Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My feudal friends...

It never occurred to me that I had no blueblood flowing in my veins till I landed in Pakistan.

I hail from the Central Indian town of Bhopal, an erstwhile Nawabi state, which also had the distinction of being ruled by four Begums. I am a great admirer of the Begums, love my hometown, and have hung photos, mostly from my grandfather’s collection, of heritage buildings and my favourite Begum in our Islamabad home. I am also very proud of the fact that my family is totally self-made and absolutely un-royal.

My city Bhopal

Yet the well-heeled, the only ones we get to meet at boring Islamabad-dos, would get all excited on hearing my Bhopal connection. “So what part of Bhopal are you from?” A trick question. If I said I am from the old city I might just be royal and further needling could establish my bloodline. However, if I said new Bhopal I could be safely dumped as a commoner and then they could discuss exotic spas in South India that they must check out or have checked out.

Unfortunately my answer, though matter-of-fact, seemed tricky. “We used to live in the old city, but not anymore.” Soon I would be bombarded with questions -- have you met this one (the famous travel agency owner), and that one (the famous cafĂ© owner-cum-this-and-that); would you know this Bia from that Mahal or this Sahabzada from that Manzil; did your family live near Moti Masjid or Badi Bia’s Mahal…

Over a period of time I lost patience and started cutting such inquisitions politely.

Recently, I was rather rude with someone who told me at length which Manzils she was connected to -- Manzils I have only heard of because of my love for old and heritage buildings. Before she could embark on her journey to check my lineage I told her that we were commoners and that my ancestors were invited by a certain Nawab to Bhopal because there was a dearth of learned men. The lady got the message and moved on.

I am just so glad that I have been spared such inquisitions in India.


  1. ye ye ye hello to fellow bhopali!!!

  2. Hmmm it seems you only move in high society circles. In that case you can't expect much else from these people. Don't you know that everyone in Pakistan that came there from India during the partition had left some sort of haveli/mahal/nawabi relative etc. if they can prove it via a real life Indian then all the better - as no one they tell can actually go to India to have their claims verified! Nowadays any link to anything like that would increase their standing in a severely insecure elite that is wracked with low self esteem and low self confidence. Pretty much all very common among the niveau riche as they need constantly to prove themselves.

    I would imagine in India there would be a much bigger problem with this in your society since there has been an explosion of wealth and new money on a much larger scale. Though India isn't Pakistan so it's probably wrong to extrapolate here.

    Khair it would be nice if you shared an anecdote about meetings with normal people. By normal i don't mean your really poor maid or the really rich with whom you hob nob, but actual middle or working class people.

    Stereotypes are often perpetuated via the high and low classes. It is the vast middle which is the mundane reality of every nation and often ignored, maybe because they are the same all over and don't make interesting tales.

    Your articles often have an air about them that is akin to looking down the nose at 'these' people, or a 'thank God we're Indian look at these strange Pakistanis' attitude, almost as if needing to validate your country. Not that that in itself is a bad thing, you are after all, an Indian, and a little of that is to be expected. However, after living in Pakistan for many years one would've hoped that you would have gotten over that phase. It would be refreshing to read your views as a person who blends into the bazaars and streets, a person who doesn't stand out such as a Chinese, European or other race would.

    The small niceties, the mundane everyday, the highly irritating but from a neutral point of view, thereby allowing the reader to make their own conclusions and not perpetuating the stereotypes your audience of your fellow countrymen would be so eager to lap up.

    Maybe it's unfair of me as a Pakistani to ask that of you, after all the nature of our relationship is anything but normal and the nature of your assignment would make you notice such oddities or absurdities and to have the air and attitude that comes across. However, one can't help but wonder if it would have been the case had your posting been to Bangladesh, Nepal or Sri Lanka?

    Maybe because our two nations have had so little contact with each other that such reporting is inevitable with any type of first contact. Who knows!

    Either way keep reporting, your reports bring up so much not just about us, but about you and where you are in general and in relation to understanding and feeling us.


    1. Can't agree more.. good response to this one.

    2. Well written response. Would've have appreciated and enjoyed the writes response. But then, it quietened her. :)

  3. A,

    I do get your point, but I am little surprised that these suggestions have come from you because you are among the few who have been very consistently reading the blog. I also remember you showering praise on us for not perpetuating stereotypes more than once.

