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The Rediff Special/ Syed Firdaus Ashraf

If there is a police force in Karachi, it must have been in hiding

Though Jinnah, in his famous speech delivered after reaching Karachi on August 7, 1947, had said that every citizen of Pakistan was free to follow his own religion, I didn't see too many temples in Karachi.

Which seemed strange, given that I was told there are a good one million Hindus out of the total Pakistan population of 120 million people. If there are that many, then they have perfected the art of camouflage -- you don't see them, you don't hear from them...

In Karachi, I found one temple at Clifton -- the Shri Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple, complete with saffron flag flying overhead, and three snake charmers just outside the entrance. After walking hundred steps, I came to the entrance proper of the temple -- only to confront a sign, in both English and Urdu, which read: "Only Hindus Allowed".

I got to meet the chief priest, and told him I was from Bombay. He smiled, then asked me if I was a Muslim and when I said yes, his attitude underwent a radical change. He told me that he was not aware of the history of the temple, and suggested I meet the trustees -- who, of course, were "out of Karachi at the moment".

However, despite the sign at the entrance, the priest did not object when I went in. I found big photographs of Durga, Ganesh, Krishna and Shiva, besides the nandi and a shiv ling. I found a feast being prepared, in large utensils -- apparently, a celebration of some sort was on.

My cousin had accompanied me, at least till the entrance. He had never seen a temple in his life. In fact, he seemed petrified to see Hindus all over the place, and earnestly told me not to mention to his parents that we had visited a Hindu temple.

I did my best to meet a Hindu family in Pakistan, but could not succeed. My relatives, meanwhile, cautioned me about eating food in a Hindu home, deeming it un-Islamic. They also expressed a lot of curiosity about the cremation procedure prevalent among Hindus, which I explained as best I could.

As far as I could see, the Hindus had pretty much been assimilated into Pakistan, while managing to keep their identity in tact -- the same as Christians, in fact. In passing, the Christian community didn't seem too strong there, I was told that most of them do menial work, or work as labourers.

As far as the Hindu segment of the population is concerned, I was told the majority of Hindus in Karachi, at least, were either Sindhis or Gujaratis. The Sindhis, I was informed, were rich and involved in business, while the Gujarati segment was poorer, of lower castes, and mostly involved in menial labour.

Hindu women are easily identifiable by the sindoor and bindi; the men less so because they, like their Muslim counterparts, speak fluent Urdu and Sindhi.

Though every country has its own history, I am not sure if other countries follow the example of Pakistan, which has a separate subject called Pakistan Studies.

It goes without saying that the interpretation of historical events pertaining to the Indian sub-continent differs in marked fashion from what I was used to reading in India. Thus, Indian freedom fighters -- including Mahatma Gandhi -- don't exactly come away smelling of roses.

Other vignettes I picked up from the textbooks there include how the Congress reportedly banned religious processions in the United Province, and how they also banned cow slaughter after coming to power in 1937.

Not that all this appears to make a difference anyway -- most of the young people I spoke to didn't seem to care a hoot about history. Who is Gandhi? A leader of India after Independence, was the most common answer I got among this segment of the population.

Prithvi missile Meanwhile, the Mughals figure prominently as heroes -- especially Aurangazeb, for his adherence to Islam. The likes of Muhammad Ghazni and Muhammad Ghori have been praised, the latter in fact eulogized for his defeat of Prithviraj Chauhan, the last Hindu king to rule Delhi. In fact, the naming of the Pakistan missile as Ghauri, I was told, was a direct response to India's Prithvi missile.

The Bangladesh war? Well, there is a passing mention, almost a footnote in the larger scheme of things. And even this puts the blame for the war squarely on India, which -- or so the textbooks claim -- was solely responsible for the break-up of Pakistan.

A footnote: We in India talk of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, PoK. There, they refer to it as India-occupied Kashmir, IoK.

Your view, I guess, depends on where you stand.

If there is one thing that maintains a cultural link between the two countries, it is television.

So much so that the Indian channels are most popular, in Pakistan homes, with Zee TV being the front-runner (in which context, it will be recalled that Zee boss Subhash Chandra Goel had been invited to tea, last year, by Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief).

