese". We let that pass because we have given up on people who think rescues are "junglies". Incidentally, all are cats are Pakistani rescues or "honorary Indians" as we jokingly call them. The cabbies, too, always stop to inquire about our pets' health.    

Our Indianness has never been an issue with anyone. 

So I was rather surprised when I walked into a shop in the neighbourhood market to buy cat food. The shopkeeper, a very friendly chap, passed me a tin of expired cat food. I told him that I could not feed my cats expired food and he should get rid of it. 

"These are Pakistani cats.....they can eat everything....they will not die," he joked for the hundredth time and reached for the cans that he stocks especially for me.

Suddenly I heard the "I" word from behind me. "Arrey yeh kahan kee hain pehley yeh to pata karo... (first find out where is she from)..." 

"Yeh Indian hai bhai INDIAN..." someone was saying very accusingly from behind.

I turned and saw a well-built man looking down at me. I had never seen him before, but obviously he knew who I was. Others at the shop also started scanning me. I looked at the shopkepeer and then at his boys, they were all avoiding eye contact. I paid my bill and exited.

The incident left a bad taste in my mouth. It haunted me for quite a while. I was mad at myself for not checkmating that man. I was also mad at the shopkeeper for not speaking up. 

I decided not go to his shop again. 

However, two days later, I was there again because he is the only one in the neighbourhood  who stocks cat food. The shopkeeper was around, but  he did not talk to me much. I, too, did not make an attempt to speak.

The day after I was at the shop again. I asked one of his boys to give me something. The shopkeeper was busy with another customer. I saw him signalling at me from a far corner. I ignored him.

Then he came near where I was standing and passed me the expired cat food can again. "Yeh hamari Pakistani billiyan hain....yeh nahin marti...inhain aap yeh expired food hi khilayeye (These are Pakistani cats..they will not die if you feed them expired food..." he guffawed. 

"Feed this to your dog too!"   

I laughed and retorted: "Doctor ke paas aap lejayenge (will you take the dog to the vet then?)" 

"Which doctor do you go to?" he asked, ignoring other customers. I told him. 

"I am going to feed these expired cans to OUR Pakistani cats....for FREE," he laughed some more.    

It was obvious that he was going the extra mile to make up for that day. "I am going to order more cat food for you tomorrow! Is that okay?" he asked. 

Long after I returned home, I was still smiling. 


  1. I don't really know how to react to this post, because I have never felt the need to taunt anyone from Pakistan visiting India. It's sad that you had that experience.

  2. Paraphernalia, just one of those experiences!! Most people are nice :)

  3. I am glad that the shopkeeper stood by his friendship! There are bound to be some bad eggs, wish you could show them their place

  4. Pickle, so I am :) And I think our bond has only strengthened after that episode.

  5. Its a shame that you had to experience that incident... bigotry and rascism knows no bounds... things will only change with more interaction and awareness... the fact that you are there is in itself changing people and challenging their stereotypes of your country and vice versa which can only be a positive thing...

    I'm glad you have been able to put this behind you... but always remember that your presence has an effect deeper and larger than you can first see or understand...


  6. fine piece. remember the saying: "don't get mad, get even"!

  7. A, pearls of wisdom indeed! :)

    Nasir Sir, yes, will get even! :)

  8. Could that guy have been one of the 'Bhais' that follow you?

  9. Ajay, no he wasn't a Bhai! Bhais are a little more discreet :)

  10. Lovely post guys, made me smile. One finds bad eggs every where. Went to visit a close friend of mine in Pune a few years ago and was shopping for handicrafts at Sadashiv Peth. The gentleman there asked me where I was from as the style of my shalwar looked different. I excitedly told him I had come from Quetta Pakistan, after which he asked me to "kindly" leave the store. I was highly insulted and saddened by his behavior. However, there were many other people who were extremely kind too. So ya a few bad eggs everywhere. One can only hope this mentality changes on both sides. Hope it happens in my life time.

  11. Gulnaar, cheers to that! :)

  12. (Gulnaar)Well then they say in Isloo that we (Indians) are caressing the nozzle of baloch;s

  13. Like I said, the mentality needs to change on BOTH SIDES :)

  14. Gulnaar, That's so sad. I am ashamed this happened in India. I am sorry and I appologise. I do hope you don't see all of us like that.