    About moving in high society: We don't have a choice. We have written about that earlier and have also mentioned that in this post.

    Still thank you for your valuable input. And keep reading.


    1. Hi guys,

      As i mentioned maybe its unfair of me to ask this from you. And you are right, you do not perpetuate stereotypes so much. Maybe I'm just tired reading about elite or really poor people in every media outlet. It's almost as if the average person is completely missed out and lacks representation in the media.

      It is sad that you cannot meet normal people. Until you do, you can't really put your finger on the pulse of a nation, and i suppose I'm disappointed that even you, being Indian, who can blend in so easily are not able to do that. Maybe my expectations of your blog have risen or are unrealistic.

      It's almost as if you have been put in this bubble where you can see but never touch, never hear and never feel outside of it. For people on the outside of it such as myself it is disappointing reading some of your blogs and we think:

      'phir kya faida hua in ke aaney ka, ghairo ki tarah aye the, ghairo ki tarah rahe the aur ghairo ki tarah chale jaeNgey. Itne ghairo meiN se jo apna ho bhi sakta tha, vo bhi na hua!'

      I suppose I am sad that you've not been able to know us intimately either through choice or circumstance. So much time spent, and still, so much unknown, so much unexperienced and so much unfelt.

      Who knows, maybe you have and it's just not been expressed here.

      Chalo, jesey kismet ko manzoor!


    2. A,

      That was a bit over-the-top. Still thanks!


  4. Funny, whenever I'm in India, I get bombarded by questions from seniors who recall their great times at the exclusive Government College or Punjab University or home along the exclusive Temple Road.

    That may sound strong, and it is.

    I think you're missing the point. When people talk to me about the lost connections they have in what is now Pakistan, I can't but recognize how they are secretly sharing a common history with you. I think it's a bit unfair of you to dismiss their remarks so quickly. I mean, there must be at least one Pakistnai you've met and liked ;)

  5. Anon,

    Of course I like Pakistanis and most things Pakistan!

    If it was about lost connections the conversation would never have got lost on me :)

    Thanks for the comment. Keep reading!

  6. More on Manzils please. A primer perhaps.

  7. Oh thats coming soon, but from the other side! Watch out :)

  8. Well, part of the difference is that post-independence India encouraged (almost required) low-key lifestyles as a means to self-reliance and as a symbol of self-restraint and strength. I mean, look at the two prominent Muslims who were Nehru's colleagues - Rafi Ahmed Kidwai and Maulana Azad. They both died with no money in the bank, but the Indian nation-building process would have been unthinkable without them (and others like them). They lived modest lives, worked hard and set the foundations for modern India. I use their example only to point out that if they had emigrated, they would have ended their days in some pink candy frou-frou palace, built with pilfered American aid because, sadly, that method was the preferred plan of nation-building across the border. Equally sadly, the current Indian political leadership seems hellbent on forgetting its own historic legacy.

  9. Anonymous. interestingly that post independence hangover has stuck on with us -- Look at how our politicians dress and the lifestyles they lead (at least publicly) vis-a-vis that of their Pakistani counterparts. Irrespective of whether you have the means or not (and no matter how much black wealth you have accumulated), an Indian politician is expected to wear only simple cotton sarees/ salwar-suits/ kurtas while making a public appearance. A politician leading an extravagant lifestyle in India becomes the victim of a massive media witch hunting session. Alas, had politicians like Hina Rabbani Khar or Asif Zardari been in India, their political careers would never have taken off... "carrying Berkin bags and wearing expensive suits in public.. How dare they!"

  10. Wow, been reading your blog from time to time, and never knew you were from Bhopal! I am too - settled elsewhere now, but the memories stay with you. :-)
    I feel the Pakistanis having run off to Pakistan, tend to pick up only on the glamorous part of their heritage or invent it as well. Its like seeing a bunch of NRIs talk about the "YOo Yess YAAAY" where they go on and on about things that are so p special in the US etc - never mind they may not have done it my friend says about some other can say you are an investment banker if you work in Wall Street.

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