A conversation between Alice and Tweedledee in Lews Carroll's 'Through the Looking-Glass' remarks how the Walrus shed a tear for all the oysters he had just eaten. Look closer, they could be talking about the sticky fate of the people of India and Pakistan.
Since the beginning of this year, a series of dramatic events have ensured a high tension atmosphere in this country and its neighbours. And there is no sign of abatement. While relations between India and Pakistan have always teetered on a razor’s edge, the proxy war has entered prison cells of all places. This war is being fought on hapless convicts with bricks and other heavy objects. Two men are already dead and another lies in a critical condition in hospital. People even in high security prisons it seems are quick to take the path of vendetta.
Does this involve state or non-state actors? As Pakistan goes in for elections next week, marred by low-key campaigns and high-decibel bomb blasts, there is a sense of foreboding.
Long ago, I watched a film. I think it was an Italian production, of a story between two families who are neighbours. The film portrays how their relationship dwindles to a point of no return in a superb parody of what is happening between so many nations across the world. Each family tries to outdo the other by buying more and more destructive arms till finally they almost blow each other up.
I remember the big holes in the houses caused by one of the more damaging guns. At that time whoever who saw the film could connect with it immediately. It said everything about the affairs of the subcontinent. A recent viewing of Stanley Kubrick's “nightmare comedy” Dr. Strangelove brought back memories of the hilarious stereotypes of the Cold war and the mad American who orders an attack on the Soviet Union.
In the movie, the Russians had already developed a Doomsday machine which would go off at the slightest threat to any of its installations. Among the funniest scenes is the US president pacifying Dmitri, his Russian counterpart, asking him to strike the raiding American aircraft and end the sudden unprovoked attack. Now, the Cold war has changed into another war with Vladimir Putin putting himself on the same side as U.S. president Barack Obama in fighting “terrorism”.
In November 2011, on a week-long trip to Pakistan organised by the Mumbai press club, we visited Karachi and Hyderabad hosted by the local press clubs there. There was even a return visit last year by the Karachi press club. Our trip coincided with the 26/11 anniversary and almost everyone I met reacted strongly and said that it should have never happened. Many journalists and lawyers and academics were perturbed by the turn of events and the devastating attack.
After Sarabjit’s unfortunate and tragic death, there has been the usual screaming and shouting by the usual suspects who are terming all those calling for a sane look at relations between the two countries as “apologists”. Everyone is bristling at the gross injustice meted out to Indian soldiers and prisoners.
While in Karachi, I met a young girl and her mother from the fishing village of Ibrahim Hydari. Her father like countless other Pakistani fishermen had strayed into Indian waters and was in jail. No one knew what had happened to him. The young girl and her mother were eking out a living stitching large colourful quilts. Everywhere we met people who had some link with India, including a large community of Malayalis who had landed up in Karachi, some of them conned into thinking this was the fabled “Gulf”.
Those men can’t go back it seems with some exceptions.
We met Dinshaw Avari whose parents had won the Asian Games regatta in 1982. From the terrace of his hotel you can see the entire city of Karachi with Jinnah’s tomb in the background. Karachi has small communities of Goans and Parsis but many of them have left for the US or Canada. A reader also pointed out that many Muslims were also seeking greener pastures.
Yes, people frown on all this nostalgia and reminiscences and some of them distance themselves from the warmth and hospitality, calling it a front. At the many meetings we had with senior journalists, there was a sense of déjà vu and plenty of cynicism and bitterness. People come and go but things remain the same and all that bonhomie and goodwill remains just that, many felt. We also saw another side to the country. The spectre of honour killings, the spiralling crime, the bomb blasts, the inequality and the overall insecurity was also out in the open, specially in a city like Karachi with its ever expanding urban sprawl.
The two countries, though separated by a border, are not so far apart in many ways. You can’t fence off everything. Instead of screaming vengeance and calling for cutting off relations, no one is speaking of finding a way out of this mess. Currently, there seems to be an eye-for-an-eye logic to everything and it is festering with every gory incident.
As the Walrus calls to the oysters in Lewis Carroll’s poem, the time has come to talk of many things. “Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–Of cabbages–and kings–And why the sea is boiling hot–And whether pigs have wings."
But one has to hope that the people of the two countries do not meet the fate of the oysters that are polished off by the wily walrus and the carpenter after being led on to a pleasant walk by the beach. The walrus you must remember even wiped his streaming eyes in a show of grief after feasting on the fat deluded oysters! Not very different from our own governments...