Ask people why they prefer Indian channels to Pak channels, they tell you that on Pak television, there are only three kinds of news: the first, relates to the Pakistan premier; the second, to the Pakistan president; and the third, relates news about the atrocities of the Indian army in Kashmir.

After watching PTV for a while, I found myself agreeing with that assessment.

Though there is a plethora of cinema halls in Karachi, I found that most of them are not too well patronised -- Pakistan films, I was told, were not too popular. Indian films are banned from being screened in Pak theatres -- but video cassettes are readily available, and very popular. To the extent that most Pakistanis I spoke to are current in their information about Bollywood offerings.

ZEE TV's Antakshari As far as serials go, the ones most watched are Zee TV's offerings, Amanat and Antakshari.

As far as dress goes, most men I found were dressed in the traditional salwar kameez -- including frontline managers and CEOs of important companies. Apparently, the outfit can be, and is regularly, worn even for board meetings and such.

If there is a police force in Karachi, it must have been in hiding -- I found the citizens totally insecure about both life and property.

If your house is looted -- a frequent enough occurrence, apparently -- then local wisdom says you don't go to the cops. Because not only will the cops be able to do nothing, but your complaint just might provoke the dacoits into paying you a return visit.

Karachi police So unsafe is the place that my relatives refused to take me to the famous 'Hawks Bay' beach since it was late evening, arguing that our car would be robbed.

In fact, I was advised by the locals that travelling by road in interior Sind or, in fact, in any other state could be risky, since dacoits roam openly with guns in hand, sans check or hindrance. One cousin, in fact, narrated how he was travelling to interior Sind, and was lucky to survive a dacoit attack.

Most Pakistanis I met were keen to travel to India -- meeting Bollywood actors and actresses being their biggest dream, followed by the desire to travel around and see places.

When it comes to politics, the people there feel that India tends to play the bully in the South Asian region, and aver that India had occupied Kashmir by force. Again, I didn't meet one single person who felt that Pakistan had lost the 1965 war against India -- though I did meet people who told me they were in Lahore at the time, and had personally seen the Indian army being "pushed out of the Wagah border".

Bangladesh war 'Bangladesh' remains a sore spot, a rankling humiliation, in many minds. Most people are reluctant to discuss the issue, preferring to blame the Pakistan leaders of the time and the Indian army for "forcibly occupying" East Pakistan.

Earlier, I mentioned how many Mohajirs I met regretted emigrating to Pakistan -- it must be said, here, that they were from the economically weaker strata. Those Mohajirs who are affluent seemed happy with the creation of Pakistan, and averred that if Pakistan had not been established, Muslims in the Indian sub-continent would have been deprived of their Urdu language and cow meat.

In Karachi, I found a very high standard of living, a lot better than what I have seen in many Indian cities. However, I was restricted to Karachi, so I don't think I can comment about the standard of living in Pakistan as a whole.

One thing though -- the jhuggis there were much cleaner than those in India. On the minus side, people appear to live in fear of their lives, thanks to the prevailing lawlessness, and to the regional conflicts that have Pakistan in its grip.

I don't think the average Pakistani can even recognise an Indian -- until the latter opens his mouth.

This kept happening to me, time and again. Interestingly, one time was when I went to a video shop and asked for an Indian film cassette. The shop owner asked if I was from India. When I asked him how he knew, he said that when a native came into the shop, he would only ask for a cassette, without specifying that he was looking for an Indian cassette -- in Pakistan, no native hires Pakistan film cassettes, he told me.

The second time was when I profferred a ten rupee note to a Pathan currency with a Pathan vendor. The note was a bit torn, so I asked, Yeh note chalengi? Yeh Pakistan hai, India nahin was the response. When I asked him how he recognised that I was an Indian, he said that in Pakistan, the correct usage would be chalenga not chalengi.

Karachi city My relatives, in fact, always warned me to stay silent in public, in order to avoid recognition as an Indian. One day, I went to my cousin's office. His colleague kept asking me how I knew him. I ignored the question for as long as I could but when he persisted, I finally said, "woh hamare pehchhan ke rishtedar hai."

Again, he immediately knew I was from India -- this time, apparently, because the word pehchhan is not used in Pakistan.

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